Key messages

  • Australia’s comprehensive series of mental health reform plans have focused on well-coordinated and person-centred mental health services for more than two decades.
  • The Victorian and Commonwealth governments both fund significant parts of mental health care services.

Mental health responsibilities and funding

The Victorian Government is responsible for the funding, delivery and management of specialised acute, sub-acute and residential public mental health services in hospital and community settings. It also funds Mental Health Community Support Services (MHCSS) that are delivered by non-government organisations to provide a range of rehabilitation and support services for people with a psychiatric disability arising from a mental illness.

Through Medicare and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, the Commonwealth Government funds general practitioners, private psychiatrists and allied health professionals in the primary care sector, to provide mental health treatment and support. The Commonwealth Government also funds psychosocial support programs that assist people with a mental illness.

Mental health plans and reforms

 Australia's first National Mental Health Policy was released in 1992. Since then, there have been five national mental health plans, the Council of Australian Governments' (COAG) National Action Plan on Mental Health in 2006, a revised National Mental Health Policy in 2008.

During this period, reforms have sought to reduce the reliance on stand-alone psychiatric hospitals in favour of community-based care alternatives and acute inpatient care in public hospital. In addition, there has been greater emphasis on mental health promotion and mental illness prevention, and fostering partnerships between primary care providers and specialist services across different sectors of government and the community.  

The Fourth National Mental Health Plan which was released in 2009 set out specific reform actions designed to improve social inclusion and recovery, prevention and early intervention, service access and coordination, innovation and accountability.

In 2012, COAG released the 10-year Roadmap for National Mental Health Reform in 2012, which commits all Australian governments to work together to develop 'well coordinated and person-centred' mental health services and support across all relevant government departments.

The Fifth National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Plan (the Fifth Plan) and its Implementation Plan were endorsed by the Council of Australian Governments Health Council (COAG Health Council) on 4 August 2017. 

The Fifth Plan seeks to establish a national approach for collaborative government effort from 2017 to 2022 across eight targeted priority areas:

  • Achieving integrated regional planning and service delivery
  • Effective suicide prevention
  • Coordinated treatment and supports for people with severe and complex mental illness
  • Improving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mental health and suicide prevention
  • Improving the physical health of people living with mental illness and reducing early mortality
  • Reducing stigma and discrimination
  • Making safety and quality central to mental health service delivery
  • Ensuring that the enablers of effective system performance and system improvement are in place.

To support the first priority area, Commonwealth, state and territory governments committed to provide guidance to Local Health Networks and Primary Health Networks to assist them in the development of joint regional mental health and suicide prevention plans.

View the Joint Regional Planning for Integrated Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Services:  A Guide for Local Health Networks (LHNs) and Primary Health Networks (PHNs).