Health Minister Mark Butler has ordered an investigation into the National Mental Health Commission and stood aside its chief executive officer following media reports of a toxic culture at the agency.
In a weekend investigative feature, The Saturday Paper reported a “culture of dysfunction, alleged bullying and psychological harm” in the very agency that was set up to hold governments to account on mental health policy.
“This month, the commission sacked a quarter of its workforce [and] is the subject of at least two additional investigations over its operations,” The Saturday Paper reported.
Health Department secretary Brendan Murphy began a “preliminary fact-finding” investigation into fraud and corruption allegations to be followed up with a more formal report.
CEO Christine Morgan is reported to have told senior staff there were no issues from the report requiring further investigation.
Mr Butler believes otherwise.
A formal independent investigation into all the allegations made against the commission is now underway.
“The National Mental Health Commission plays an important role in delivering on the government’s mental health and suicide prevention reforms,” the Minister said.
“To ensure the government and the public continue to have confidence in the commission, I have initiated an independent investigation into the allegations and issues that have been raised in the media.
“Ms Christine Morgan has voluntarily stepped aside as the commission’s chief executive officer while this investigation occurs.”
This investigation will be independent of the commission and will:
- consider the matters raised in the media and whether these can be substantiated
- conduct a culture and capability review to ensure the commission is able to provide a safe working environment and has the capability to perform its role, and
- conduct a full functional and efficiency review to ensure the commission can be financially sustainable moving forward.
Mr Butler has asked Professor Deb Picone, former CEO of the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care, to lead the investigation.
He has also appointed the nation’s deputy chief medical officer for mental health Ruth Vine as the National Mental Health Commission’s interim CEO.
“The investigation will inform any changes required to support the commission’s role, functions and operations,” Mr Butler said.
“As Minister, I take allegations of this nature seriously and will prioritise ensuring a safe working environment for staff.”
Allegations of toxic culture go to bullying over public interest disclosure, possible procurement corruption, inappropriate travel, and conflicts of interest in appointments.
The National Mental Health Commission is an executive agency established on 1 January 2012 under the Public Service Act 1999 and is a non-corporate Commonwealth entity under the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013.
It is accountable to the Australian Parliament through the health portfolio.
“The commission monitors and reports on investment in mental health and suicide prevention initiatives, provides evidence-based policy advice to government and disseminates information on ways to continuously improve Australia’s mental health and suicide prevention systems, and acts as a catalyst for change to achieve those improvements,” its website statement says.
“This includes increasing accountability and transparency in mental health through the provision of independent reports and advice to the Australian Government and the community.”