Crossing the Divide: Opportunities and Lessons for Self-Directed Living in Australia

Australia does not have a unified legislative framework to support or address population mental health.  In fact, each individual state and territory approach to mental health is governed under separate pieces of legislation – with no overarching dedicated governance mechanism to tie together the threads, progress and oversee nationally consistent reform. The aim of the research is to pose the fundamental question: is the current legislative framework for mental health in Australia fit for purpose?

Initial thematic analysis of the existing legislation has revealed a continuing legacy of: power asymmetries; saturation of the biomedical model with its subsequent deficit lens; inappropriate ties to criminality; normative approaches to defining ‘disorders’; discordant rules dependant on geography; protectionism; no provisions for co-occurring disability; and problematic articulations of citizenship. Despite emerging recognition of social determinants of mental health challenges within Australia’s national mental health and suicide prevention plans - and the seminal Productivity Commission Inquiry Report into Mental Health (2020) - social determinants across life domains and stages remains unreflected in the legislative scaffolding itself. More importantly, individual Australians and their families (or kinship systems) are continuing to lead lower quality lives and die earlier than the general population.

An in-depth qualitative exploration will be undertaken across key cohorts including state actors, lived experience leaders (mental health and disability) and those navigating systems. The following 4 core research questions will be employed from which to logically iterate semi-structured interview questions:

  1. What do international ‘good practice’ models of care and support teach us about mental health legislative frameworks in Australia?
  2. What can be learnt from the National Disability Insurance Scheme Act 2013 (Cth) (NDIS Act) in the context of mental health legislation?
  3. What does self-directed living look like? And, what are the lessons to be taken from individuals and families self-managing (or self-directing) their NDIS plans, including in terms of life opportunities and outcomes?
  4. How does, or how can, lived experience leadership impact the decision-making of Commonwealth, state and territory governments?


About Petra

Petra has been a member of the Australian Public Service (APS) for a little under a decade and had the privilege of helping to build Australia’s National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) across the legal, governance, mental health, and self-management reform streams of work. Petra is undertaking her candidature part-time while working as an Assistant Director, Work Health and Safety Policy at the Attorney-General’s Department.