Machinery of government changes and budget strategy are powerful levers to drive reform in the public sector. The purpose of this paper is to describe the rationale, progress and challenges in the establishment of Western Australia's Mental Health Commission in 2010 with policy, planning and purchasing powers to drive reform.
This case study is based on the observations of the author who had a lead role in the establishment of the Commission over its first two years. It sets this reform in the context of the whole of government reforms as well as demands for reform from stakeholders within the mental health sector.
It is demonstrated that externally imposed change is often necessary to fundamental reform. However, it also comes with risks of alienation of key stakeholders in powerful roles and an under‐estimation of the factors that will hamper change. Central government support has been essential to the establishment of the Commission.
The paper relies on the observations of a key participant in the reform process. This brings the limitations of potential bias as well as the strength of understanding that is difficult for outsiders to access.
The paper identifies some of the practical strategies that mitigate the risks associated with system change.
This reform has been useful to showcase a range of other social policy reforms demonstrating the opportunities that strong political leadership offers when linked to policy and administrative change.
This analysis of the progress of reform highlights a range of issues that can inform other governments and community stakeholders undertaking major reform in the public sector as well as particular issues for reform in mental health.
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