Forest & Bird boss Kevin Hague among five appointed to new mental health commission

Kevin Hague, former Green MP and current chief executive of Forest & Bird.
Kevin Hague, former Green MP and current chief executive of Forest & Bird. Photo credit: File

The chief executive of Forest & Bird Kevin Hague is among five people appointed to an interim Mental Health and Wellbeing Commission. 

The commission was promised in the Government's Wellbeing Budget this year, part of the $1.9 billion boost which included $40 million for suicide prevention. 

The "initial commission" as it's been labelled will lay the groundwork for the permanent Mental Health and Wellbeing Commission in February 2021, following legislation to set up the crown entity. 

  • it will provide "independent scrutiny" of the Government's progress on mental health
  • collaboration between mental health and wellbeing groups will be "promoted"
  • advice for the permanent commission will be developed so it can "make swift progress"

Establishing a new Mental Health Commission was recommended in last year's inquiry into mental health and addiction, to "act as a watchdog" on mental health progress. 

The previous National-led Government disestablished the last commission in 2012, and the current Government promised to bring one back. 

"We are taking mental health seriously and so did the Mental Health Commission," Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Thursday. 

"It was held in high regard and did a good job of providing leadership and accelerating progress across the sector. We want it back to hold us and future governments to account."

Who will lead the commission?

Hayden Wano has been appointed by Cabinet as chair of the commission.

He's the chief executive of Tui Ora Limited, a Taranaki-based Māori development organisation and provider of social and health services. 

Wano is joined by members including Hague, a former Green Party MP, who was previously the executive director of the New Zealand AIDS Foundation. 

The interim commission will also include Kendall Flutey, winner of Young Māori Business Leader of the Year; mental health advocate Kelly Pope; and clinical psychologist Julie Wharewera-Mika. 

"A key focus for Mr Wano and the initial commission will be looking at the wider range of factors that contribute to people's overall mental wellbeing," Health Minister David Clark said. 

"That includes looking across social welfare, housing, education and justice as well as talking to those with experience of mental health and addiction."

The interim commission will provide independent advice to the Minister of Health and is expected to meet with him monthly with a "no surprises" approach. 

The members have been instructed not to act as advocates or representatives of a particular interest or sector group.

The announcement follows the release on Tuesday of the Suicide Prevention Strategy and Action Plan and the start of the primary mental healthcare roll-out across the country.

A Suicide Prevention Office will be established as part of the Government's plan to "support people in distress" and help bring down New Zealand's high suicide rate.

New Zealand's suicide rates increased in the last year, it was revealed in August, with 17 more deaths by suicide than the previous year. 

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