There’s nothing like a holiday road trip. Of course instead of a travel map from the local motoring association, we now have the GPS. On the family’s most recent road trip over summer, an 1100-kilometre each-way trip to North Queensland, the GPS could tell us:

  • Our destination — ever so politely we’re told “your route is being calculated” — in fact the GPS doesn’t work as designed if no destination is entered
  • Exactly where we are starting from — even 3D format
  • The estimated time it will take and where we should stop to “survive the drive”
  • They show us exits, other roads, points of interest, where we can get fuel, food and just about anything else the family needs
  • About traffic delays or congestion and suggest ways to bypass the problem
  • When we took a detour or a side trip, get us on track to our destination.

So when I got back from the summer holiday and heard that the Federal Minister for Mental Health and Ageing, Mark Butler, had released for consultation a Ten Year Roadmap for National Mental Health Reform, I thought great. Not another plan (to go with the four earlier five-year plans), not another policy or strategy or implementation plan, but a roadmap.

As I read and reread the Roadmap for National Mental Health Reform, the lyrics from a the Talking Heads classic (part of my road trip music selection) went round in my thoughts: We’re on a Road to Nowhere.

I attempted to critique the document and provide feedback by way of the survey monkey questionnaire set up to elicit comments from interested members of the community, but I simply gave up. How was a forced choice really allowing me to say what I thought of this document?

The Roadmap for National Mental Health Reform, as it stands, is more like one of those bright, cheery tourist maps one picks up at a theme park where it doesn’t seem to matter which way you orient the map, all roads lead to the souvenir shop or the food stalls where you can part with more money and the distances between exhibits or rides are just vague approximations.

Now if the authors of the Roadmap for National Mental Health Reform had applied the analogue of a roadmap to the document released at the end of January it would have demonstrated unequivocally that this document was different to past efforts; that the government was signalling that it “got it”; that it understood some of the key reasons successive governments have been unable to deliver on the intent of past reform efforts.

This roadmap fails dismally on all the features one finds in a modern roadmap or GPS.  Leaving the analogue aside momentarily, it fails to follow the evidence when it comes to effective public policy — clear articulation of the problem or challenge, clear goals or destinations, clear priorities, actions, milestones, timelines, resources and/or responsibilities.

While the 44-page document is full of language familiar to those who have been round the clock a few times with mental health reform, it fails to articulate a destination or even a starting point. As I read, that song again: Road to Nowhere …

Critical to the journey of reform is what are the other key areas of reform — who else is on a reform road trip? What other journeys are been undertaken by governments (through forums such as the Council of Australia Governments) that will directly affect the mental health reform roadmap? What’s the relationship between those travelling on the mental health reform bus and those on the national disability reform bus or those on the Close the Gap on indigenous health bus? Maybe their bus has broken down …

Or what about all those on the eight-lane health reform expressway — crikey,  I can see they’ve got a traffic jam over there — a huge number of Medicare locals, local hospital networks, a couple of special vehicles it looks, the national pricing authority, the national performance authority, national preventative health agency and more.  They all appear very concerned with something called activity based funding? It’s not clear from reading this roadmap that those fellow health reformers have anything in common with the mental health reform troppe.

And as for our roadmap, it not very useful as there are no markers or milestones linked to any dates between now and 2022 — we have no idea how far we have travelled, where we will get fuel (i.e. funding), when we might reach somewhere … Road to Nowhere …

And then in small print I notice that the National Mental Health Reform Roadmap carries a warning:

“Users of the Roadmap need to be aware that the authors of this map bear no responsibility for any actions that governments may take over the next decade. Any resemble to the actions of government are purely coincidental.”

In the end, I decided the best thing to do was put on some new music — let me see — Supertramp’s Crime of the Century or Crisis? What Crisis? Then again, maybe I need some new music and a new roadmap.