After six years as the inaugural Mental Health Complaints Commissioner (MHCC) Dr Lynne Coulson Barr OAM will be finishing her term of appointment on 30 June. She will be succeeded by a new Commissioner who will lead both the MHCCand the office of the Disability Services Commissioner from 1 July 2020.

In farewelling the Commissioner, Maggie Toko, Deputy Commissioner and lived experience leader, said: '
Lynne is a leader in the mental health field. She is committed to the recognition of the lived experience workforce and the rights of consumers, their families and carers. Lynne has never shied away from challenges and has always championed human rights.'

Dr Anthony Stratford, Chair of the MHCC’s Advisory Council, has commented that it is globally recognised now how important lived experience voices are in all matters relating to mental health systems and recovery: ‘But in order for this to occur, a champion at the highest level of an organisation is needed. Dr Lynne Coulson Barr has long proven herself to be such a champion. She has led the MHCC as a true and humble leader and will be enormously missed. I wish Lynne every success in her future and I, like many, will greatly miss her as she understands the true meaning of co-production.’



In 2020, Dr Coulson Barr was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) in the Australia Day Honours in recognition of her services to community mental health and her roles in disability, dispute resolution and tribunals, in addition to earlier accolades. More information about Dr Coulson Barr may be found here. As well as with people with lived experience, she has worked extensively with service staff across Victoria to make improvements to our mental health system.

Dr Margaret Grigg, CEO of Forensicare, the Victorian provider of forensic mental health services, says: ‘Thank you Lynne for the support you and the MHCC provided Forensicare over the last few years. You not only created a safe environment for consumers to come forward, speak up and share their experience; you also provided a constructive discussion space for us to respond to their feedback and make improvements to the way we deliver our services.

Under your leadership, the MHCC established its role as the key advocate for safeguarding consumers rights, resolving their complaints and improving services by working constructively with mental health services. This was no easy task and the Commission’s success reflects your dedication to ensuring open conversations and your commitment to protecting human rights.'

Dr Coulson Barr has also been applauded for her support and advocacy for people who face additional barriers to making a complaint and having their rights upheld. Commissioner for Gender and Sexuality, Ro Allen, says: ‘Lynne has been an extraordinary ally for the LGBTIQ community, attending carnival events, spontaneously doing live interviews on JOY radio in a park, and being a very visible and approachable Commissioner. Lynne’s leadership is demonstrated by marching every year at the Midsumma Pride March with her team as well as by her tireless work, not so much in the spotlight, of getting on and improving mental health outcomes for the Victorian LGBTIQ community'.



In bidding farewell, Dr Coulson Barr says:


I wish to thank everyone who has supported the work of the MHCC since it was established in 2014, and particularly those with whom I’ve met and worked closely with over this time. It has been a true honour and privilege to have led the work of the office for the past six years, and been entrusted to hear the concerns and challenges people have experienced within the mental health system, many of which have been deeply personal and highly distressing.‘

 

During my time in the role I have been struck by both the gravity and the generosity of people’s stories, and by what can be achieved when consumers, families, carers and services work together with a focus on rights, recovery and improving outcomes for all. I leave with the knowledge that the MHCC’s important work in addressing and resolving people’s individual concerns as well as driving service and system improvements will continue under a new Commissioner.I also leave with the hope and confidence that the recommendations in the final report of the Royal Commission into Mental Health will lead to lasting reform of the system and address the systemic and cultural issues underlying many of the adverse experiences that feature in complaints to the MHCC.’


Dr Lynne Coulson Barr has provided a detailed witness statement to the Royal Commission which outlines key themes and reflections from the MHCC’s work since its establishment and will shortly be published on the Royal Commission’s website. The legacy of Dr Coulson Barr’s work in highlighting the critical issues of rights and safety within mental health services, can also be seen in this update on the actions that have been taken in response to the recommendations in the MHCC’s Right to be Safe report. Her message that ‘Everyone’s experience matters’ will continue to resonate throughout the sector and drive approaches to complaints going forward.

 

We wish Dr Coulson Barr the very best for the future and thank her for her commitment and dedication to the work of the MHCC.

Note: The Victorian Government has made a decision that one person will hold the dual roles of Mental Health Complaints Commissioner and Disability Services Commissioner. Announcements on this new dual Commissioner role and appointment will be made shortly.