Minister struggles to explain Mental Health’s $8.9m office move

Millionaires' row: Budget figures show the Mental Health Commission is planning to spend $8.9 million on the move to its new office in Perth. Photo: Google Maps.
Millionaires' row: Budget figures show the Mental Health Commission is planning to spend $8.9 million on the move to its new office in Perth. Photo: Google Maps.

Mental health minister Andrea Mitchell has struggled to explain how much it will cost the Mental Health Commission to move office after budget papers revealed it was planning to spend $8.9 million, while defending her department’s failure to find money for a vital youth mental health service in Mandurah.

Under questioning in Parliament last week, Ms Mitchell admitted the fitout of the commission's new office in Nash Street, Perth, cost $6.9 million, including the purchase of 298 chairs at $450 each as well as a 30 minute training session for staff on how to use them.

Ms Mitchell subsequently released a statement saying the commission received a lease incentive from the office's owner of $5.8 million and said the cost of the lease and fitout represented "exceptional value for money".

But 2015-16 budget papers show the government allocated an extra $8.9 million for the Mental Health Commission for “accommodation relocation”.

In response to questions about the amount budgeted for relocation, a spokesperson for Ms Mitchell said: “I think you’ll find that just because an amount is listed in the budget doesn’t mean the agency has to spend that amount – they can opt to save money and get a better deal than what was originally budgeted for”.

However, the cash increase was still in the latest budget papers released last week.

Ms Mitchell’s office then released a breakdown of “estimated costs” for the relocation, which included $542,955.29 for furniture (including the office chairs), $523,376.20 for storage and $80,795 for “change management”.

But this breakdown said the commission would pay $1,022,387.99 for the move, after the office owner’s lease incentive was deducted from the total cost.

Mental health minister Andrea Mitchell. Photo: parliament.wa.gov.au.

Mental health minister Andrea Mitchell. Photo: parliament.wa.gov.au.

Ms Mitchell would not comment on the cost of the move, but defended the Mental Health Commission’s failure to fund GP down south’s 3-Tier Youth Mental Health Program in Mandurah.

“As a primary health service, funding for GP down south is predominantly a matter for the Commonwealth to consider,” she said.

“Any decision by the Commission to purchase additional services in the region would be done through its usual open and competitive tendering process.”

She said the the Mental Health Commission funded “a broad range of youth-focused mental health services provided by public health services and non-government organisations that operate in the Peel and Mandurah area”, despite reports in the Mailthat revealed these services were part-time or located in Perth.

Responding to calls by Mandurah City councillor Dave Schumacher for the Mental Health Commission to be sacked and investigated, mental health commissioner Tim Marney defended the amount the commission spends on administration.

“Of the Mental Health Commission’s $866 million budget in 2016/17, $835 million or 96.5 per cent has been allocated to purchase mental health, and alcohol and drug programs and services state-wide,” he said.

“The Mental Health Commission has been allocated $31 million, or 3.5 per cent of the overall budget to provide its administrative procurement role.”

Mental health commissioner Tim Marney. Photo: WAtoday.

Mental health commissioner Tim Marney. Photo: WAtoday.