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The theme ‘Mental Health is a Human Right’ will be supported by a number of streams, each with a strong focus on evidence-based examples of best practice.  



Professor Tom Calma AO

Chancellor of University of Canberra



Prof Calma is an Aboriginal elder from the Kungarakan tribal group and a member of the Iwaidja tribal group whose traditional lands are south west of Darwin and on the Coburg Peninsula in the Northern Territory of Australia, respectively.  He has been involved in Indigenous affairs at a local, community, state, national and international level and worked in the public sector for over 40 years and is currently on a number of boards and committees focusing on rural and remote Australia, health, education, justice reinvestment, research, reconciliation and economic development.


These include the Reconciliation Australia; Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation; Poche Centres for Indigenous Health Network; The Charles Perkins Trust; Ninti-One Ltd; Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Advisory Group; NSW Justice Reinvestment for Aboriginal Young People Campaign; National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Leadership in Mental Health and the Healing Our Spirits Worldwide - The Eighth Gathering and a number of public and education sector committees.  He is an Ambassador for Suicide Prevention Australia.


Prof Calma was appointed National Coordinator Tackling Indigenous Smoking in March 2010 to lead the fight against tobacco use in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.


Prof Calma was the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner from 2004 to 2010 and Race Discrimination Commissioner from 2004 until 2009 at the Australian Human Rights Commission. 


Through his 2005 Social Justice Report, Prof Calma called for the life expectancy gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people to be closed within a generation and advocated embedding a social determinants philosophy into public policy around health, education and employment in order to address Indigenous inequality gaps.  This spearheaded the Close the Gap for Indigenous Health Equality Campaign.


The Close the Gap Campaign has effectively brought national attention to achieving health equality for Indigenous people by 2030. 



Ivan Frkovic was appointed Commissioner from 1 July 2017 and brings substantial policy, academic and patient-centred experience to the role.

He was Deputy Chief Executive Officer, National Operations for Aftercare, one of Australia’s oldest non-government mental health organisations. His responsibilities included leading Aftercare’s national operations and overseeing the development and implementation of new programs and services.

Prior to his five years with Aftercare, Ivan held senior government positions including as Director, Mental Health Programs and Reforms in the Department of Communities, where he was responsible for policy development, funding and reform of the non-government mental health sector in Queensland.

Ivan has worked extensively within the mental health system in Queensland for some 20 years, holding a number of senior positions across Government. He was also a director within the Mental Health Branch of Queensland Health where he led the Queensland Mental Health Commission Transition Team, which supported the establishment of the Commission.

While in the mental health sector, Ivan has focused on realising the benefits of strengthening partnerships and collaboration, into fully integrated relationships.


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Dameyon Bonson, a Mangarayi and Torres Strait Islander male, is a Northern Territory based advisor in the prevention of suicide and workshop facilitator. Dameyon is the founder of Black Rainbow is a, 100% Indigenous LGBQTI led grassroots national advocacy platform and social enterprise in the prevention of Indigenous LGBQTI suicide. Dameyon has self-published the country’s only report in suicide prevention relating to Indigenous LGBQTI people and has also developed the country’s only Indigenous LGBQTI cultural competency workforce development training that looks to strengthen the capabilities of health and community services to work with Indigenous LGBQTI clients. In 2016, Dameyon was awarded the Dr. Yunupingu Award for Human Rights. He is recognised as the leading voice in the Indigenous LGBQTI suicide prevention. This year Dameyon began his post graduate studies in Suicide Prevention, strengthening his frontline and lived experience contributions.



Elle Irvine has used her experiences inside the system as a mental health patient to become a passionate advocate for awareness and change. She is a volunteer photographer for Heartfelt (giving the gift of photographic memories), the author of ‘immeasurable- the psychological experience of eating disorders’ and a second year nursing student. Elle draws on her experiences, both personal and professional, in order to advocate for increased understanding of psychological conditions and the barriers that prevent sufferers from accessing help and recovery.



Agnes Higgins is Professor in Mental Health at the School of Nursing and Midwifery Trinity College, Dublin Ireland where she has held key administrative positions including Head of Mental Health Nursing and Head of School. Her research interests are in the area of mental health recovery, service user and family engagement, and sexualities. She has published over 100 journal articles/ book chapters and two books in her area of research. She is a Fellow of Trinity College, an Elected Fellow (Ad Eundem) of Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and a fellow of the European Academy of Nursing Science. She is the founding chairperson of the Irish Institute of Mental Health Nursing and is the current Chairperson of Mental Health Reform, Irelands leading service user organisation campaigning for improvements in mental health. She is registered mental health nurse, general nurse and with over forty years’ clinical and educational experience in the areas of mental health, palliative/hospice care and general nursing. 


Dr Jock McLaren graduated in medicine in Perth, West Australia and completed his psychiatric training in 1977. He has worked in prisons, military and remote areas, and has extensive experience at the rough end of psychiatry. He trained in philosophy and has published extensively in the application of philosophy of science to psychiatry.


Ben Hannigan has worked as a researcher and teacher in Cardiff, UK, since 1997, having previously practised as a community mental health nurse in East London. His personal research training has been in in-depth qualitative case study design and methods, and he now collaborates with colleagues (including people with lived experience of mental health difficulties) to study mental health systems. This is his preferred term as it captures the idea that everything is connected: people, policies, processes and practice. Ben is Vice Chair (and Chair-Elect) of Mental Health Nurse Academics UK (, and in 2017 became Professor of Mental Health Nursing.


Yega studied law in Manchester and Staffordshire. He trained as a barrister in London. Given his interest in mental health, Yega completed a research project in a study of psychiatry in law. He obtained a PhD degree from Macquarie University in 2004. Yega has been practicing law since 2007 whilst retaining his academic position at several universities. Yega was a judicial member of the Mental Health Review Tribunal from 2007 to 2012 and has vast experience in dealing with mental health issues. Aside from litigating, Yega teaches Mental Health Law at Western Sydney University and is widely published in a variety of fields including mental health law and torts.

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Cassandra Goldie has been CEO of ACOSS since July 2010. With public policy expertise in economic and social issues, civil society, social justice and human rights, Cassandra has represented the interests of people who are disadvantaged, and civil society generally, in major national and international processes as well as in grassroots communities. Cassandra has previously held senior roles in both the NFP and public sectors, including as Director of Sex and Age Discrimination with the Australian Human Rights Commission, Director and Principal Solicitor with the Darwin Community Legal Service and Senior Executive with Legal Aid in Western Australia. Cassandra has a PhD from the University of New South Wales, a Masters of Law from University College London and is an Adjunct Professor with the Faculty of Law, UNSW. In 2014, Cassandra was voted one of the Impact 25 Most Influential People in the Social Economy and recognised by the AFR in 2015 on their Annual Overt Power List. In 2018, Cassandra was recognised as one of Australia’s top 50 Outstanding LGBTI Executives by Deloitte.

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