SA mental health commissioner departs to fight homelessness

By Shannon Jenkins

Thursday November 21, 2019

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The first mental health commissioner for South Australia will soon step down.

Former military officer Chris Burns announced his planned departure as he takes up a chief executive officer role at the Hutt St Centre early next year. The Adelaide-based organisation offers services and facilities for those experiencing homelessness.

Burns was appointed commissioner by the Weatherill government in July 2016. This year the Marshall government has played with the idea of doing away with the role, but has since settled on expanding it into Wellbeing SA, with plans to appoint three commissioners.

Chris Burns

Health Minister Stephen Wade said Burns was under “active consideration for reappointment to the Mental Health Commission when he withdrew to take up the Hutt St role”.

“I thank Mr Burns for his work as South Australia’s inaugural Mental Health Commissioner,” he said.

“His leadership has been instrumental to the development of both the Mental Health Strategic Plan and Mental Health Services Plan.

“As the government progresses an expansion and strengthening of the commission, I respect his decision to take up fresh opportunities.”

Chair of the Hutt St Centre Board Tim O’Callaghan said Burns’ experience in mental health would make him well suited to lead the organisation.

“Chris is a proven, accomplished and highly experienced CEO with significant experience in mental health and wellbeing — two factors which will play a significant role in his work at Hutt St Centre,” he said in a statement.

Burns said he looked forward to continuing the “vital work” of the centre at a time when tackling homelessness was a top priority for the state.

“Homelessness is an issue of key concern for state and federal governments and the Hutt St Centre, like other similar organisations around the country, has an important role to play in developing and implementing the programs and policies required to address it,” he said.

“Since 1954, the Hutt St Centre has been a work of the Daughters of Charity and has been a place of hope and opportunity – where people experiencing homelessness can and have achieved new beginnings.”

Burns was most recently the CEO of SA’s defence industry association, the Defence Teaming Centre, where he campaigned for the Australian Navy’s next fleet of submarines and surface ships to be built in Australia. He has also been a member of the Veterans Health Advisory Council, and has served as the Defence attache to the Philippines, Palau, Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of Marshall Islands.

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