Who owns Callan Park? A cautionary tale
AbstractObjective : To investigate circumstances in which there was: (i) an attempt by the New South Wales (NSW) government to sell a psychiatric hospital site, Callan Park, for private development, without realistic compensation for services for people with mental illnesses; and (ii) a public campaign to pressure that government to give the site to the local community, also without regard to the best interests of people with mental illnesses. Conclusions : On the surface it appears that the debate over Callan Park is over. In the face of a noisy ‘Save Callan Park’ campaign, the NSW government relented and subsequently passed legislation to protect this site from development ‘forever’ (Sydney Morning Herald 21.10.2002) amended by the Upper House to prevent long-term leaseholds (December 2002). Both sides of this debate have been misguided, obscuring three important issues: (i) that the site is not ‘terra nullius’ and does not, as has been often claimed, belong ‘to the people of NSW’ but ‘to the people in NSW with mental illnesses’; (ii) that most people with mental illness are better off being cared for in the community than in psychiatric hospitals; and (iii) that providing such alternative care requires much more government investment, equivalent to the value of such sites. Either selling or giving away psychiatric hospital sites without proper recompense to people with mental illnesses is unjust.