Legislative Assembly for the ACT: Week 8 Hansard (3 August) . . Page.. 3304..
MS DUNDAS (continuing):
The criteria set forth in principle 16 (1) for compulsory institutionalisation should be reviewed. The serious likelihood of immediate or imminent harm to him or herself may not represent a sufficient reason to justify a measure that infringes dramatically on the enjoyment of several human rights, including the right to liberty and the security of the person and the right to freedom of movement. The consistency of the second criterion, which refers to the person's state of health, with existing human rights standards, should also be analysed. In accordance with the principle of the least restrictive alternative, the decision on involuntary admission should at the very least provide evidence on (a) the risk of serious deterioration in the person's health conditions and (b) the lack of viable alternatives, such as community-based rehabilitation. The decision on psychiatric commitment should always be subject to judicial review and reconsidered periodically.
We need to keep in mind that there are continuing questions about whether the provisions for detaining mentally ill or dysfunctional people are sufficient to protect their human rights and whether we are making the best judgments here. I understand the government has moved for a full review of the act beginning this financial year. Hopefully these considerations will be examined more closely, considering that these questions are being posed on an international scale.
That being said, it is clear that this bill has been brought forward due to genuine problems that were arising in the sector, so it deserves to be supported. But there are ongoing questions about how we deal with people with severe mental health problems and whether just detaining them is the best way to deal with their situation. We need to look at how we work with them in an ongoing way in the community. I urge the government to fully consider the human rights implications of the Mental Health Act when it does its review and takes into account the current movement in the international human rights scene in relation to these issues.
MRS CROSS (11.34): Mental health is a very sensitive issue. As legislators, it is important that we ensure that people suffering from mental illness receive the appropriate care, treatment and support to ameliorate their symptoms and to minimise any associated safety risks. In some instances cognitive function can be impaired to the extent that people affected are unaware of the harm they pose to others or themselves. In extreme circumstances, and as a last resort, involuntary interventions are needed to treat people who are demonstrably dangerous to themselves or others. I agree that it is an unfortunate form of mental health care, especially for the families of the people affected. However, it is necessary because it saves lives and protects people from harm.
On this basis I will support this bill, as it helps clarify the legal requirements for involuntary mental health care and the roles and responsibilities of the Mental Health Tribunal, the Office of the Community Advocate, the care co-ordinator, and other mental health care professionals in the implementation and development of community care and psychiatric treatment orders. Unlike the previous act, this bill ensures that people suffering from severe mental illness are detained or treated medically until the risk they pose to themselves or others has lessened, while having regard for the person's rights and dignity.
MR WOOD (Minister for Disability, Housing and Community Services, Minister for Urban Services, Minister for Police and Emergency Services, Minister for Arts and