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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2004 Week 2 Hansard (3 March) . . Page.. 669..


MS DUNDAS (continuing):

People in breach of an existing psychiatric treatment order are also collected by uniformed police for involuntary hospital admission. I do not specifically deal with this situation in the motion I have put forward today, but I raise it as the same arguments apply where people with suspected mental illnesses are collected for their initial psychiatric assessment.

I recognise that it would create administrative work for the police if they had to make an effort to avoid sending marked cars in response to calls from the crisis assessment and treatment team. However, the dignity of people with serious illness is of fundamental importance and I think that it is worth the extra trouble to preserve that dignity.

We have had quite recently a substantial debate taking place in our media, in our courts and throughout the community about our mental health system and its relationship with the legal system. We have heard from individuals who have suffered great heartache and great distress in relation to mental illness and how that has been turned into a criminal incident. It will take a concerted effort to fix these broader problems. I hope that we will take the time to work through those issues.

The debate about having a secure facility for those with psychiatric illnesses is one that we need to work through. But I see the motion I have put forward today as quite simple and it will make such a big difference to those suffering from mental illnesses and their families that I cannot see how this Assembly could not support it. We have heard from families, we have heard from those suffering mental illnesses and we have even heard testimony from those who have subsequently died about how much trauma being collected by a police car puts on them and how much it affects their ongoing treatment. We need to do everything that we can to improve this situation and we need to do it as soon as we can.

With this motion today we can make a very simple change that will make such a big difference to so many people. I recognise that it will not always be possible for unmarked cars and plain-clothes police to be used as we know that the police are overstretched and often have to respond to unanticipated events. That is why I specifically included the words "wherever possible". But I hope we can achieve an improvement on the current situation where marked cars seem to be used in almost every case.

As I said, there is a lot that we need to do. I think that we could even have a debate about whether the police are the most appropriate ones to be escorting people to hospital for assessment, but it is the situation that we are working under now and I am looking for a very simple change to help people who are being affected by it now.

I note that there are some amendments being circulated. I look forward to the debate on those amendments, but I hope that the Assembly will see the benefit of this motion and support it today so that we, as of today, can be providing some extra support and making a real difference in the support of people suffering from mental illness.

MR WOOD (Minister for Disability, Housing and Community Services, Minister for Urban Services, Minister for Police and Emergency Services, and Minister for Arts and Heritage) (4.05): Ms Dundas has delivered a motion which superficially appears


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