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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2016 Week 06 Hansard (Thursday, 9 June 2016) . . Page.. 1975 ..

Mental Health Amendment Bill 2016

Debate resumed from 5 May 2016 on motion by Mr Corbell:

That this bill be agreed to in principle.

MRS JONES (Molonglo) (5.05): I rise today to speak to the Mental Health Amendment Bill 2016. This mental health bill was originally implemented last year and I am aware that the primary purpose of the amendments is around tidying up some of the technical issues, with the piece of legislation having been enacted for a little while now. As we have discussed at length here, the original drafting of the Mental Health Bill was a long time in coming, and a great deal of work went into ensuring careful and appropriate care for those managing mental illness in our city.

I will be moving a minor amendment to the bill. The amendment applies to clauses 16, 17 and 20. The crux of it is to continue to implement a time frame regarding reporting of psychiatric treatment, community care orders and reporting on the statement of action if a patient is restrained, whether there has been involuntary seclusion or the need for medication to be given forcibly.

Such reporting is to third-party bodies and covers those in our mental health system who are some of our most vulnerable citizens under the care of bodies such as the public guardian. Such reports are a part of the information loop which allows the public guardian and others to function. One of the main works in the case of the public guardian is to visit people in care. We have often heard in committee hearings in this place how the public guardian visits such people and how their resources are stretched. Should a client in one of our mental health facilities have been involuntarily secluded or sedated, I think as a community we would expect that they might be prioritised for such a visit. If time lines for the reporting of such events are not given a finite limit, my concern is that the integrity of their role in being the eyes and ears of the community could become more difficult. I understand that the government may be taking another view, but I will push on.

The government has brought, with the changes today, a change from a 12-hour time frame for reporting to the terminology “as soon as possible”. Given that there was an original 12-hour time frame, I have suggested a 48-hour time frame. This occurs at various places during the bill. I know that the minister’s office has come back saying that “as soon as possible” will provide more protection for patients, as reporting could be provided sooner than one or two days, but I think the 48-hour time frame does not preclude earlier reporting. It is an expectation that it will be done within that time period.

I recall that last year, even in decisions around merging the public trustee and the public advocate, there was significant concern about bringing those two functions together. The former head of the public guardian, Heather McGregor, was reported as saying that it would be a travesty to give the guardianship function to the public trustee because of some issues that had been experienced there, and speaking about public trust. So I guess it goes to public trust as well.

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