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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2020 Week 07 Hansard (Thursday, 20 August 2020) . . Page.. 2067 ..

Mental Health Amendment Bill 2020

Debate resumed from 30 July 2020, on motion by Mr Rattenbury:

That this bill be agreed to in principle.

MRS DUNNE (Ginninderra) (11.52): The opposition will support the Mental Health Amendment Bill 2020. The bill seeks to provide a more flexible approach to apprehension, especially when a patient agrees to the need for treatment. There are five elements to the bill, which came about as a result of the initial review provisions of the act in 2015.

First, apprehension will not apply to a person who has contravened a mental health order but later agrees to treatment somewhere other than a mental health facility—for example, in the person’s home—and the relevant official is satisfied that that will work. This will have the added benefit of relieving pressure on mental health facilities.

Importantly, though, this element of the bill will improve what some mental health patients have told me is a very confrontational, upsetting and unilateral system. Equally importantly, this amendment will necessitate some training and retraining of officials dealing with what can sometimes be a difficult and emotional situation, and will require a more proactive and empathetic approach.

The second element under these amendments is the prospect that an apprehension will require attending officers to be satisfied on reasonable grounds, not clinical grounds, that the person needs to be examined by a doctor and that the person refuses to be examined immediately. An application can be made to the ACAT in relation to decisions made by officers.

This goes to training as well, as I mentioned earlier. This element and others in the bill will come into force in February next year. If the training is done before then, the minister can decide to bring the commencement date forward; but the delay is, essentially, to allow for a training program.

The third element of the bill relates to affected persons; that is, a person who suffers harm by a forensic patient. Currently, affected persons can only have access to information about forensic patients who are processed through the justice system. This bill allows affected persons, as well as the Victims of Crime Commissioner, to be heard at ACAT proceedings in relation to a forensic patient.

Fourthly, the chief psychiatrist will be able to make guidelines by notifiable instrument for mental health facilities, mental health professionals and anyone else carrying out a function under the act. The chief psychiatrist must consult as relevant, and the guidelines must include a statement about how they are consistent with the act and with human rights. Guidelines can also apply, adopt or incorporate laws or judgements of other jurisdictions. Compliance with guidelines is mandatory.

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