Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1995 Week 9 Hansard (23 November) . . Page.. 2409 ..
MR MOORE (continuing):
Perhaps because he had a mental illness. Are we still so ignorant that we still regard people with a mental illness with fear? Do we still think they must be dangerous? If that is so, we have failed immeasurably to educate not only our community but our own police and others in the health profession who do not treat these people with the sensitivity and professional care that is their right.
I believe that this tragedy was avoidable. It was revealed that this man had attempted to seek help prior to his relapse. There are many people who suffer from the illness of schizophrenia who know when they are about to relapse, and ask for medical treatment and are denied it. I am aware of situations where people in this position have deliberately provoked the police in order to force the authorities to treat them. Of course, that puts the police in basically an unwinnable position. If this man had been treated as he deserved by the mental health branch in the first place he would be alive today. We cannot undo what has been done. I emphasise again, Mr Speaker, that I put no blame on the individuals involved in the situation. We can, however, learn from this tragedy and take seriously the need for resources that alleviate the overload that the crisis management team has had to deal with.
The Federal Minister for Health, Carmen Lawrence, has called for a task force to improve services and procedures. The Chief Minister responded by saying we do not want yet another task force, but to "get on with the job of fixing the problem". My motive in raising this issue is to encourage the Chief Minister to do just that - to get on with the job. There are attitudes to address, police to be trained, and bureaucratic hurdles to be removed from the recruitment process. We need an increase in qualified staff to deal with the huge demand on mental health resources. There are great challenges there, Mr Speaker, and I understand that there have been attempts in some of those areas that have come to nought. All members of society have the right to be treated with dignity, and to get accurate diagnosis and proper medical treatment.
If, as the Chief Minister has stated, we have had the benefit of the Burdekin report and other reviews, why have they not been acted upon? Why, Chief Minister, have you not been getting on with the job? I believe the response warrants more than amendments to and monitoring of mental health legislation. It requires a commitment to service delivery of a professional kind that the community can trust. The Chief Minister and I were on a committee last year that recommended that very thing. This service, including that of the police, ought to be based on respect, not fear. People with schizophrenia are not dangerous; they are frightened and ill. If we threaten them and exacerbate their fear, of course they might become dangerous. So why do we still approach them with the very treatment that will make their condition worse? For many years we have heard complaints from lawyers, social workers, health workers, clients and relatives of clients about the inadequacy of our mental health system. To do what they need to do they need resources which translate into staff and facilities.
As you know, many of these people are placed in Belconnen Remand Centre or in police cells rather than receiving an opportunity for diagnosis at the point of arrest. They often do not receive treatment, as a result, until much later on, and on more than one occasion not at all. The ACT, more than any other State or Territory, is in a prime position to develop a model of mental health care which trains both the health workers