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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1999 Week 4 Hansard (22 April) . . Page.. 1130 ..


MR MOORE (Minister for Health and Community Care) (10.53): Mr Speaker, I present the Mental Health (Treatment and Care) (Amendment) Bill 1999, together with its explanatory memorandum.

Title read by Clerk.

MR MOORE: I move:

That this Bill be agreed to in principle.

The Mental Health (Treatment and Care) (Amendment) Bill 1999 is the culmination of a long consultation process between the Government and the community. The Bill amends the Mental Health (Treatment and Care) Act 1994. Those of us who were in this place in 1994 will remember the long process undertaken in the development of the Act. That Act was the result of a major review of mental health legislation which began in 1990 with the Balancing Rights report.

All stakeholders in the mental health area - consumers, carers, mental health professionals and community members - rightly saw the 1994 Act as a major improvement in the ACT's mental health laws. The 1994 Act was a response to the major changes evident at that time in relation to the approach to mental health issues in general and mental illness treatments in particular. Mental health services have gone through a revolution in the past decade, and the 1994 Act provides some evidence of the Assembly's response to those changes.

The 1994 Act recognises the rights of mentally dysfunctional persons. The Act is based on the principle that mental health services should, wherever possible, be provided on a voluntary basis. Where involuntary treatment and care of persons with a mental dysfunction are considered necessary, such treatment should be the least restrictive of the person's human rights and should continue only for as long as involuntary treatment is clinically justifiable.

At the time the legislation was debated in the Assembly, many developments in the approach to mental health issues were on the horizon. In addition, the national mental health plan and the national mental health policy were only beginning to impact on policies, services and outcomes for people with mental illness. The Assembly - and I was one of the main protagonists - urged that the 1994 Act should have an expiration clause to ensure that it was reviewed in the short to medium term so that the law would not become irrelevant or unresponsive to the massive shifts in the approach to mental illness in Australia and around the world.

The expiration clause, in effect, required the Act to be reviewed by the Assembly by February 1999. In order to meet this timeframe, the Mental Health (Treatment and Care) (Amendment) Bill 1998 was introduced into the Assembly in November 1998. Members of the Assembly requested additional time to consider the provisions of that Bill. A number of community representatives also sought more time to discuss the proposed amendments with the Government. In order to enable this, the Assembly extended the operation of the Act to 30 June 1999. When I presented the Bill, I stated:

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