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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 11 Hansard (24 September) . . Page.. 3152 ..

MS DUNDAS (continuing):

The Mental Health (Treatment and Care) Act provides:

The tribunal may make an involuntary psychiatric treatment order in respect of a person if-

the person has a mental illness; and

(b) the tribunal has reasonable grounds for believing that, by reason of that illness, the person is likely to do serious harm to himself or herself or others, or is likely to suffer serious mental or physical deterioration unless subject to involuntary psychiatric treatment.

This means that a treatment order can be imposed on a person who presents no risk to themselves or to others. When a decision is made to impose medical treatment on a mentally ill person who poses no threat to others, the usual rationale is that if the person was well they would agree to the treatment. But often, when a mentally ill person recovers, they clearly state that they would not have consented to treatment regardless of the medical assessment that their illness was worsening.

For these reasons, we need as many safeguards as possible on the legal powers that can impose treatment on mentally ill people. I strongly support this measure, which empowers the Supreme Court to stay a treatment order while an appeal against it is being determined. But this fixes only part of the problem.

Mental health treatment orders are often issued for a period of six months, but it often takes longer than six months for an appeal to be heard. This delay often occurs in circumstances where a court would not necessarily be inclined to stay an order, so the appellant is forced to undergo prolonged treatment that they object to and have appealed against. I would like to see the government propose measures to ensure that appeals against mental health treatment orders are heard in a timely fashion. But this proposal represents a small improvement on the status quo, and I commend this initiative.

MS MacDONALD (10.49): I am rising to speak about this briefly, and from a personal perspective. As I have mentioned in this place before, my mother has a mental illness. She has undergone electric shock treatment, and I know that, if something along these lines had been available in the days when she was actually forced to undergo it, she would have a different quality of life from that she has now.

There are still cases where electric shock treatment is used for people with a mental illness. It is rare, and sometimes it is actually at the request of the patient. However, to force a patient into undergoing electric shock treatment when they do not actually want to do it, and they have appealed to their family and their family has said, "No, the doctors have said that this is what you should do," is just making the assumption, as has been done in the past, that the doctors know the best treatment for the patient.

With mental health treatment, there is a lot of undiscovered country in that regard. This bill will allow a person to actually make an appeal to the Supreme Court, and I agree with Ms Dundas that it should be done in a timely fashion. I think this is highly commendable, and I commend the bill to the Assembly.

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