Page 3297 - Week 10 - Friday, 26 August 2005

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Friday, 26 August 2005

MR SPEAKER (Mr Berry) took the chair at 9.30 am and asked members to stand in silence and pray or reflect on their responsibilities to the people of the Australian Capital Territory.

Mental Health (Treatment and Care) Amendment Bill 2005

Debate resumed from 30 June 2005, on motion by Mr Corbell:

That this bill be agreed to in principle.

MR SMYTH (Brindabella—Leader of the Opposition) (9.31): The purpose of this bill is the amend the Mental Health (Treatment and Care) Act in regard to the provision of involuntary treatment with electroconvulsive therapy, known as ECT. Currently, ECT is used in the ACT for both voluntary and involuntary patients to treat severe depression and mania. Involuntary use of ECT can only be done by an order of the Mental Health Tribunal and only if it is convinced that it is necessary to prevent the loss of life.

I understand from a briefing I received from the chief psychiatrist and officials that currently involuntary ECT is used about 30 times a year in the ACT. The Liberal opposition understands that there is some community disquiet about the use of ECT. A lot of this disquiet is generated by the rather grandly named Citizens Commission on Human Rights. The Citizens Commission on Human Right is, of course, an arm of the Church of Scientology, which has had a long dispute with the concept of psychiatric medicine.

Nonetheless, there is a fundamental question involved, which is: do we, as a society, wish to empower the state so that it can apply involuntary treatment? The answer at the moment is yes, and there is nothing in this bill that affects that fundamental question. I understand that Dr Foskey would like to have a more general debate about the efficacy of ECT, and the Liberal opposition would be interested in that debate. But, given that this bill does not change the fundamental philosophical issue, we have to ask: what does the bill do?

This bill changes the time periods that apply in the process. Under the current act, the tribunal meets three days after an application for treatment is made. If the bill is passed, the tribunal will be able to meet as soon as possible. At a briefing given by the chief psychiatrist and officers it was indicated that it was thought that this new power would be needed possibly up to three times a year. Given that the application of involuntary ECT is for emergencies only, it makes sense for the tribunal to be empowered to meet and make orders more quickly.

It is interesting that states such as New South Wales and Queensland do not have the time frames that we have in our act. As soon as their tribunal can meet, it can make orders. The other thing is that we need to understand that there will be at least three psychiatrists involved in this process. The treating psychiatrist and the chief psychiatrist have a role to play and, of course, there is a psychiatrist as well as a magistrate on the tribunal.

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