Page 3847 - Week 12 - Wednesday, 19 October 2005

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MR CORBELL: If that was the only thing the Official Visitor was saying, then I would share Mr Smyth’s concerns. Unfortunately Mr Smyth does not mention the other things that the Official Visitor has been saying to me, both in her formal reports and in meetings that I have had regularly with her throughout the year. I should stress to members that I take the role of the Official Visitor very seriously. Indeed, the outgoing Official Visitor, Joan Lipscombe, and I have had an ongoing dialogue about issues raised by her and her fellow official visitors throughout the year.

What Joan Lipscombe and her other official visitors are saying to me is that they are seeing cultural change within Mental Health ACT. When it comes to issues around the care and protection of people with a mental illness, they are seeing a greater willingness on the part of staff to engage with clients and consumers, their carers and families, whether they are in the custody of the psychiatric services unit or whether they are being cared for in their own homes in their own neighbourhoods.

The Official Visitor does recognise that there are pressures in the system. She is drawing those to my attention. Those are not pressures that in any way I resile from or deny exist. These are real and serious problems for mental health services in the ACT. But the government’s approach has been, first of all, to acknowledge that these are not issues that have arisen overnight. They are not some magical conjunction that has come about simply because I am the minister or Labor is in government. These are historical issues that the territory has grappled with for a significant period of time.

The government recognises these issues and is tackling them. Indeed, since 2000-01, mental health funding in the ACT has risen by 75 per cent. That is a significant increase in funding. On top of that, the Official Visitor herself has acknowledged the preparedness of mental health staff to work proactively with clients and consumers. She has commended the government on the steps we have taken to address the appalling safety and security problems at the existing psychiatric services unit, a facility built and planned during previous governments, including the previous Liberal government. The facility is less than 10 years old but it has had to be significantly upgraded to address these issues.

The Official Visitor has commended the government on its work on these issues. It is all very well to find the adverse and the negative comments. It is another challenge of integrity altogether to put those comments in context. It is something that Mr Smyth does not do when it comes to these sorts of issues. We recognise the challenges in the mental health sector. We are investing further in mental health services. We are working with clients and consumers to address these issues.

That has been acknowledged most recently to date in reports of the Mental Health Council of Australia, the Brain and Mind Research Institute of Australia and the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. They recognise that the government is accepting of the challenges that we have in our mental health system, is not defensive about them and is making rapid improvements. That will continue to be our approach as we continue to improve mental health services for people in the ACT.

MR SMYTH: I ask a supplementary question. Minister, what steps are you taking to deal with the increases in violence and aggression towards staff?

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