Page 4136 - Week 13 - Tuesday, 15 November 2005

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Mental health

Discussion of matter of public importance

MR SPEAKER: I have received letters from Dr Foskey, Mr Gentlemen, Ms MacDonald, Ms Porter and Mr Smyth proposing that matters of public importance be submitted to the Assembly. In accordance with standing order 79, I have determined that the matter proposed by Mr Smyth be submitted to the Assembly, namely:

The state of the mental health system in the ACT.

MR SMYTH (Brindabella—Leader of the Opposition) (3.45 pm): We have just had the latest focus on mental health issues through the activities undertaken during Mental Health Week last month from 9 to 15 October 2005, and congratulations to all those who involved themselves in the activities. Mental health issues have always been with us and this will continue to be the case. Further, if recent trends are any guide, the incidence of mental illness is likely to increase.

It is salutary to consider the comments of the Australian Human Rights Commissioner and Disability Discrimination Commissioner in an address to the National Press Club in 2004. Dr Sev Ozdowski put things this way:

The statistics on sanity are that one out of every five Australians this year will experience some form of mental illness. Think of your four best friends. If they’re okay, then it’s you.

Mental health issues are real. They touch virtually all of us and they demand an effective response from all governments. In this context, I suggest that the optimum approach is to seek agreement across all political views that there is a sound response to mental health issues. Unfortunately, at the level of the states and territories there appears to be a dichotomy of approaches to responding to mental health issues, and it is at this point that the recent announcement made by the ACT government, through the Minister for Health, demonstrates the apparent inability of this government to focus on the whole breadth of issues relating to mental health.

In September 2005, Mr Corbell announced that the ACT government was considering the development of a new mental health precinct at the Canberra Hospital. This mental health precinct is being considered as part of the master planning for this site and could include high-security, adult and young persons services and possibly other inpatient and outpatient services. This proposal has been painted as path-finding by seeking to bring together disparate facilities and services and also to provide a more appropriate physical site for the provision of mental health services.

Unfortunately for this government, the proposal fails on a critical ground. It deals with only one component of responding to mental health issues. It only deals with physical security matters. What it ignores are the equally important issues related to providing appropriate community-based services for people who have mental health issues. There is nothing in this grandiose announcement that covers these issues. The significance of this omission is that the Mental Health Council of Australia, as a major organisation with

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