Page 4115 - Week 10 - Tuesday, 20 September 2011

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There is not an easy solution available as yet, but I do hope that we can find a better way to ensure that suspicious deaths in group homes or respite will be investigated by a coroner without the need for parents to lobby.

Another point that was raised with my office by a bereaved partner is whether all cases of suicide should require coronial investigation. At the moment, the Coroners Act stipulates that any person who dies while being cared for in a mental health facility or while under an involuntary order would require a coronial investigation. The question is: should this go further, given that almost all deaths by suicide are preventable? In considering this request, we also examined the historical nature of the coroner and the coroner’s need to maintain a clear mission in determining cause of death.

ACT Health’s quality assurance committee investigates matters involving suicide and examines how ACT Health followed policies and procedures when treating a patient. There are some concerns from carers that this system does not allow an open discussion with partners or family on how policies could be changed. Perhaps what is needed is a mechanism such as the child death review committee for people who die by suicide to consider where policies failed a client and propose improvements. Given the number of people who die by suicide each year in the ACT, this is a proposal that the Greens believe warrants further investigation and discussion.

SupportLink’s submission on the first discussion paper on the Coroners Act proposes that the ACT government fund a coronial support service to provide support and counselling to families. I appreciate that the bill does intend to promote greater support for families and friends by the Coroners Court, but it does not go to the extent of providing counselling. SupportLink’s proposal is best addressed through government budgets rather than the legislation, but there is good reason for it to be included in the next budget.

SupportLink’s submission highlights that the ACT did once have a coronial support service, but that service was withdrawn. The ACT is now the only Australian jurisdiction not to have a coronial support service. The government does provide support to families where a death involves a crime, but such deaths account for a limited number of cases through the Coroners Court. SupportLink currently has a contract with the AFP, which allows the AFP to refer people to SupportLink in order to access support services, but the contract does not cover coronial matters. Despite this, last year the AFP referred 159 clients to SupportLink for matters regarding the coronial court. SupportLink also attended 43 suicides and 16 motor vehicle fatalities. I would reiterate that there should be funding allocated in the next budget for a coronial support service.

MR CORBELL (Molonglo—Attorney-General, Minister for the Environment and Sustainable Development, Minister for Territory and Municipal Services and Minister for Police and Emergency Services) (6.04), in reply: I thank members for their support of this bill. This bill is an important incremental reform of the coronial system and has been the subject of detailed consultation amongst all key stakeholders. I note members’ comments, particularly in relation to a coronial support service. The government is currently considering the establishment of a coronial support service, but this is of course subject to a detailed budget bid.

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