I rise to make a contribution to the debate on the Mental Health Bill 2014. This bill implements recommendations from the review of the Mental Health Act 1986, which was announced by the Labor government in 2008, and the consultation report, which was released in July 2009. The opposition acknowledges the importance of this bill and the review that was conducted as a forerunner to the formulation of the bill. We do so because we understand that one in five people will suffer from mental illness during their lifetime. This issue has a resounding impact on our community.
Whether people are or have been sufferers of mental illness or are carers, family members or friends, many people are impacted by mental illness.
This bill will repeal and replace the Mental Health Act 1986 and also amend the Sentencing Act 1991. The objectives of the bill are to provide a focus on the rights of the patient, the least restrictive, recovery-oriented treatment, the involvement of the patient in decision making and a recognition of the role of carers.
The review announced by Labor in 2008 explored whether involuntary treatment was appropriate for the treatment of people with mental illness. Although there were mixed views, the review found that there is a justification for involuntary treatment where the safety of the patient or others is at risk. Nevertheless, this requires an appropriate framework and safeguards to ensure that limitations on human rights are proportionate.
The safeguards recommended by the review extend those in the current legislation and include an amendment to the current criteria for involuntary treatment, including documented assessment and no treatment unless a person has a mental illness rather than just appears to; a more frequent external review and limited durations for involuntary treatment orders — currently external reviews are conducted within eight weeks of the order being imposed and annually thereafter; regulation of complaint handling; preferred mandatory second psychiatric opinion or a board decision prior to performance of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT); ECT should not be performed on a person who has capacity but refuses treatment; and additional mandatory safeguards for the use of ECT on young people and adolescents.
After the significant work it had done in this area it was the aim of the Brumby government to introduce a bill in 2011.
The May 2010 budget delivered significant funding for operation of the reforms and debating of the bill was planned for 2011, followed by the reforms being enshrined into law by July 2012, which would have allowed adequate time for the system to adjust to these reforms. As it stands today, this government’s continuous delays on what is such an important bill mean that adjustment time will be incredibly short.
The time for operational adjustment for providers of mental health services and patients will be as short as three months. The question must be asked about the significant amount of funding provided by the previous state government prior to the 2010 election. The answer is that the Brumby Labor government provided $36.6 million over four years in the 2010-11 state budget with $20.75 million per annum ongoing to deliver operation of these reforms, yet under both the Baillieu and Napthine governments little has been produced.
I urge the government to make proper budgetary allocations in this area in its forthcoming May budget. Labor believes it is extremely important that the Napthine government understands and acts upon the level of resourcing required to ensure that the reforms contained in this bill are achieved. An example of this is education for those who will use the services and the mental health services undertaking the reforms. Already there is limited time for stakeholders to be brought up to speed and an enormous amount of resources need to be ploughed into this area. There is also a need for significant funds to be directed into the area of advocacy and support services.
This bill includes some very important reforms, but the success of the implementation of these reforms is as important as the reforms themselves. As stated by Daniel Andrews, the Leader of the Opposition and member for Mulgrave in the other place, as well as by a number of Labor opposition speakers, there are also concerns about the administration of involuntary treatment by for-profit operations. This concern was born in the bill’s expanded definition of a designated mental health service, which will include privately operated services and private hospitals. Any involuntary treatment that is provided must be on the basis of clinical assessment and clinical assessment only.
There was much discussion and debate in the Legislative Assembly in its consideration-in-detail stage, in the wider community and in the media about the use of electroconvulsive therapy.
As lead speaker for the opposition, the Leader of the Opposition stated in his contribution to the second-reading debate in the Assembly that this is the sort of area where frequent reviews must take place, and I absolutely agree. I also note that in the Sunday Age of 23 March the Labor spokesperson for mental health, Mr Jennings, was reported to have said that Labor wants the legislation reviewed in two years to see if there have been any adverse effects or a spike in the number of treatments. I welcome the amendments in this area to be proposed this evening by Mr Jennings to ensure greater safeguards for those who are the most vulnerable in our community, particularly those who are young and experiencing mental illness.
To conclude, I would like to again reiterate the importance of this bill and the importance of these reforms; however, to be properly implemented they need to be well resourced.
This government has made it difficult for those who are and will be utilising the services and for the service providers to adapt in such a short time. I urge the government to be aware of this when it is making decisions on resourcing in the near future.
In closing, I take this opportunity to acknowledge the work of Lisa Neville, the member for Bellarine in the other place. As Minister for Mental Health in the Brumby government not only was she successful in making sure that the review took place — she initiated the process — but she went on and secured solid budgetary commitments towards mental health. Not only do I acknowledge her work but I also thank her for putting mental health clearly on the political agenda in Victoria.