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Second Reading: Mental Health Amendment Bill 2015

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Sam Hibbins MP
Member for Prahran
14 April 2015

Mr HIBBINS (Prahran) — I rise to speak on the Mental Health Amendment Bill 2015. The Greens welcome any move to strengthen and improve our mental health system.

There is no doubt that we, as a society, have come a very long way in how we view the issue of mental health, and I am sure that we all agree that there is much more to be done. The Greens are committed to ensuring that those who experience mental illness are able to access timely, high-quality mental health services and that they should be able to live free from stigma and discrimination.

I want to speak briefly and more broadly about why the issue of mental health is important to the electorate of Prahran. Last year the restructuring of mental health funding, which took a more clinical approach to the funding of mental health services, meant that a number of quality, community-based mental health services had to close due to funding restrictions or cuts, one of these being the Prahran Mission's purpose-built drop-in centre on Chapel Street. These services are critical for people experiencing mental illness, allowing them to remain connected to their community and providing them with an entry point to specialist services should they require them. The national disability insurance scheme model of individual support packages is welcome for people with severe permanent mental illness, but there are those who do not qualify for those packages, and community-based mental health services are absolutely essential to ensure that the most vulnerable members of our community do not fall through the cracks.

I was fortunate enough to be invited to Prahran Mission's Easter lunch not so long ago. Not only was there great food and great company; it was also a timely demonstration of the power of community-based services to bring people together and improve lives. The government has made a commitment of $400 000 to Prahran Mission, and it is absolutely essential that this money go to reopening the mission's purpose-built drop-in centre.

I go specifically now to the bill in question, which has four main purposes: to legislate the requirement for the department to publish a mental health services annual report; to enable Forensicare to publicly publish its statement of priorities; to make changes regarding the transfer of forensic patients back to prison after receiving compulsory mental health care outside prison facilities; and to make a series of minor changes.

I will speak first on the transparency provisions. The Greens strongly welcome the increased transparency and accountability provisions in this bill provided through the commitment to publish a state of Victoria's mental health services annual report and Forensicare's statement of priorities. Transparency and accountability are two themes that the Greens are pushing strongly in this Parliament, and we welcome these provisions in the bill. The Greens do have some concerns, and I will address them. We are concerned about what is missing from this bill in regard to electroconvulsive treatment (ECT) for children. We are very interested in whether the government intends that the mental health services annual report will include information about the number of children receiving electroconvulsive treatment and the impact of the treatment.

The Mental Health Act 2014 was a great improvement on the previous act, as it focused on a human rights approach to mental health treatment, provided for a mental health complaints commissioner and made a number of other improvements. However, some substantial concerns were raised by legal services, human rights agencies and the mental health sector about the legislation when it was presented to the Parliament. The Greens are disappointed that in this review and updating of the Mental Health Act the government has not taken the opportunity to rule out electroconvulsive treatment for children or commit to a review of the practice. The World Health Organisation document entitled WHO Resource Book on Mental Health, Human Rights and Legislation — Stop Exclusion, Dare to Care states:

There are no indications for the use of ECT on minors, and hence this should be prohibited through legislation.

In a submission to the Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee in relation to the Mental Health Bill 2014, the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission expressed concern about the use of electroconvulsive treatment on children under 18 years. The Greens recognise that there are some safeguards in place in this legislation to help protect children; however, we remain very concerned about the risks.

In 2014, Labor in opposition tried to amend the Mental Health Bill to legislate that the chief psychiatrist report on the number of children receiving electroconvulsive treatment between 2014 and 2016, provide details of any discomfort or side effects of the electroconvulsive treatment experienced by any young person and make recommendations as appropriate. It also urged that this report be tabled in Parliament. The amendment was not accepted by the government at the time. This raises the question: what is the government's intention in relation to reporting on children receiving electroconvulsive treatment? Given that it is not specified in the legislation or outlined in the minister's second-reading speech, is it the government's intention that this reporting now be included in the mental health services annual reports, and if not, why not?

The Greens ask that the government be consistent and be true to its word given in the previous Parliament, that it commit to conducting a two-year review of the use of electroconvulsive treatment for children and to making that report public so that it is transparent as to what the impact of electroconvulsive treatment might be on the developing brains of children. The Greens spokesperson for health, Colleen Hartland, a member for Western Metropolitan Region in the other place, will put a number of questions to the government and go into further details on these concerns. That said, the Greens will support this bill.

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Sam Hibbins MP
Member for Prahran
14 April 2015




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