Michelle Lensink

Mental Health

I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking the Minister for Mental Health and Substance Abuse a question about delays in mental health reform.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: Questions have been asked previously in this chamber about the government’s response to the report by Ian Bidmeade, which was originally presented to the government in April 2005. In the Mental Health Unit Newsletter of May 2006 it states that ‘draft legislation will be prepared by the middle of this year for consultation’.

Further, in relation to the referral of mental health to the Social Inclusion Board, the Social Inclusion Commissioner, Monsignor Cappo, has stated in radio interviews in the past that he would expect the review to be completed by the second half of this year—that is, October or November 2006.

However, on ABC Radio this morning, the State President of the AMA, Dr Chris Cain, stated:

. . . the Social Inclusion Board, I understand, is not going to hand down their recommendations until after this budget cycle and probably leading into the budget cycle for next year, which means there’s going to be a delay of at least 12 months before any initiatives in funding are going to be announced.

My questions to the minister are:

1. Why has there been a delay in the government’s response to the Bidmeade report?

2. Is it correct that the Social Inclusion Board’s referral will be blown out by some six months?

3. When will we see the tabling of mental health legislation, or at least a draft for consultation?

The PRESIDENT: A number of opinions were contained in the explanation.

The Hon. G.E. GAGO(Minister for Mental Health and Substance Abuse): I thank the honourable member for her questions. Indeed, this government is making sure that we get things right, and that is why we are taking the time necessary to ensure that we have the very best legislation available to South Australians. As I have informed the chamber on a previous occasion, we do indeed intend to introduce new mental health legislation that will affirm the rights, dignities and civil liberties of mental health consumers and their carers.

We intend to balance these rights with the community’s legitimate expectation that they be protected from harm.

The proposed legislation will establish clear principles, enabling mental health consumers to receive appropriate services in various settings. It is worth while repeating that the reform arrangements for the transportation of mentally ill people involved in an incident or disturbance will also be covered by this proposed legislation. Police will still attend if protection is needed, but these proposed reforms will do much to free up valuable police resources.

What we are aiming for—and we are making sure that we take the time necessary to get it right—is a modern, innovative and ethical legislative framework for people affected by mental illness. We intend to change laws so that our specially trained mental health workers and psychiatrists will have the power to make community treatment orders, which may require a person to take prescribed medication or cooperate with visits from mental health workers. Currently, only the Guardianship Board can make such orders.

Since February, we have been working very hard. A working group, consisting of staff from the Department of Health and the Attorney-General’s department, has been working through a number of recommendations contained in the Bidmeade report which will deal with these mental health and guardianship issues. I plan to release this very soon for community consultation. The new legislation will provide a legislative framework that will promote a more responsive and consumer-focused mental health system and will also contribute to improving Aboriginal wellbeing.

As I said, our intention is to ensure that we get this right.

It is a complex series of issues, and we are making sure that we get the legislation right and that it ends up being the best legislation for South Australia. It is well under way, and a great deal of work by a range of extremely committed people has gone into its preparation. I hope that it will not be too much longer before we can release it. In relation to the Social Inclusion Board, Monsignor Cappo, who is the Commissioner for Social Inclusion, has extended the time frame for that report and has said that it will be due towards the end of this year.

Again, the transformation of our mental health system is a priority for this government. The consultation process has been extremely extensive. We are ensuring that we hear from all of the parties concerned, and that we get it right, so that it will be the best plan possible for mental health services in South Australia.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: I have a supplementary question arising from the minister’s reference to the transportation of mental health clients. Is the minister aware that the Ambulance Service has been charging people who previously would not have been charged had they been transported by SAPOL officers?

The Hon. G.E. GAGO: I would need to obtain information about that, and I am happy to bring it back to the chamber.

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