Mr SOUTHWICK (Caulfield) — It is my pleasure to speak on the Mental Health Bill 2014, a bill that is a long time overdue. I want to commend up front the Minister for Mental Health for her tireless work in the areas of mental health, disability and community services, which is of paramount importance. What you see is a minister who gets it. This bill puts the focus on and gives power to the people with mental health illness and their families. It puts them at the centre of decisions about assessment, treatment and recovery. The same could be said of the national disability insurance scheme, which also refers the power to make decisions to the end user and takes it away from the service providers. People who are seeking help do not need to be told what to do and how to do it. We are very clear that it is important for them to have the opportunity to participate in decisions about the process of their assessment, treatment and recovery.
The Mental Health Act 1986 is almost 30 years old, and there are a lot of community expectations for the new act. I am pleased that the government has now introduced the bill to the house. There has been extensive consultation throughout the development and drafting of the bill, as we have heard.
The bill introduces a number of new elements to the legislation, including a provision which promotes and enables voluntary treatment in preference to compulsory treatment wherever possible. Where compulsory treatment is required, the bill seeks to minimise its duration and ensure that it is provided in the least restrictive way possible. We have heard several speakers for the opposition in this debate quote the numbers of people who would be reviewed as part of a tribunal process under the Mental Health Tribunal. They have said that there will be an additional 8000 people, but this is factually incorrect. Currently we have about 6000 people who would access this tribunal; we are expecting another 2000. It is not an additional 8000 people; it is a total of 8000 people, an increase of 2000 people. The government is well under way in ensuring that the tribunal is properly resourced and supported to prepare for that increase. I wanted to make sure that was on the record, because we do not need a scare campaign from the opposition about the work that is being done in this area.
The bill does a number of things: it promotes recovery‑oriented practice, it minimises the duration of compulsory treatment, it safeguards the rights and dignity of people living with a mental illness and it enhances oversight while encouraging innovation and service improvement. It also builds a strong partnership between patients, carers and practitioners to ensure that people who need mental health services can access support and have better experiences.
We have heard many speakers from both sides of the house talk about the impact of mental illness. We know that mental illness affects many within our community, and quite often we see in it the effects of alcohol and drug use. As a member of the board of the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation I am familiar with gambling addictions and am aware that quite often there are comorbidity issues that are connected with a mental health disorder. A lot of people are looking to escape from the issues that they have to deal with by resorting to the use of addictive substances to cover them up. The bill promotes a holistic approach. We are looking at prevention, early intervention, recovery and treatment processes for mental illness, all of which are addressed in the bill.
On 10 October 2013 we celebrated World Mental Health Day. Last year I participated in a campaign called ZIP IT, which required participants to be quiet for 24 hours. It was very difficult for me to remain quiet. The Minister for Police and Emergency Services is well aware of that, because he had to put up with me not being able to make any contribution on that day. It was frustrating for me to be quiet for 24 hours, but it gave me the opportunity to experience in that time frame what many go through over a lifetime — not being able to speak for themselves, not being able to contribute and not being able to communicate.
I recall going on a tram from Parliament along St Kilda Road and into my electorate of Caulfield. I wanted to ask someone for directions on the tram and pointed to a map. However, the person wanted to engage me in conversation, but I could not talk back to him because I was involved in the campaign. I produced a little card which said, ‘I can’t speak today’. I think the person thought I was suffering from other issues as well, and he kept as far away from me as possible. I was left to sit in a corner, not doing anything and trying to find my way. I share this experience because it is an experience that many people have in their lifetime when they find it very hard to have that conversation. They find it hard to communicate and, most importantly, they feel isolated. That is what mental illness leads to — isolation.
Last week I hosted and sponsored a men’s health forum in my electorate with GriefLine to bring to the attention of the community the issues that many men experience in seeking help for health issues, particularly mental health issues. The fact is that most men do not seek help and most men do not talk about their own issues, so it is very important that we talk about that within our community.
Ironically, the day before the men’s health forum was International Women’s Day, and I went along to an event in my electorate. About 100 women attended along with 3 men, of which I was one. I figured that when we ran the men’s health forum the following day to look at mental health 90 per cent of attendees would be men. In fact we had 55 women and 5 men attend to talk about men’s health. It is a perfect example of the fact that when we have a forum on the topic of men’s health men do not turn up to have that conversation.
This is a very important bill. Mental health is something that affects each and every one of us in some way, shape or form. We have all been touched by it, and we need to resource it, we need to talk about it and we need to ensure that we have it front and centre of most of our conversations. We also need to do what we can to ensure that it is supported.
The government has provided a great framework for mental health in this bill. It is a long overdue framework, but the government has done so much when it comes to mental health. In January we saw the release of a whole‑of‑government alcohol and drug strategy and a $12 million contribution to help emergency departments better respond to drug and alcohol‑affected patients. In April 2013 the government announced that it would build a 54‑bed acute mental health facility in Werribee, and it allocated $70 million in the budget to better support Victorians with mental health issues and drug and alcohol addictions. We have seen an investment of more than $4 million in improving the safety of women in mental health care, a $10 million boost in mental health research and a comprehensive reform of the mental health sector.
Some work has been done on eating disorders, and there has been an initiative to combat the prevalence of ice in the community. As a member of the Law Reform, Drugs and Crime Prevention Committee I have been involved in an inquiry which is looking at the problems with ice in our community. It is a terrible drug that is reaching out to and impacting on so many families, both in the city and in rural and regional areas. The evidence is overwhelming that people of all ages and from all demographics are taking this drug, not in isolation but because of mental illness they have experienced along the way. They take a drug such as ice to alleviate their pain and the harm they have suffered and in an attempt to put themselves in a positive frame of mind. As a government we have to do whatever we can, and I know the minister has been working on this. The Minister for Police and Emergency Services, who is in the chamber, has been working on trying to curb some of the supply elements of drugs like ice in our community.
This is a good bill. It is a solid bill. There has been a lot of great work done, and I commend the department and those who have been involved in this process. But most importantly I commend the minister on her great work in bringing this bill before the house.