From the outset I want to recognise the contribution of my opposite number, Mary Wooldridge, and the work she undertook as a minister in this area in the last government. I do so not because we always agree with the contributions of the then minister or the government but to recognise that we are all working towards a better outcome in society, especially in this area. There are issues on which we disagree with Ms Wooldridge; there are issues we might take exception to, but in the bipartisan spirit of this debate the opposition and the government are coming together to make what some people may regard as minor amendments to the legislation but which are actually significant amendments to its outcome. In so doing I will not take this opportunity to pursue that claim of difference.
The first thing to note about the Mental Health Amendment Bill 2015 is that two minor changes are made to the Crimes, Mental Impairment and Unfitness to be Tried Act 1997. This bill provides for a mental health annual report to Parliament. That is a very important part of the process. As I said, the bill makes minor amendments, but they are amendments that have a significant and meaningful outcome for people who are affected. The amendments will enable the transfer and return of forensic prisoners to a designated mental health service to obtain compulsory treatment.
I look to the crossbench at the moment, to Mr Bourman, and acknowledge his previous role as a police officer. I have no doubt and am quite confident that he would agree that there is a place for incarceration of offenders — there is no doubt about that — but that there is also a place for the appropriate treatment of offenders who are mentally ill, who suffer from a range of diseases that we in society would openly acknowledge have severely affected or impaired what they would normally do in the normal course as a member of society. The bill also addresses a number of minor technical and operational issues that were identified following the implementation of the act on 1 July 2014.
The first point I make about the amending bill before the house is that it provides for the production of an annual report. The 10-year mental health plan to be developed will have an annual report attached to it. This will be important for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, having the 10-year plan itself is important, because there will be times when we get things right and there will be times that as a Parliament we can do things better. But having a 10-year plan means that we are working towards something that in this particular instance is working for the betterment of the people we are talking about. Having a plan means that we can then be judged against the plan. That is where the annual report comes in.
The annual report will enable us to look at the 10-year plan and see whether we are meeting the aims in it and also whether the plan itself remains relevant, not necessarily just in year 1, 2, or 3 but right through to year 10. The plan itself essentially sets the strategic directions for the development of health services in Victoria across the decade.
Again in the spirit of bipartisanship prevailing around the chamber, the acknowledgement that mental health is something we need to address in a positive way is not lost on me, because mental illness in some respects is a hidden illness of society. If somebody breaks their arm or leg, you will see most often a plaster cast, and obviously people feel a degree of consideration for that person when they see them. But of course mental illness is hidden from view. It is something that people deal with; it is very much the devil that the person knows and deals with, often privately. Although mental illness may not be all encompassing in a person’s life, it obviously affects their family and their close and extended friendships as well. In this respect, appreciating the development of a mental health services plan over 10 years is an acknowledgement that mental health is an issue that we need to seriously address in society and as a Parliament. It gives me great confidence that people on both sides of Parliament are looking to address it, even with what some people would regard as minor legislative changes.
The 10-year plan is currently being developed by the Department of Health and Human Services. Governments of all persuasions, colours and parties are sometimes labelled as being less than collaborative with stakeholders, but importantly the current plan is being worked through directly with stakeholders. It is one thing to take the Parliament with us, but it is another thing to ensure that we are completely taking the sector with us. Making sure that the sector walks hand in hand with Parliament and is supportive of the change that we are looking to see effected with the 10-year plan gives that plan even greater prominence and importance and elevates the mental health system in the eyes of the people affected as well as the practitioners who work in the mental health area. The annual report will have a specific relationship with the work that the stakeholders have done in preparing that 10-year plan, and then the annual report will allow us to measure the plan as we go forward.
BREAK FOR LUNCH AND QUESTION TIME
As I was saying before question time and the luncheon break, the bill before the house amends the Mental Health Act 2014 in a minor way but which has some significant and positive outcomes. As I stated from the outset, the mental health report will be an annual report, but it will be related to a 10-year mental health plan for Victoria. The 10-year will plan will help set the strategic directions for the development of mental health services over the next decade.
I had spent a bit of time talking about how, sadly, because mental health issues are often hidden from view — there is no broken arm or plaster cast to signify that there is an issue — mental health can at times get lost in the discussion across the community. However, before us is a significant outcome that brings the issue of mental health to the fore. The annual report will support a strong ongoing dialogue with the community about the vision of the government — hopefully this government over 10 years, but certainly a Victorian government — for continuous improvement across public health mental services.
The bill amends the Mental Health Act in a relatively minor way. It amends the legislation to require the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services to prepare and submit annually a state of Victoria’s mental health services report to the Minister for Mental Health. Importantly for this house — and I am sure that Mr Morris will be happy to hear this — the report has to be tabled in both houses of Parliament, so he will have the opportunity to scrutinise it.
I referred to the Crimes (Mental Impairment and Unfitness to be Tried) Act 1997 enabling a court to impose custodial supervision orders for people who are unfit to stand trial or, sadly, who commit crimes but are found not guilty due to mental impairment. Prior to the break I mentioned Mr Bourman’s previous occupation as a police officer. It is fair to say and for Hansard to record that we share the view that mental illness has the capacity to affect people who commit crimes and hurt not just themselves and the people who are offended against but also the families involved. We need to be cognisant of that.
Acting President, I draw your attention to the fact that I am the lead speaker on the legislation, and I think there is a problem with the clock.
The ACTING PRESIDENT (Mr Eideh) — Order! Ministers are allowed 60 minutes. You have 3 minutes remaining.
Mr DALIDAKIS — I feel slightly aggrieved, because the issue of mental health is a serious one, and I hope subsequent speakers, certainly on the government side, acknowledge the issues I am trying to address: the 10-year strategic plan and the requirement that the annual report be tabled in both chambers.
There is a gap in the legislation that needs to be addressed, and that is what this bill does. The bill enables the Secretary of the Department of Justice and Regulation to transfer forensic prisoners to hospital for compulsory treatment. There is also a gap in the legislative scheme for providing compulsory mental health treatment to forensic prisoners. The bill amends the Mental Health Act to enable forensic prisoners to be returned to prison when they no longer need compulsory treatment. This is a very important part of not just the prison or hospital system but society, where people are rehabilitated, or treated, in many different respects and resume — obviously in this instance their custodial sentence — being members of society who are fully contributing.
Besides the changes relating to forensic patents and prisoners, we need to consider that the Mental Health Act is a major piece of legislation that only came into operation on 1 July 2014. Therefore these are minor amendments, and there may be further amendments as time goes by. A number of minor issues have been identified that need to be corrected straightaway.
Again, most of these issues are minor, and we will work through them. As I acknowledged in my opening comments, the bill has the support of the opposition, which is welcome. While we continue to have bipartisan support in this area, those people who need our assistance will win the most from these changes. I commend the bill to the house.