MENTAL HEALTH BILL 2014

I rise to make a brief contribution on the amendments to the Mental Health Bill 2014. In doing so, I commend the tenor of the way that these amendments have been debated in the house, and the way in which the bill has been addressed by the government and indeed by the opposition. I commend my colleague the Leader of the Opposition for his eloquent and deeply felt contribution to the debate, which demonstrated the sense with which we as the opposition have come to this bill — that is, with a real sense of trying to achieve the best outcome.

It is in that context that I mention that this bill has had a lengthy gestation. It has spanned two parliaments. It was commenced by my colleague the member for Bellarine when she was a minister and was then taken up by the new Minister for Mental Health, the member for Doncaster, who is at the table. The minister further enhanced the bill and ensured that it went through another consultation process soon after her appointment as minister. She has moved this bill along with the community. The great secret of this bill is that it has been a lengthy process to get us to where we are now.

The opposition put forward some amendments to the bill during the last sitting week. I watched the minister carefully as we dealt with those amendments. I do not  wish to verbal the minister but I suspect that in her heart she was attracted to the amendments the opposition moved and that she may well have considered those amendments and taken them on board at that time. I understand that she needed to take further advice in relation to those amendments, but essentially these Council amendments are the guts of what the opposition was seeking. We are grateful that these amendments were passed in the Council.

I thank my colleague Mr Jennings, a member for South Eastern Metropolitan Region in the Council, who is observing these proceedings from the gallery, for the counsel he provided and particularly for informing us about some aspects of this bill that, as the Leader of the Opposition eloquently articulated, are quite confronting. There is no question about that. Many people find electroconvulsive treatment (ECT) confronting. As I indicated in my contribution to the second-reading debate, I sought the counsel of senior people in the mental health field and psychiatrists practising in the field.

Not surprisingly, as the minister would know, I also sought the counsel of my dear friend and comrade Neil Cole, a former member for Melbourne, who is a fantastic advocate on behalf of people with a mental illness. I remind the house of the extraordinary courage of Neil Cole, who was the first member of Parliament to declare himself as a person suffering from mental illness. It was an extraordinarily courageous thing he did at a time when it would be fair to say people did not necessarily understand or empathise as well as they do now. People have been on a journey to a better understanding of mental illness, and in a courageous way my friend Neil Cole stood up and said, ‘Yes, I suffer from mental illness, yes, I am a member of Parliament, and yes, I struggle with these issues on a daily basis’. It is real for him and for many people.

I acknowledge Neil here today as we acknowledge John McGrath, a former member for Warrnambool, and the dreadful journey his family has had to take, with the tragic death of one of his children and the battle of another child with mental illness. We think about them today, but we also think more broadly about the one in five people who suffers from mental illness. This bill will go a long way to supporting them and ensuring that we have in place an appropriate legal framework to support them through that journey.

In that respect I acknowledge that the ambiguous aspects of gender identity are being addressed by these amendments. Gender identity is not a mental health issue. I had the honour of working as parliamentary secretary to Rob Hulls, a former Attorney-General, on the extraordinary reforms undertaken to end discrimination against these people and I met with many of the people the member for Prahran mentioned. Sally Goldner is one of the most courageous people I have ever met.

The gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex community is well served by these amendments.

The members of the transgender community are the bravest people I have ever met. Many of them are going through transition, and we know some of the crime statistics around the abuse the transgender community confronts on a daily basis. It is an extraordinarily brave act that members of this community show us every day when they get out there and proudly say, ‘This is who I am, and I’m going through transition and gender reassignment’. As a Parliament we should stand with them, and we are doing that today. We are saying to transgender people, ‘You do not have mental health issues, and you ought to be respected in this bill’. Along with many colleagues across the Parliament, I deeply respect the bravery of the transgender community.

Finally these Council amendments provide for appropriate checks and balances when dealing with ECT and young people. I recall from the briefing that was provided to us that ECT has been used for young people only three or four times in the last 12 months. It is only once, the minister informs me, for a person under the age of 18. Nonetheless, whether it is used once or a number of times, we ought to have appropriate checks, balances and reporting mechanisms in place so that the information comes before the Parliament and we can look at these issues in a bipartisan way and be better informed. ECT is confronting for people, but from the briefing provided by my colleague Mr Jennings to the shadow cabinet and from my own investigations I understand that ECT does have therapeutic outcomes, particularly for people suffering deep psychosis or in a deep depressive state.

It does have some therapeutic outcomes for them. It is part of a broader strategy of therapies that are available to mental health professionals, and it is used in a way that has appropriate checks and balances.

With these amendments, which essentially capture the concerns of the opposition in relation to the use of ECT, reporting mechanisms and the addressing of gender identity issues, this is a better and more robust bill. Ultimately, as the Leader of the Opposition said, this has to be about the people who are suffering from mental illness. It is a better bill as a result of the interventions that have occurred in the upper house and in the debate today. The opposition supports these amendments. I commend the bill to the house.