Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (14:53): I am pleased to rise briefly to speak on this bill. And I will speak briefly, because we have heard so many really terrific contributions to this legislation today. It is incredibly important work for this Parliament. As Ms Shing recently mentioned, it will set a new course in our approach to mental health and wellbeing, and not before time. As someone who has been chairing the Legal and Social Issues Committee this term, I know the impact of mental health and the impact of a lot of our mental health policies are so broad reaching. We see that whether it is when we are doing an inquiry into homelessness and looking at the impact that mental health has on people’s housing or whether it is recognising that two out of five people who enter our prison system have been diagnosed with mental health issues—and if it is women, two out of three women have been diagnosed with mental health issues. Nearly half of the women in our prisons are taking medication for their mental health.
So the policies that we have made on mental health impact our justice system, impact our housing and the services that we offer people who are experiencing homelessness and impact a lot of our drug and alcohol policies. I think that the harm minimisation approach that is taken throughout this bill and is taken throughout the intentions of this bill is very good. I hope that that means we will start seeing a strong harm minimisation approach to alcohol and other drugs, not just in the services we provide but in the laws that surround drugs and alcohol in our community, particularly illicit drugs.
But as we know, we have been forever operating ambulances at the bottom of a cliff. We have constantly been in crisis mode. I know that all of us have had those desperate calls from constituents who just cannot get help for their loved one or are really struggling with their own mental health and there is nowhere for them to go. This bill and this approach, this plan, will enable far easier early intervention. It will also assist us in addressing stigma. We know of the stigma around mental health. We also know that people delay seeking help for their mental health because of the shame and stigma that they experience from having mental ill health.
The Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System found all of this—that we need a complete rebuild. But I have never met more dedicated people than the people in the mental health sector. I was recently at Heidelberg at the Austin’s acute mental health ward, and the dedication and the passion of the allied health workers there, of the nurses there, of the psychiatrists there and of even the receptionists there were quite overwhelming, but they were working with this incredibly dilapidated infrastructure and, to be honest, a fairly dilapidated system. There was a patient there who had an eating disorder, and I saw where she was staying and I could not help but think it was the last place that someone should be to get better. It was not conducive to making someone feel better and improving their health.
This legislation is really welcomed by our community. We commend the government on this work. It is well considered, and it is building from the base up. I was almost pleasantly surprised by the opposition’s amendments, which I am supportive of for recognising alcohol and other drugs and recognising they are important components of this and having that recognition introduced to the bill. This legislation and the implementation of it, being the implementation of the recommendations of the royal commission, will absolutely save lives. I do not think there is a single one of us who has not been affected by suicide or who has not mourned the loss of someone because of mental ill health and because of the fact that they were not able to get the help that they needed when they needed it. I think this legislation creates a vision for what a compassionate mental health system can look like—something that is responsive, something that is flexible, something that recognises that it is people centric. Having people with lived experience, which is so crucial to the system and to the checks and balances of this legislation, is incredibly important.
I thank everyone who spoke to me, whether that was Professor McGorry, the college of psychiatrists, the Health and Community Services Union (HACSU) or even the individuals in my community who wrote to me. I am very grateful for all of the people who spoke to my office and who I met with as part of our consultation on this. But to that end, there were a number of concerns raised with me by the nurses and midwives union and the Health and Community Services Union, and this led us to drafting a series of amendments. I am wondering if we could circulate those amendments now.
Fiona Patten’s Reason Party amendments circulated by Ms PATTEN pursuant to standing orders.
Ms PATTEN: These amendments establish a legislative basis for the Mental Health Workforce Safety and Wellbeing Committee. This is a committee that already exists, and it is currently established administratively via the secretary, so this is actually just embedding it into the legislation to ensure that this committee does continue to exist and continue to operate. Being a workforce safety and wellbeing committee, it will assist in some of the concerns that the workforce had about the implementation of various parts of the legislation and what impact they will have on the safety of their workplaces, and this ensures that there is transparent oversight of that. It flows from the royal commission’s recommendation 59, and as I say, its purpose will be to look at the prevention of and responses to the occupational health, safety and wellbeing risk to the mental health and wellbeing workforce. I think this is very sensible. It is implementing something that already exists, and I hope that it will be supported here.
As I said, I support the amendments that the opposition has raised and introduced for this bill as well, because alcohol and other drugs should not be seen as either/or in mental health. An alcohol or drug use disorder is part of a mental health spectrum, and so often we have seen and heard of people saying, ‘I can’t treat you for your mental health until you’re treated for your drug use disorder’ or ‘I can’t treat you for your drug use disorder until you have been treated for your mental health disorder’. It needs to be seen on the continuum, and we can do both. I think this legislation also enables that to happen. I hope this also means that we will see a lot more funding for alcohol and other drug services. I would like to see a lot more law reform in regard to alcohol and drugs because I think that actually would enable us to make far better early interventions before someone’s drug use or alcohol use becomes a problem, but particularly their drug use.
Just finally, I would like to highlight something that the Health and Community Services Union sent to me. It is not in the legislation, but I think it is something that really should be considered. It is recognising the importance of our allied health workers, whether that is our occupational therapists, our speech pathologists or our art therapists. They have such a crucial role to play in our mental health systems, and that really should be recognised:
HACSU believe that having access to the right intervention, at the right time, is integral to the experience of Consumers and the smooth functioning of the mental health system. We view Mental Health as a holistic service, rather than silos of disciplines. All professions must work hand in hand for the sector to work. Without one of the pieces the system falls apart. That is why we are advocating for staffing profiles across all disciplines …
Staffing profiles historically only apply to nursing staff. HACSU members know that staffing profiles must extended to all those working in the mental health sector.
I concur, and I hope as part of the implementation of this legislation we will see staffing profiles being extended to allied health workers.
Again, I would like to extend my thanks and gratitude to the many people who reached out to me about this legislation. As I have said, it goes directly to harm reduction in our community. It will save lives, and of course in that important context it has my full support.
Fiona Patten MP
Leader of Reason
Member for Northern Metropolitan Region
Second reading 18/8/22