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Amendments to the Mental Health Act

18 October 2022

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: I rise to speak on the Statutes Amendment (Attorney-General's Portfolio and Other Justice Measures) Bill, which amends 14 acts within the Attorney-General's portfolio and two acts that are justice-related. As the honourable member has observed, this is a matter that we dealt with almost 12 months ago to the day; I had the opportunity to look at Hansard this morning. A number of the amendments are of a technical nature, as stated in the Attorney-General's second reading speech, but some of them do have broader implications. In particular, I want to highlight some of those that have significant effects.

The amendments to the Children and Young People (Safety) Act provide an important measure in protecting young people. In cases where a young person is involved in communication with a person subject to a direction, this amendment ensures the child is protected from committing an offence. As many in this chamber will be aware, I am committed to ensuring that children are not caught up in the criminal justice system, and this amendment certainly prevents that in some cases.

Part 13 of the bill removes automatic entitlement to legal representation under initial reviews provided for in the Mental Health Act 2009. The Greens have some concerns with this clause, however, as we believe in the fundamental principles of the right to a fair hearing and we believe that this must be upheld. That includes the right to competent representation through our legal processes.

In the Attorney-General's second reading contribution, he referred to initial reviews being undertaken on the basis of written reports and treatment plans and stated that this means legal representation is not necessary for initial reviews. In a submission to the then Attorney-General, the Hon. Vickie Chapman, the Law Society stated its opposition to the proposal to exempt section 79 reviews because:

…the orders which are reviewable under this section involve orders in respect of the detention of children, the extension of inpatient treatment orders and detention of a person who has been detained following the expiry or revocation of a previous inpatient detention order.

We do not agree that legal representation should be denied in these circumstances and we will be moving an amendment at the committee stage to remove this section. Members may recall (any of those who are listening) that around this time last year, I moved an amendment to the bill to do just that—well, I was going to move an amendment; we did not progress with it on advice that was received from the government. My office has since engaged with the Law Society. Again, it is still their view that they have some concerns around this section and it is on that basis that I will be proceeding with the amendment.