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Wednesday, 26 May 2010
Page: 4272

Mr SHORTEN (Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Children’s Services and Parliamentary Secretary for Victorian Bushfire Reconstruction) (9:50 AM) —I want to draw the attention of the House to the use of chemical and other restraints on people with an intellectual disability. The number of young people with an intellectual disability, particularly autism, being subjected to physical or chemical constraint is far too high in Australia today. A very useful report by the Victorian Senior Practitioner, Jeffrey Chan, on behalf of the Victorian government has highlighted this problem. He reports that in Victoria there are approximately 2,000 people in care facilities being restrained on an almost permanent basis. I should put this in the context that the use of restraint and seclusion is not peculiar to Victoria; it occurs in all Australian jurisdictions and in international jurisdictions. Indeed, I would submit that Victoria is leading the way in monitoring and ensuring that standards are followed and complied with, particularly within a human rights framework. Nevertheless, it is true that belts, body suits, solitary confinement and medication are being used to control behaviour in Australian facilities.

Dr Chan has urged a rethink about the treatment of 827 very vulnerable people he found to be living almost permanently under a heavy dose of drugs and other restraints. Most of these 827 had multiple disabilities, 35 per cent had autism and most were men aged between 15 and 44. Whilst restraint might be the right thing to do from a medical point of view and in some cases a health and safety point of view, there is no doubt in my mind that it is happening too often. It is a big thing to physically shackle a person, remove their independence and personality through medication or put them into solitary confinement. It should only ever be considered as a last resort. It should not be a substitute for proper care and treatment. It should not be a solution which removes the need to address the causes of a patient’s difficult behaviour. It should only be done to prevent self-harm or harm to others.

I do not wish to single out Victoria because I believe they are doing more to monitor this than any other jurisdiction in Australia. I believe it is a cultural problem which exists across all our jurisdictions and elsewhere it just has not been reported on with the thoroughness and openness that has happened in Victoria. I do know that both New South Wales and Queensland are working on positive behavioural intervention teams. Kevin Stoner, from the Victorian Advocacy League for Individuals with Disability, has said that the level of chemical restraint in Victoria is something about which we should hang our heads in shame. The issue, I am pleased to say, has been made a priority by the national government. With 2,000 people being restrained in Victoria alone, it is likely that there are upwards of 8,000 people being restrained as I speak. We are working with the states and territories on a national mental health seclusion and restraint project. We want to establish national standards and find out the extent of this practice across jurisdictions. We need national collection of data and national standardised definitions to inform policy and practice.