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Wednesday, 11 May 1994
Page: 682


Senator CHAMARETTE (6.55 p.m.) —I welcome this report. I regret that I was not able to hear Senator Tambling's comments earlier. I will have to read them in Hansard. I think it is long overdue to have some kind of implementation of the policy in areas of mental health. The initiatives that are listed on page 2 of this document are areas that definitely need funding, and I am glad that they are there. However, there are two areas which I believe have not been dealt with adequately—


Senator Tambling —Only two?


Senator CHAMARETTE —At least two. I would like to mention them here. The first one is one that has been commented on by Aged Care in a press release and also in a press release in which the federal Human Rights Commissioner, Brian Burdekin, welcomes the budget initiatives but notes that he has not been able to see any specific allocation for specially designed dementia facilities. That is also noted in the Aged Care report. I believe it is a very serious concern. In Western Australia, in particular, we have an extremely good, specially designed unit called Lefroy Hostel. It is a good illustration of the way in which humanity and compassion combine with expertise and extremely good patient care which, in the long run, is more appropriate from a value and moral sense, and also in terms of the effective way in which we look after an increasing number of elderly people who have been affected by ambulant dementia. Often the way they are dealt with is by being over-medicated and treated as prisoners because they endanger their own lives if they are in a nursing home close to a road.

  The special facilities for people who are suffering from the effects of dementia are essential, and it is a very grave omission that there is not some allocation here for those purpose designed special units. Secondly, I am aware of the shortage of time—


Senator Patterson —I do not often agree with you, but I absolutely agree with you on this issue.


Senator CHAMARETTE —Thank you, Senator Patterson. I am sure it is one that many people want raised over and over again with the government at this budget time. Secondly, at a national level there are very few facilities for young people who are affected by mental illness. There is an acute need for acute care facilities. I think the absence of these facilities is going to be an ongoing problem in our community where unemployment remains a problem. If we look in our community, it is the remote and rural areas where youth are under stress in any case because of lack of facilities of every kind and lack of job opportunities. They have no help in the area of acute mental illness. We know that it is a vulnerable time and we know there is a problem with teenage suicides, so we have no excuse for not addressing this area of concern and doing it very urgently. They are just two areas, although I know there are many more.

  It has not been made clear how this money is going to be used. I would urge the federal government to take on a strong role in making it clear that there are certain areas where states do need to expend funding to address problems.

  There is a grave problem in many prisons. The open door policy in mental health often means that prisons become de facto acute care facilities and long-term detention centres for people who are actually suffering mental illness. The government should be examining whether funding is available for the training of people in mental health areas, the corrective services or police. There were two very tragic examples in Victoria recently where police, who cannot be expected to handle these difficult problems, shot people who were clearly suffering serious mental illness and offering very little threat to anybody but themselves.

  A national education strategy is needed. A large number of people throughout Australia are affected. They need to know they are not alone and that care is available.

(Time expired)