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Wednesday, 18 November 1959

Mr E JAMES HARRISON (Blaxland) . - I listened with a good deal of interest to the contribution of the honorable member for Watson (Mr. Cope), and I hope that he does not persist in the point of view that he holds with regard to the deletion of paragraph (1). It is agreed, I think, that the position of those who have become mentally ill has been largely neglected in this country over a long period. New South Wales is advancing perhaps more rapidly than any other State in regard to the treatment of the mentally ill. The New South Wales Minister for Health has adopted a humane approach to the problem and, although I have not discussed this with the Minister, I feel that this provision has been drafted with the New South Wales legislation in mind. Honorable members will notice that paragraph (1) does not use the term " mental institution ". In New South Wales, this term is being eliminated from legislation dealing with the mentally ill. The New South Wales legislation deals with the psychiatric rehabilitation of those who become mentally ill from time to time. Over the last two years there has been a tremendous advance in New South Wales by rehabilitation associations, in conjunction with organizations such as Rotary, to take advantage of the latest modern methods of treating the mentally ill and restoring them to a degree of sanity so that they can return to civil life and to some form of useful occupation.

Mr Cope - Are you supporting my argument?

Mr E JAMES HARRISON - No. Every day it is becoming harder to obtain a divorce on the grounds of insanity. Having played some active part in the work that is being done to rehabilitate the mentally ill, I find myself coming down very firmly on the side of this paragraph. Without this ground, what happens? If the inmate of an institution, who has been cared for in every way possible and given humane treatment for his mental illness, is regarded by the medical superintendent in charge of the organization as being totally and permanently of unsound mind - and the numbers are being reduced substantially as a result of modern treatment - by what means, short of subterfuge, is the other partner to the marriage to obtain release from a situation that offers no possibility of improvement? If relief cannot be obtained under this paragraph, resort must be had to paragraph (k) or to some other provision in the bill. If you moved away from parasraph(1) to paragraph (k), for example, in order to seek relief in a situation such as I have described, it would have the effect of removing the precious protection that is afforded in (1) to ensure that mental illness is not used as a means to obtain a divorce. To me that is of paramount importance. Nobody should be permitted ever to use mental illness as a vehicle to an easy divorce. With modern science helping to rehabilitate those who are mentally ill, this paragraph is the finest safeguard that could be incorporated in the legislation to ensure that no other vehicle can be used if in fact the person mentally ill is being detained because of that illness. Then the final step must be taken by the medical superintendent averring that there is no possible hope of recovery. If this type of relief is not available, people will resort to subterfuge. If this ground is removed the gate is open to subterfuge under paragraph (k) or some other provision, whereby great injury could be done to those inmates of institutions who may eventually recover.

Do not disturb a situation which in my view is the best protection this bill affords to those who have a chance of recovering from a mental illness because of modern methods of treatment now being advanced and developed very quickly to restore to human society persons sorely afflicted. Leave this paragraph as it is and as medical science advances, so you give greater protection to those who are mentally ill and to those who deserve every kind of treatment that can be extended by their relatives, by this Government, and by everybody who has anything at all to do with the problem.

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