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Changes to Psychiatric Confinement Payments ‘Insidious’

2 June 2015 at 12:25 pm
Lina Caneva
A Federal Government move to take welfare payments off people undergoing psychiatric confinement but not convicted of a crime will have a dramatic impact on the lives of people with disability and mental illness, writes WA Greens Senator Rachel Siewert.

Lina Caneva | 2 June 2015 at 12:25 pm


Changes to Psychiatric Confinement Payments ‘Insidious’
2 June 2015 at 12:25 pm

A Federal Government move to take welfare payments off people undergoing psychiatric confinement but not convicted of a crime will have a dramatic impact on the lives of people with disability and mental illness, writes WA Greens Senator Rachel Siewert.

Last week I was part of the Senate Committee hearing scrutinising yet another punitive measure the Government is trying to push through the Parliament. Scott Morrison is attempting to implement a measure that will save the relatively small amount of $29.5m by taking income support off someone undergoing psychiatric confinement because they have been charged with a serious offence.

Overwhelmingly, those giving evidence to the committee opposed the measure and recommended that the Bill not be passed. The reasons are clear for anyone that understands the issues around mental illness. This legislation brazenly vilifies and criminalises people with mental illness; it’s as if we have set aside decades of progress in mental health reform.

We must be clear, the people who will be affected by this measure are not prisoners, or criminals, they are patients. They are not in confinement for punishment and have not been convicted of a crime, for Scott Morrison to paint this group as a hideous group deserving of stripped down support, is incredibly cruel and reverses centuries of law.

As articulated during the hearing, since medieval times people who are mentally ill have been regarded as not morally blameworthy. As Mental Health Australia said in its submission – the people impacted by this measure have been found to be not morally culpable due to disability or mental illness and their differing status under the law reflects this. They go on to say they are held for the purpose of therapy and treatment.

Witnesses talked of the measure being misconceived, it represents a failure by Government to understand how the process works.

Evidence and witnesses highlighted the detrimental impact that this measure would have on the wellbeing and therapeutic progress of patients. In attacking this group of people by means of a budget measure, the Government will worsen mental health outcomes rather than providing necessary support.

Expert evidence to the inquiry outlined that income is vital in enabling people to access the basic necessities of life and to engage in rehabilitation, recovery and return to community living where access to accommodation is essential. It is also profoundly important for a person's sense of dignity, autonomy, sense of control and decision making.

This legislation will have a disproportionately impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, the Aboriginal Disability Justice Campaign estimates that a third of those detained under the various state mental health laws are Aboriginal and Torres Strait islanders. This legislation will affect those most vulnerable and disadvantaged and it is likely that those most disadvantaged haven't had access to mental health services.

This is an insidious and harsh measure that would save a relatively small amount of money but will have a dramatic impact on the lives of people with disability and mental illness; it clearly undermines recovery oriented mental health policy.

The Government should abandon this counter-productive measure and look towards viable budget savings from the big end of town.

About the author: Senator Rachel Siewert is the Greens spokesperson on Ageing and Disability Services and Chair of the Community Affairs References Committee.


Lina Caneva  |  Editor  |  @ProBonoNews

Lina Caneva has been a journalist for more than 35 years. She was the editor of Pro Bono Australia News from when it was founded in 2000 until 2018.

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  • Seen It All says:

    I have worked with people who would deliberately commit low level crime that would have them placed under psyc observation in facilities. I even know one lady who when her finances were down would deliberately seek several months under psych observations so she could build her bank balance by just allowing her welfare payments to build-which is what was the idea of low-level crime. I think waving a big stick at this suggestion merely shows a lack of awareness as to what actually goes on.

  • Former detainee says:

    I speak as a former detainee of Australia's forced psychiatry system. This story is about so-called "forensic patients", people who have committed a crime, been charged with a crime. The proposal is to strip welfare from those people only. I am one of the hundreds of thousands of Australians who have been locked up by government psychiatrists without committing or being charged with any crime, I do not have experience of the "forensic" confinement facilities but I do have personal experience of the general public "mental health system". For this senator, to claim "We must be clear, the people who will be affected by this measure are not prisoners", is truly sickening to me. If you are locked up in a building owned by the government and legally held there by government laws, you are imprisoned. Just because she chooses not to call the detainees "prisoners" does not mean they are not imprisoned by walls, fences, armed humans, locked doors and bars. The group she refers to, the ones being stripped of welfare, were, as she admits, charged with a crime, she then goes on to say (they are not) "criminals, they are patients." Well. I didn't know a legitimate doctor/patient relationship could be formed against a person's will, apparently if a doctor busts into the Green's senator's home, drags her out of bed, a doctor she's never met in her life, and locks her in a cage, and calls her a "patient", she's automatically to be referred to now, as a "patient". This is what government does in this area, it calls people "patients", who don't consider themselves patients, don't want to be anybody's patient. And of course she insists on claiming the "forensic patients" aren't "criminals", yet it was their body and their hands that committed a crime, they were charged with a crime, they are now imprisoned in a facility in response to their commission of a crime, but apparently in the la la land of believing in the psychiatric pseudoscience, we can say "they aren't criminals, they are patients". Whatever makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside, Senator. Whatever makes you feel like you're being a warm and compassionate human being by sentencing those who commit crimes, not to JUST be locked in a building, but to be locked in a building where they will be terrorised daily with forced psychiatric drugging, forced electroshock, and conveniently stripped of all human rights, including "blameworthiness", in fact, it is clear that we who are labeled "mentally ill" by the wonderfully warm and caring people called "the rest of society" are viewed as completely sub-human in this country. The farcical scene of a Senator defending the welfare rights of the worst killers in forensic facilities, does not exactly warm the heart of the average psychiatric "patient" who has never broken any law. We'd vastly prefer it if the Senator could grow some courage and actually defend our basic human rights, which are trampled on daily, in practices she completely and wholeheartedly supports, such as brutal forced drugging. The Senator added "They are not in confinement for punishment"… oh, oh, Senator, it's not "punishment" it's not "punishing" to be brutally forcibly drugged in a psychiatric facility and to lose your human right to own your own body and your own brain? Oh really? You should try it some time. Come and tell us then how much it "didn't feel" like a "punishment" once you've tried it. You're not defending us, you don't speak for me, I'm appalled to witness your paltry defence of a group of heavily mistreated people, when the lion's share of the mistreatment dished out to us, you wholeheartedly support and see nothing wrong with. This

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