Changes to Psychiatric Confinement Payments ‘Insidious’
Tuesday, 2nd 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.