Politics Sector News — 17 March 2014

The state’s volunteer watchdogs who investigate abuses of the mentally ill  could have their powers weakened by the Napthine government’s new mental health  act.

Community visitors, who inspect services for these vulnerable people as well  as the disabled,  have told embattled Community Services Minister Mary  Wooldridge the reforms could make it more difficult for them to expose abuse and  neglect in mental health facilities.

One of the most contentious parts of the new act is a requirement for mental  health staff to provide reasonable assistance to community visitors ”as far as  practicable”. Penalties for staff who fail to provide assistance to community  visitors have been scrapped, as has a requirement for services to be visited at  least once a month.bigstock-Mental-Health-Warning--32532146

Public advocate Colleen Pearce said while a number of her concerns had been  resolved, the bill would give services an excuse not to provide reasonable  assistance to community visitors. ”Community visitors are volunteers and there  should be no impediment to the way they carry out their functions. The wording  ‘as far as practicable’  has the potential to create difficulties.”