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Labor Matter of Public Importance - Vulnerable People

25 September 2018

Ms O'CONNOR (Denison - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Deputy Speaker, I thank my colleague, Ms Standen, for bringing this matter of public importance on today. Rarely a day goes past in this place where we are not talking about vulnerability in our community, disadvantaged people who are disenfranchised and left behind in what the Treasurer describes as the golden age. 

Today we have had raised in parliament the matter of a young person in seclusion in the Royal Hobart Hospital. We have also examined in some detail the Auditor-General's report which followed the allegations surrounding the for-profit provider Safe Pathways and the political mishandling of that situation. Too often the vulnerability of people can be exacerbated by poor policy and bad politics.

I understand that the Minister for Health did not want to go into any details this morning about a particular young person who is currently inside the Department of Psychiatric Medicine at the Royal Hobart Hospital. I respect that, but there are significant questions to be answered about the circumstances surrounding this young person's lengthy stay in an adult psychiatric unit. As I understand it, this young person was admitted to the DPM in April this year, so it is now five months that this adolescent has been in an adult psychiatric unit and the information we have been given is that the young person is behind locked doors a significant part of the time because of those significant behavioural issues. Under the Mental Health Act, that is a form of permanent seclusion and the minister should tell the House whether this young person, who is under seclusion, was reported under the act as being in secluded circumstances.

While it is not appropriate and it is not necessary to go into specific details of this young person's situation, nothing I heard this morning from the minister gave real reassurance that this young person is receiving the very best of psychiatric and therapeutic support in there.

Mr Ferguson - Ms O'Connor, I did say the Chief Psychiatrist has oversight of these types of concerns.

Ms O'CONNOR - Has the Chief Psychiatrist has reported to you directly on the circumstances surrounding this young person who has been in the psychiatry unit for five months?

Mr Ferguson - I have answered that without any reference to an individual case.

Ms O'CONNOR - It is a very disturbing report, minister, that a young person could spend this length of time in an adult psychiatric unit, which clinical professionals would agree is not the most therapeutic environment for this young person. We recognise there are no current, effective adolescent inpatient facilities in Tasmania and there is a lack of trained specialist staff. Psychiatric emergency nurses have a role to play. My understanding of the circumstances surrounding this young person it that part of the reason they have been in seclusion is because of a lack of trained specialist psychiatric emergency staff. It would be most helpful if the minister could respond to that concern.

Vulnerability comes in many forms and children are among most vulnerable in our community. It is a matter of concern and interest the Auditor-General has released their report, which followed a damning Four Corners program on children in out-of-home care in Australia. They interviewed staff who had worked for an organisation called Safe Pathways, which was a for-profit provider. According to the Auditor-General's examination, the first complaints received by the department about the children in the care of Safe Pathways came in May 2016 and a sequence of complaints followed that initial complaint through to November 2016. This is a matter the Greens repeatedly raised in parliament. It was not until almost a year later that Safe Pathways' contract was terminated.

It raises the question, which has not been dealt with either in the Auditor-General's report or in any response from the minister, of the appropriateness of placing vulnerable people in the care of for-profit providers. When a business model has as its primary concern the making of profits, you have to question why governments are providing public funds to providers that prioritise the making of profit over the services they deliver. It is the Greens' strong view that when it comes to the support, services and the care of vulnerable people and in this case we are talking about children, there is no place for for-profit providers.

You can see that in the Auditor-General's report, in the request for proposal selection panel, a number of providers to deliver out-of-home care services were being interviewed and assessed. Concerns were raised about Safe Pathways' capacity to deliver, given they had no experience in Tasmania, yet government made the decision to engage this for-profit provider anyway. It transpired to be a most terrible mistake.

Time expired.