Shifting the landscape of SA’s mental health laws

Dr David Plater, Elaine Marinas, Olga Pandos, Rachel Tan and Isabella Quek

SALRI researchers L to R: Dr David Plater, Elaine Marinas, Olga Pandos, Rachel Tan and Isabella Quek

The independent South Australian Law Reform Institute (SALRI), based at the University of Adelaide, has made important recommendations for reforms to improve mental health laws in South Australia.

The final review, which has been made publicly available today, has made a total of 61 recommendations to reform law and practice as well as 11 suggestions regarding key issues recurring throughout consultation that fall outside the formal terms of reference of the review.

SALRI was asked by the State Government to undertake an independent statutory review of the Mental Health Act 2009 (SA), which must happen every five years.

The University of Adelaide’s Professor John Williams AM, Director of SALRI, said:

“Our review carefully considered the laws governing mental health and its wider implications in both policy and practice.

“One of the main considerations was to safeguard and promote the human rights of consumers, while also providing clear frameworks, processes and roles for all parties involved.”

SALRI’s recommendations include to:

  • Update language to reflect rights-based and modern practice;
  • Ensure the criteria to impose a treatment order remain appropriate;
  • The decision-making capacity of a consumer is safeguarded and the implementation of supported decision-making;
  • Address the complex intersection between mental health and the use of illicit drugs and/or alcohol;
  • Increase the relevance of laws to children, adolescents and older persons;
  • Promote Aboriginal mental health and implement culturally responsive and appropriate services;
  • Improve data collection and analysis;
  • Retain the role of SA Police and continue the operation of the co-response model;
  • Establish a statutory Mental Health Commissioner role;
  • Clarify the roles of bodies including the Chief Psychiatrist, Community Visitor Scheme, the Mental Health Commissioner and the Health and Community Services Complaints Commissioner; and
  • Establish a framework to translate guiding principles into practice and an accountability mechanism for non-compliance.

The final recommendations and suggestions followed extensive consultation, including 149 written submissions and 76 contributors to the public YourSAy site.

SALRI also held 42 individual meetings, both in person or online, in metropolitan and regional South Australia.

“One of the main considerations was to safeguard and promote the human rights of consumers, while also providing clear frameworks, processes and roles for all parties involved.” Professor John Williams AM

University of Adelaide PhD candidate Olga Pandos was the lead author, researcher and project manager of the review and emphasised the importance of reviewing the Mental Health Act.

“Mental health law reform requires close attention to the human rights of the consumer” Ms Pandos said.

“The Act’s guiding principles serve as a foundation underpinning mental health law in South Australia and as an important symbolic function. However, if these principles are not translated into practice, this may prevent a consumer from receiving care and treatment which is person-centred and reinforced by effective accountability mechanisms.”

Ms Pandos noted that although access to services, resourcing and quality of mental health services were not within the scope of the current review, these issues have been addressed in suggestions outside the formal recommendations.

“Access to services is primarily a resourcing and funding issue. In the absence of this, it may hinder effective, best-practice treatment for each person,” she said.

“SALRI’s conclusions ensure that South Australia remains a leader in mental health reform.”

The University of Adelaide’s Associate Professor David Plater, Deputy Director, SALRI said the inclusive consultation process was a crucial pillar of the review.

“This report draws on the efforts of researchers and co-authors, as well as SALRI’s active and inclusive consultation process

“SALRI is committed to ensuring an inclusive process and meaningful participation for consumers, consumer groups, people with a disability and experts, with a specific focus on regional communities and Aboriginal mental health.

“It is this wide consultation that led to the additional 11 suggestions that fall outside the formal terms of reference of the review, but were raised as important by those who contributed to our review.

“We would like to thank the many parties who generously contributed in various ways to this important review.”

Following the release of SALRI’s review by the Minister for Health and Wellbeing, Chris Picton, it will be for the South Australian Government and Parliament to consider SALRI’s recommendations.

“I thank the South Australian Law Reform Institute for its significant contribution in compiling this report to help us ensure that our mental health laws are up to date and the best they can be,” Minister Picton said. 

“We need to get the balance right for our mental health laws – ensuring we prioritise wellbeing and rights of consumers, and protection and appropriate treatment.

“The Government will now consider the recommendations and work on what the next steps will be, in consultation with key mental health groups and consumers.”

For more information about the South Australian Law Reform Institute, please visit the University of Adelaide website.  

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