Call for Govt action on detainee mental health

Catholic Health Australia (CHA) has lent its support to a call to the Prime Minister by Australia's peak mental health professional groups to restate his Government's commitment to the National Standards for Mental Health Services and to implement them at all detention centres.

The statement, released by the Mental Health Council of Australia in the name nine organisations including CHA, asserts that the Department of Immigration and Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA) "has amply demonstrated its total lack of understanding of mental illness". This follows publicity given to the cases of Cornelia Rau earlier this year, and Vivian Young this week.

"It operates in an unconstrained manner, without independent specialist advice on the assessment and treatment of people with a mental illness and in clear breach of the National Standards for Mental Health Services standards the Australian Government has helped devise and endorsed in 1996."

The statement referred to the judgment of Justice Finn of the Federal Court last week (S v. Sec. of DIMIA and CW) that revealed that the professional delivery of mental health services into detention centres is "hopelessly compromised by DIMIA's failure to recognise that it has a duty of care".

The statement called on the Prime Minister to immediately order an independent assessment of all detainees held in detention for more than six months by specialist mental health services, and thereafter every six months. It also urged an immediate order for the removal of those found to be mentally ill, into proper mental health facilities and provide care that meets the National Mental Health Standards.

The consortium offered to work with the Government to urgently establish an independent multidisciplinary mental health panel to assess the mental health care provided at all detention centres against the National Standards for Mental Health Services.

Other members include the Royal Australian & New Zealand College of Psychiatrists, Royal Australian & New Zealand College of General Practitioners, Australian & New Zealand Mental Health Nurses, Multicultural Health Australia, the Australian Psychological Society, the Australian College of Psychological Medicine, and the Australian Association of Social Workers.

Meanwhile the Sydney-based Edmund Rice Centre for Justice and Community Education is calling on the Federal Government to launch a public inquiry into the identification of asylum seekers and its detention and deportation procedures.

The Catholic Leader reports that Centre director Phil Glendenning made the call this week following the ultimately successful attempt to trace the whereabouts of Vivian Young who was wrongly deported to the Philippines four years ago.

"It has reached the stage in this country where if you are non-white, have poor English or a mental illness you have a risk of being picked up, placed in detention and deported. The due process is not being followed," he said.

Mr Glendenning added that the centre had identified 33 Australians wrongly detained over a seven-month period.

He said the Edmund Rice Centre for Justice and Community Education had been concerned for some time about the fate of rejected asylum seekers.

He said the centre had known for a number of years that refugees had suffered after deportation from Australia and had published a report on the issue, titled 'Deported to Danger'.

He said it was time Australians called for an open public enquiry.

The Australian reports today that Australian consul-general Frank Evatt met privately with Ms Young and her sister Cecile Solon yesterday, at the Missionaries of Charity convent in the Philippine city of Olongapao where Ms Young had been living, to offer Ms Young assistance and repatriation. Ms Young was also briefed on her rights as an Australian citizen.

Pictured: Australian priest Fr Mike Duffin with Ms Young, at the convent (ABC TV Lateline)

PM Must Act on Detainee Mental Health - Joint Release (12/5/05)
Demand for probe into deportation scandals (Catholic Leader 15/5/05)
Deported woman in joyful reunion (The Australian 13/5/05)

Priest finds deported Australian in Philippines hospice (CathNews 12/5/05)

13 May 2005