Victoria’s Mental Health Complaints Body Fights Order to Release Recommendations Citing Privacy Laws

Victoria’s Mental Health Complaints Commissioner (MHCC) is fighting an order to release recommendations on how it was dealing with major problems within the state service.

The latest move comes after a June report (pdf) found local Victorians had suffered “gross human rights violations” during mental health treatments that were often conducted against their will.

Mental health advocate Simon Katterl sought the release of documentation between 2015 and 2020 in a freedom of information request made last year.

The Office of the Victorian Information Commissioner (OVIC)—the state’s information watchdog that subsequently issued the order—said it was in the public interest that the recommendations were released.

Yet the MHCC disagreed, arguing that releasing the information would breach the privacy of individuals within the state’s mental health system.

“If the fullness, accuracy, and quality of information provided is impaired, it could have an adverse impact in the administration of the [Mental Health] Act,” the MHCC said.

“It may impede the MHCC in properly performing its statutory functions, including to endeavour to resolve complaints in a timely manner using formal and informal dispute resolution.”

However, OVIC said the recommendations should be partially released.

In a statement to The Epoch Times, a spokesperson for OVIC said the aim of the FOI request was to “extend as far as possible the right of the community to access to information in the possession of the Government of Victoria.”

The MHCC will appeal the decision at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT), with both parties set for a hearing in August.

MHCC Says It Values Transparency

Meanwhile, Treasure Jennings, chair of the Mental Health and Wellbeing Commission said transparency is a core value of the organisation.

“However, we considered the need for transparency against the need to maintain the confidentiality and integrity of the complaint-handling process and released the majority of the data requested under this application with some redactions,” Ms. Jennings said in an email to The Epoch Times.

“When consumers and carers make a confidential complaint to us, often about very sensitive matters, they have an expectation to privacy which we have a duty to protect. Even with identifying details removed, individuals may recognise their own complaint or be identified by others which could have unintended consequences.”

The Epoch Times understands that there were 96 reports that came within the scope of the applicant’s FOI request and that after considering the information included in each report, the MHCC decided to release 48 reports to the applicant in full and to release the remaining 48 reports, with some sections redacted.

This included information about the recommendations made by the MHCC to deal with issues raised in complaints.

The Epoch Times also understands that to increase transparency, the MHCC decided to publish summarised Individual Service reports in 2022, which were not publicly available before.

Mr. Katterl maintains that providing the recommendations will allow the public to see where the sector could improve and what work was underway.

“This information is essential to enhance human rights in the mental health system, eliminate seclusion and restraint, and reduce compulsory treatment,” Mr. Katterl said, reported The Guardian.

Opposition Says State Labor Ignoring Royal Commission’s Recommendations

The state’s opposition mental health spokesperson, Emma Kealy, said the MHCC’s decision to not release the recommendations did not align with a royal commission’s 2021 recommendations into the mental health sector.

“Mental health workers are doing their best to deliver the care that Victorians need and deserve, but Labor is failing these workers by ignoring the royal commission’s priority recommendations around workforce and increased transparency around Victoria’s mental health crisis,” Ms. Kealy said.

Ms. Kealy’s office has been approached for comment.

The royal commission found that the state’s mental health system was not designed to support people living with mental illness and/or psychological distress, and relies heavily on medication and hospitals for treatment.

The royal commission also recommended an overhaul of mental health services with a focus on providing a community, as well as stable housing, for those affected by mental illness.

In total, the commission made 65 recommendations, one of which was to ensure that complaints meet the needs of consumers, families, carers, and supporters.

The royal commission also recommended the state repeal the current Mental Health Act 2014 (Vic) and enact a new Mental Health and Wellbeing Act, and establish a new Mental Health and Wellbeing Commissioner.

Gabrielle Williams, the state’s mental health minister, has been approached for comment.

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