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The Queensland Mental Health Commission welcomes the Queensland Government’s announcement to introduce legislation by the end of 2022 to enable United Nations officials to visit Queensland’s locked mental health wards.

The Commission is committed to supporting a human rights culture in Queensland and strengthening the human rights protections of all Queenslanders, including those living with a mental illness and/or problematic alcohol and other drug use.

People with a mental illness who are treated involuntarily on locked mental health wards are especially vulnerable and therefore in need of human rights protections.

Those are provided by the Queensland Human Rights Act 2019; however, Australia’s international human rights obligations also play an important role.

The Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT) is an international agreement aimed at preventing torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. OPCAT was adopted in 2002 and entered into force in 2006. The Australian Government ratified the protocol in December 2017.

OPCAT is a human rights treaty that assists in the implementation of and builds on the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment (CAT) and assists States to meet their obligations under CAT. The objective of OPCAT is to prevent the mistreatment of people in all places of detention, including locked mental health wards.

Under OPCAT, State Parties agree to establish an independent National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) to conduct inspections of all places of detention and closed environments. In addition to the NPM, State Parties also agree to international inspections of places of detention by the United Nations Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture (SPT). The SPT engages with participating states on a confidential basis and cannot publish reports and recommendations unless under agreement with the State Party. Furthermore, people who provide information to the SPT may not be subject to sanctions or reprisals for having done so.

The Queensland Government’s commitment to legislative changes will ensure that in the future United Nations officials will have access to locked mental health wards. This process will ensure the protection of the human rights of some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

The Commission looks forward to the finalisation of the implementation of OPCAT in coming months. This will be an important milestone in achieving Australia’s as well as Queensland’s human rights commitments and obligations.