Australian government wants right to detain sick people

JILL PENGELLEY
News.com.au
November 30, 2009Health authorities want the power to detain people for up to three months if they refuse testing or treatment for infectious diseases.Under draft legislation proposed by the State Government, someone with swine flu, measles or meningococcal disease could be forcibly held, examined and treated.

It is one of several wide-ranging powers sought to protect the public.

The Public Health Bill also would, for the first time, give authorities the power to override parents who refused treatment for their children with infectious conditions.

Other diseases that could be controlled include AIDS, polio, rabies, salmonella and cholera.

The tougher enforcement powers would come with a substantial increase in fines – up from $60,000 to $1 million and 10 years’ jail – and relate to any serious risk caused to public health. SA Health public health director Kevin Buckett said the new legislation would give authorities wider powers to act more quickly.

“There’s nowhere on Earth that is more than 36 hours from anywhere else and where people go, bugs can go,” he said yesterday.

“We have to have legislation that can respond in that sort of time.

“The idea would be that we get them out of circulation, where they can’t infect other people.” Dr Buckett said there were many reasons people refused treatment, including mental health issues, language barriers and even malicious behaviour.

Non-communicable diseases, such as cancer and diabetes, could also be declared, allowing the Government to introduce codes of practice for certain industries or the community. Opposition health spokesman Duncan McFetridge said he supported powers to protect the public from infectious diseases but feared parts of the Bill – to be debated next year – would allow the Government to control people with chronic conditions.

“It’s bordering on nanny-state legislation,” he said. “It’s understandable but how far do we go?”

Australian Medical Associat- ion state president Andrew Lavender said he welcomed most of the changes. as important to protect the public.

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