Fact Sheet - ACT Senior Practitioner [PDF 396KB]

ACT Senior Practitioner for the elimination and reduction of restrictive practices

The Senior Practitioner Act 2018 (the Act), which came into effect on 1 September 2018, provides a formal framework for the reduction and elimination of restrictive practices by service providers in the ACT.

The Act enshrines the principle that providers should only use restrictive practices in very limited circumstances – as a last resort, in the least restrictive way and for the shortest period possible in the circumstances.

The Act also provides an operational structure for the Senior Practitioner which reaffirms and strengthens the rights and responsibilities of vulnerable people, recognising that this requires support from across the government sector and within the community.

Tracey Harkness is the ACT’s Senior Practitioner. Ms Harkness holds an executive position in the ACT Government.


Functions and powers of the Senior Practitioner

Under the Act, the Senior Practitioner has the following functions:

The Senior Practitioner also has powers to:

Service provider responsibilities

Where a person’s behaviour poses a risk to themselves or others, service providers (and others involved in the person’s life) need to understand the function of the behaviour and implement positive behaviour support strategies to substitute the harmful behaviour with a positive one.

However, in some instances, the planned positive behaviour support strategies will not work, or the situation will escalate to a point at which the best and safest approach is to use practices that restrict the person in some way.

To ensure restrictive practices are used in accordance with a registered Positive Behaviour Support Plan

It is important to note that, under the Act, use of a restrictive practice by a service provider is only permissible in the case of an emergency, or if used in a way that is consistent with a registered Positive Behaviour Support Plan for the person.

A Positive Behaviour Support Plan describes the proactive and reactive strategies to be used in supporting the person’s behaviour, including strategies to:

The plan must also specify the conditions under which restrictive practices (if required) may be used.

To have a plan approved by a registered Positive Behaviour Support Panel

All Positive Behaviour Support Plans that include a restrictive practice must be approved by a registered Positive Behaviour Support Panel and registered by the Senior Practitioner.

As an interim arrangement during early implementation of the Act, the Senior Practitioner has established an interim Central Positive Behaviour Support Panel (the Central Panel). The role of the Central Panel is to consider all PBS Plans and develop guidelines for future panels to assess and approve Plans.

To report all uses of a restrictive practice to the Senior Practitioner

The functions and powers of the Senior Practitioner will be supported by the collection and reporting of key data on the use of restrictive practices over time.

Under the Act, service providers must report all uses of a restrictive practice to the Senior Practitioner, whether there is a positive behaviour support plan in place for the person or not.

If you are a service provider and would like to report the use of a restrictive practice, please contact the Senior Practitioner on telephone, (02) 6205 2811, or email actseniorpractitioner@act.gov.au


Who does the Senior Practitioner Act 2018 apply to?

The Act is specifically aimed at regulating the use of restrictive practices by service providers.

‘Providers’ are defined under the Act as persons or other entities who provide any of the following services to another person:

The legislation protects the rights of all individuals in the above settings, not just those with a disability.

The influence and leadership of the Senior Practitioner will also drive cultural change across all sectors where restrictive practices may be an issue.

Who is not impacted by the Senior Practitioner legislation?

It is important to note that the Act regulates the use of restrictive practices by service providers. It does not apply to close family members or informal carers for the person, or an exempt entity.

The Act makes specific exemptions for persons receiving care under the Mental Health Act 2015 (to the extent that Act applies), Mental Health (Secure Facilities) Act 2016External Link and those in custodial or prison detention (including the Bimberi Youth Justice Centre). This is due to existing oversight arrangements specific to those settings.

Health services are not included in the definition of provider and are not included in the oversight.


What is a restrictive practice?

‘Restrictive practice’ means a practice that is used to restrict the rights or freedom of movement of a person for the primary purpose of protecting the person or others from harm.

Restrictive practice does not include reasonable action taken to monitor and protect a child from harm

  1. holding a child’s hand while crossing a road
  2. fencing around a primary school
Chemical restraint - The use of medication or chemical substance for the primary purpose of influencing a person’s behaviour.

Chemical restraint is NOT:

  1. the use of a chemical substance that is prescribed by a medical or nurse practitioner for the treatment, or to enable the treatment of a mental or physical illness or condition, and
  2. the use of a chemical substance in accordance with the prescription.

Environmental restraint - Any action or system that limits a person’s ability to freely access the person’s surroundings or a particular thing or engage in an activity.

Environmental restraint is NOT:
the use of reasonable safety precautions such as a fence around a primary school playground.

Mechanical restraint - The use of a device to prevent, restrict or subdue the movement of all or part of a person’s body.

Mechanical restraint is NOT:

  1. the use of the device to ensure the person’s safety when travelling; or
  2. the use of a device for therapeutic purposes.

Physical restraint - The use or action of physical force to stop, limit or subdue the movement of a person’s body or part of the person’s body.

Physical restraint is NOT:
a reflex action of reasonable physical force and duration intended to guide or direct a person in the interests of the person’s safety where there is an imminent risk of harm.

Seclusion - The sole confinement of a person, at any time of the day or night, in a room or other space from which free exit is prevented, either implicitly or explicitly, or not facilitated.

Seclusion is NOT:
social isolation where a child or vulnerable person is in a space away from others.

Verbal directions, or gestural conduct, of a coercive nature - The use of verbal or non-verbal communication that degrades, humiliates or forces a person into a position of powerlessness or a verbal threat that results in a restrictive practice.

Coercion is NOT:

  1. Stating expectations or rules
  2. Giving a person directions or instructions to assist them to self-regulate.

Safeguarding Human Rights

The Act supports the ACT Government’s commitment to improving the lives of all people who are vulnerable and potentially subject to restrictive practices, as well as upholding their human rights.

The Human Rights Act 2004 says that rights can only be limited where the limitations are reasonable and demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society. The Senior Practitioner Act safeguards a number of human rights, including:

Generally, restrictive practices will only be justifiable as a limit on human rights where there is an immediate risk to safety and the action taken is the least restrictive approach.

The Senior Practitioner will maintain links with the ACT Human Rights Commission to ensure there is always a high threshold for the use of any restrictive practice in the ACT.

Any restrictive practices identified that fall outside of the Senior Practitioner’s role will be reported to the relevant authority.

For more information, contact the Office of the Senior Practitioner on (02) 6205 2811 or actseniorpractitioner@act.gov.au


Page updated: 06 Aug 2021