The Mental Deficiency Act 1920 established the State Psychological Clinic which diagnosed mental deficiency, now known as intellectual disability. The Act also established the Mental Deficiency Board which oversaw the management of children and adults classified as mentally deficient by the Clinic. The Act was influenced by the eugenics movement and based on similar legislation passed in the United Kingdom in 1913.
Edmund Morris Miller, the Professor of Philosophy and Psychology at the University of Tasmania, and an adherent of eugenics, was the main driving force behind the Act.
The Act specified four categories of mental deficiency. They were:
Adults or children classified under the Act could be sent to an institution or placed in the care of a guardian.
Adults might include a single woman giving birth to a child while receiving an income from the state.
The Director of Education was obliged to notify the Chairman of the Mental Deficiency Board of any children suspected of having a 'mental deficiency'.
The Act made provision for special Homes to be established where children with a diagnosis of mental deficiency could be trained to lead useful and happy lives.
Sources used to compile this entry: 'Care of mental deficients: the bill before parliament: scientific treatment and supervision', The Mercury (Hobart), 23 September 1920, p. 3, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page896610.
Prepared by: Caroline Evans
Created: 4 November 2011, Last modified: 24 October 2017