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Speech: Disability Inclusion (Community Visitor Scheme) Amendment Bill 2020

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (20:07): I think it is safe to say that many South Australians are still reeling from the death of Ann Marie Smith. As we continue to unpick the systems and the circumstances that allowed for this to happen, we have now had the Safeguarding Taskforce provide their interim report, which has identified, amongst other things, that there are gaps in undertaking proactive visits to vet the performance of service providers.

I would also note that the task force has raised concerns around significant parts of the bill that we have before us today. While they do agree that the role of the community visitors should be looked at, changes should not be rushed. I also note that the task force is due to report at the end of this month, some mere days away.

While I appreciate the sense of urgency with which the members of the opposition have put forward this legislation, I also feel there is quite significant merit in listening to the task force, which is due to present that final report in coming days. Regardless, this bill is coming to a vote today, and so today I indicate the Greens will be cautiously supporting this legislation.

However, we do have some serious concerns that we believe need to be addressed, so we will be moving a series of amendments that we circulated earlier this week, and their success will be reflected in our third reading vote on this bill. The Greens' amendments to the bill are based on the concerns raised by stakeholders but also particularly the issues raised with the bill by the Law Society. I note that the Hon. Clare Scriven also has an amendment relating to the definition of 'supported independent living premises'.

In brief, the Greens' amendments remove provisions relating to warrants. The rationale for this is that stakeholders, people with disability, the Law Society and certainly in my communications with our federal Greens spokesperson on this, Senator Jordon Steele-John, have raised quite significant concerns around the privacy and rights of people with disability should the bill remain in its current form.

There are serious concerns about people—often volunteers, it is worth remembering—who can be given warrants to enter private residences. This is an extraordinary power that we cannot support within the bill as it currently stands. As stated by the Law Society in point 12 of their submission, it is important to note that community visitor schemes were originally established under the Mental Health Act and were designed around visits occurring in institutional settings, like hospitals and mental health facilities.

As such, the society suggests that continuing to use community visitors as the predominant way to safeguard people with disabilities living in the community in their own homes, requires a more detailed consideration of how statutory powers to visit and inspect are balanced with people's rights to privacy and to be out in their community. Certainly in conversations I have had with other stakeholders and people with lived experience, the privacy and dignity of people with a disability was a significant concern raised around this approach when it came to the issue of warrants.

I am deeply uncomfortable with the idea of volunteers being granted warrants to enter people's private residences, and that is why the Greens have sought to amend the bill to remove those provisions. Our amendments would also seek to establish a register of supported independent living premises. Again, this is raised on the concerns and issues raised by the Law Society in their submission, noting a lack of clarity around supported independent living premises in this setting.

We also would enable, as the Law Society has suggested, neighbours to refer matters to the Community Visitor Scheme. The rationale for this is that, as the bill currently stands, it actually does not capture the scenario where people are isolated in the community, as Ann Marie Smith was. It would not allow for her neighbours to contact the Community Visitor Scheme. Point 24 of the Law Society's submission states:

The Society is concerned that proposed ways for a Community Visitor to discharge their functions (i.e. conduct visits) are limited in scope, in particular that they do not allow for a neighbour or bystander to request a visit. Section 24E(1) is very much limited to the person with a disability or someone close to them [a family member for example or a friend] requesting the visit. Therefore, it seems the proposed model is unlikely to capture scenarios where people are isolated in the community, like Ms Smith was.

In point 26, they have certainly suggested an amendment to address this issue to expand section 24E(1) to enable, in their suggestion, bystanders or neighbours to refer matters to the CVS, and we have taken up that in part.

We also have amendments to create a statutory requirement for the Principal Community Visitor to refer matters to the Commissioner of Police, the Ombudsman, the Health and Community Services Complaints Commissioner and, of course, the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission, where there are incidents of abuse, neglect or exploitation. These are rightly the places where these complaints should be going, not to volunteers.

The rationale is based on several recommendations again from the Law Society. Currently in South Australia, beyond first responders, such as child protection and SAPOL, and no doubt ambulance officers, as was the case here, there is no specific overarching legislative framework to protect people with disabilities living in the community who experience violence, abuse, neglect or exploitation. The society has called for greater powers for the community visitor to be able to respond to those incidents of abuse, neglect or exploitation and we have taken up that call with our amendments.

Ensuring that reporting to the minister who has no other responsibility for disability services or community care is not actually acceptable. At the very least, the Principal Community Visitor should have a statutory requirement to refer matters to the Ombudsman, the Health and Community Services Complaints Commissioner and SA Police. In particular, we have taken that further, extending that Principal Community Visitor's mandatory reporting requirement to include the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission.

We have also finetuned that reporting requirement for the police to be the Commissioner of Police as opposed to SAPOL. Given this is a high-level statutory obligation, it should be formalised rather than being a simple phone call to the local police station. I note as well that coming out from the discussion around this legislation other concerns have been raised about the adult safeguarding unit and the jurisdiction in which that particular act now applies and its transitional provisions.

However, I also note that there is an Ageing and Adult Safeguarding (Disapplication of Transitional Provision) Amendment Bill, which, of course, is in a different portfolio from the one we deal with tonight. Those transitional provisions have been identified also in other forums as in need of attention. I understand that the government could in fact possibly take action on that without the necessity for parliament to be changing the act itself but indeed by regulation.

The transitional provisions, while well-intended at the time they were introduced, have been proven to cause unintended delays in people receiving very necessary protections. I note in particular and thank a former member of this place, the Hon. Kelly Vincent, for her work in putting those issues on the agenda of adult safeguarding and working quite closely with the now Minister for Health and Wellbeing, then the shadow, the Hon. Stephen Wade.

We look forward to the committee stage of this debate. The death of Ann Marie Smith has touched us all, no doubt. The fact that, in such a well-heeled suburb, somebody could live in such a condition should be a shame to all of us. However, to apportion blame where it is not appropriate helps no-one, so we will not buy into those arguments. We will seek to do the best we can for the future and ensure that this parliament focuses on addressing the real issues and ensures that the Ann Marie Smiths of this world are not used as political footballs.

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