This morning, Commissioner Bruce Lander announced he would begin summonsing witnesses this week, and unveiled broad terms of reference that include investigating whether public officials, such as ministers and department executives, failed to take action in response to complaints about the facility.
His investigation will consider whether information about poor care at the facility was conveyed to any Government minister, statutory officer, SA Health executive, Northern Adelaide Local Health Network staff member and/or senior staff member at the Oakden facility during the past decade – and if so, what was done about it.
The investigation will also probe whether any person took steps to actively hide such information, in order to protect government entities or individuals from reputational harm.
Lander said he hoped his investigation would give the families of victims of mistreatment and abuse at Oakden “satisfaction” that those responsible would be held accountable.
“I hope there will be some satisfaction for them – that they are satisfied that the matter’s been looked at appropriately and if there is responsibility in some way for the matters to which the Chief Psychiatrist referred in his report,” he told reporters this morning.
Last month, the Government announced it would close the facility following the publication of a damning report by Chief Psychiatrist Dr Aaron Groves, which found patients had been routinely mistreated in an environment inappropriate for their care.
Lander appealed to any member of the public who has, at any time in the past 10 years, made a complaint about the Oakden facility – or expressed concern about it to a government agency, or public officer – to contact the commission.
He has taken what he described as the “unprecedented” step of establishing a dedicated email address – email@example.com – for the inquiry. Anyone with direct knowledge of a complaint is urged to send an email to the address.
Lander said he would be exercising the powers of the South Australian Ombudsman for the investigation, including the power to summons any person to give evidence.
The investigation will be conducted in private over about six months.
“I hope I can get it all finished within six months, but that will depend on the amount of evidence is obtained, and how long it takes to analyse that evidence,” he said.
“At the end of that investigation, and when I’ve written the report, I have to decide whether it’s in the public interest to publish that report.”
Lander said the law prevented him from conducting any part of his investigation in public but that, ideally, he should have the power to open parts of his investigation to the public to protect its “integrity”.
“I think investigations into serious or systemic maladministration should be permitted to be heard in public,” he said.
He said holding some elements of the investigation in public would “protect the integrity of the investigation so that persons who in due course read the report, are satisfied that the process was robust and appropriate”.
“Parliament could always amend the act … but that’s a matter for the Parliament.”
Meanwhile, Australian Conservatives MLC Dennis Hood has announced he will introduce a bill into the Parliament to allow the Independent Commissioner Against Corruption to hold maladministration and misconduct hearings in public.
“The ICAC must have the ability to decide … [to open hearings to the public] – there’s no better way to ensure transparency,” said Hood.
“People’s reputations [those accused of wrongdoing] will be preserved by the checks and balances that already exist in the system.”
Hood added it would not be appropriate, however, to hold hearings concerning alleged corruption in public.
During his press conference this morning, Lander said that he wanted the investigation to reach all the way back to 2007 because three events in that year, and one event in 2008, “would have brought to the attention of authorities matters about which the Chief Psychiatrist was apparently concerned”.
He said that the release of the Stepping Up report into SA’s mental health services, the imposition of Commonwealth sanctions on the facility and the commissioning of a project team to develop a new model of care, all in 2007, should have alerted authorities to the problems that existed within the facility at the time.
A further review of the facility – the Stafrace and Lilly report – was handed to the Government in 2008.
Premier Jay Weatherill told media today he expected relevant ministers to cooperate fully with the ICAC inquiry but would not waive rules that would make cabinet documents available to scrutiny.
“There is a public interest protection for cabinet documents, and that won’t be waived,” he said.
“[Cabinet documents] are not the subject of scrutiny… but there’s plenty of evidence that will be produced. The commissioner will have all the relevant material he needs to make his judgements.”
He insisted his Government “welcomed” the inquiry and had nothing to fear from it.
“It’s quite appropriate that there is the highest level of scrutiny [but] we’re focussed on turning a really poorly run facility into the best mental health and ageing facility in the nation,” he said.
“That’s our focus and that’s where we’ll be putting our energies.”
– with additional reporting by Tom Richardson
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