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"Regrettable": ICAC report into Oakden delayed till next year

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The Independent Commissioner Against Corruption says he hopes to finish his investigation into the scandal-ridden Oakden Older Person’s Mental Health Service before the next election, but cannot guarantee it because of “regrettable” delays.

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Oakden scandal

Commissioner Bruce Lander told state parliament’s Crime and Public Integrity Policy Committee this morning that his office had received 37,000 documents, amounting to more than 200,000 pages of information on Oakden.

He said delays receiving the documents and the massive volume of information collected meant that he would not be able to finish his investigation before the end of the year, as intended.

“That is unfortunate and regrettable, because I appreciate that there is a great deal of interest in the outcome of my investigation,” Lander said in his opening statement.

“But I will not rush the investigation … it is an important matter, and it must be investigated properly.”

He said he had issued 13 summonses for documents in relation to the facility, which was closed earlier this year following a damning report by then-Chief Psychiatrist Dr Aaron Groves, which revealed systematic abuse and mistreatment of dementia patients at the facility over several years.

“In answer to those summonses, I’ve received more than 37,000 documents, comprising in the order of 200,000 to 300,000 pages of information,” Lander said.

“Regrettably, there have been a number of delays in relation to … those documents.

“I do not intend, on this occasion, to explain in more detail the nature of those delays.”

He said the delays were “a matter to be addressed in any report that I may publish at the conclusion of my investigation”.

Bruce Lander announcing his investigation into the Oakden facility in May. Photo: Tony Lewis / InDaily

“Suffice to say both the volume of the material and the time it’s taken to receive it have exceeded my initial expectations.”

Lander said 30 people had been interviewed for the investigation, and that he had taken evidence from eight people during formal hearings.

He added: “I’m obliged by law to conduct this investigation in private … therefore I am not in a position to expand upon the particulars of my investigation beyond the general information I have provided this morning.”

Lander has repeatedly requested the State Government give him the power to hold open inquiries into maladministration, arguing public hearings were necessary to protect the “integrity” of his Oakden investigation – but it has refused to grant those powers.

That’s despite calling for open hearings into alleged corruption concerning officials in New South Wales.

Lander has never advocated public corruption hearings – but argued the need for open maladministration inquiries (at his discretion) to ensure confidence in the process.

He told this morning’s committee meeting that the Government had, however, given him extra resources including eight new staff members in response to a request to Cabinet, after the ICAC Act was amended to allow the commissioner to investigate SA Police officers.

Earlier this year, Lander chastised Premier Jay Weatherill and Attorney-General John Rau for publicly labelling the commissioner’s Oakden investigation as an “ombudsman’s investigation” – a characterisation he warned could have the effect of devaluing, blocking or undermining the investigation.

“I don’t think there’s any recourse I can take [but] I can continue to be offended,” he said at the time.

“It won’t affect the way in which the investigation’s carried out, because that would be inappropriate… but I would be grateful if the Government ceased referring to this as an Ombudsman’s inquiry.”

But Rau dug in, arguing the characterisation was justified because Lander was exercising the powers of the Ombudsman for his Oakden investigation.

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