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Secrecy surrounds 2008 Oakden letter to Weatherill

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Secrecy surrounds a letter sent to Jay Weatherill in 2008, warning of safety concerns, inadequate staffing and “dated management systems” at the Oakden Older Persons Mental Health Service.

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The letter warned of “serious issues impinging on consumer and staff safety, staffing and training level issues (and) dated management systems,” according to Independent Commissioner Against Corruption Bruce Lander’s Oakden investigation report, released earlier this week.

It was sent to Jay Weatherill, who was Minister for Ageing at the time, and to Gail Gago, who was Minister for Mental Health, on February 29, 2008.

Inadequate staffing and poor clinical management at the Oakden facility were among the findings of Chief Psychiatrist Dr Aaron Groves’ damning 2017 Oakden report, which detailed the abuse and maltreatment of patients over more than a decade and prompted the Government’s closure of the facility last year.

The letter to Weatherill and Gago is listed among hundreds of other complaints to various authorities over almost a decade, in an appendix to Lander’s final report into maladministration relating to the Oakden facility.

Weatherill has repeatedly stressed that he never had direct ministerial responsibility for Oakden.

Asked what the letter suggested about Weatherill’s knowledge of problems at Oakden in 2008, a spokesperson for Lander declined to explain its significance.

The spokesperson said, however, that the commissioner had considered the letter during his investigation.

“Both the letter and material relevant to it were considered by the commissioner when making his assessment of evidence and considering his findings,” Lander’s spokesperson said in a statement.

“As you know the commissioner’s investigation was necessarily conducted in private.

“Consequently the commissioner will not release the letter.”

Asked about the letter at a press conference this morning, Weatherill said none of the complaints to ministers “raised the nature and extent of the abuse that was later revealed at Oakden”.

Asked whether he remembers reading the letter, Weatherill said Lander had “dealt with that in his report”.

“There is nothing more to be known other than what is contained in the report,” Weatherill said.

“The letters are all contained within the report.”

However, it appears that the only reference to the letter in Lander’s 456-page report is its listing in an appendix (see below).

It is the only mention of the date “29 February 2008” in the report.

Weatherill stressed that Lander made no findings in relation to him in the report, nor was he asked to give evidence.

He said Gago took advice from her agency and made a response to the letter, and emphasised that there were no negative findings in the report concerning her actions in relation to it.

The commissioner’s spokesperson added: “As you will appreciate the number of documents considered by the Commissioner’s investigation was considerable (44,200) and not every document considered by the investigation is referred to in the body of the report.”

According to the listing, the letter was sent by a Tina Beaton.

InDaily has made unsuccessful attempts to contact Beaton.

The Government has denied Lander’s repeated requests for the power to conduct part or all of any maladministration investigation in public.

The commissioner has regularly argued – and argues in his final report into Oakden – that he needs that power in order to protect public confidence in his investigations.

“I remain of the view that when I conduct an investigation into potential serious or systemic misconduct or maladministration I should have the discretion to conduct some or all of that investigation in public,” Lander’s report reads.

“That is the only way the process can be protected.”

Lander reasons that because he makes several adverse findings in his Oakden report, which have serious implications for the reputations of those people, readers of the report will have to assume that natural justice was afforded during the process.

“Because the investigation had to be conducted in private the reader will simply have to assume that those individuals were provided with an adequate opportunity to address those potential findings and that my judgement in that regard was appropriate.

“That is unsatisfactory.

“The reader should not only be able to read my report but also be aware and examine the way in which the process was conducted.”

Lander’s report says that while consecutive Health and Mental Health Ministers – Gago included – were responsible for the conditions at Oakden, as were chief executive officers in SA Health, they were also, to an “astonishing” degree, unaware of what was going on there.

Those ministers and successive CEOs within SA Health were therefore not guilty of maladministration.

Lander made findings of maladministration against the Northern Adelaide Local Health Network and five managers and clinicians within it.

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