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Federal inquiry call into Ann-Marie Smith's death

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The “disgusting and degrading” death of Ann-Marie Smith has sparked calls for both state and federal independent inquiries into how the vulnerable Adelaide woman could suffer such neglect while under care of the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

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State Labor has called for the State Government inquiry announced yesterday to be conducted by someone outside of government, while federal Labor MP Bill Shorten has called for an independent federal-level inquiry into Smith’s death under the NDIS.

Smith died in the Royal Adelaide Hospital on April 6 from septic shock, multiple organ failure from severe pressure sores, and malnourishment developed while supposedly receiving care at her Kensington Gardens home.

SA Police have declared her death a major crime and launched a manslaughter investigation.

“Ann was living her days and sleeping at night in the same woven-comb chair in her lounge room for over a year,” Detective Superintendent Des Bray said.

“That chair became her toilet, there was no fridge and investigators were unable to locate any nutritional food in the house.”

Smith has been assigned a carer by disability provider Integrity Care SA. It said on Sunday that it had sacked the female carer responsible, but there has been no explanation as to how to a single carer was meant to provide the daily support that Smith needed, or what other checks were made on her welfare.

Smith was previously under the care of state-run Disability SA, but was transferred to the federal NDIS, with Disability SA wound down and state authorities no longer being responsible for her welfare.

Human Services Minister Michelle Lensink said she wasn’t told about Smith’s death until last week, even though NDIS knew about it.

The State Government yesterday said it was establishing a taskforce to immediately begin examining the gaps in oversight and safeguarding for people living with a disability, and make recommendations both the State Government and NDIS.

The taskforce will be chaired by Disability Advocate David Caudrey, who was appointed to the new role in 2019 by the State Government as a response to the NDIS.

But Labor human services spokeswoman Nat Cook today called for the inquiry to be run at arms-length from the government.

A government inquiry or investigation looking into itself never ends well,” she said.

“It will not produce the quick response, it will not produce the frank and fearless advice and the thorough outcomes that are needed.

“We cannot see a government taskforce within itself reporting to Government where we will likely not see the results for months.”

Cook has accused the government of ignoring appeals over the past year to extend the powers of the Community Visitor Scheme – which conducts checks on people in care in state facilities – to allow it to monitor services provided by non-government groups such as Integrity Care SA, which acted for the NDIS.

Premier Steven Marshall today said Labor was “playing politics”.

“I’m not sure what happens in other jurisdictions but we haven’t changed anything with regards to that,” he told FIVEaa.

“My understanding is the Community Visitor Scheme never visited people in homes in South Australia. We had Labor in for 16 years and quite frankly I don’t think it’s the time for playing politics. I think people just want answers. It’s a federal jurisdiction, there’s clearly an incredible failure and people just want responses.”

Marshall told ABC Radio Adelaide that Smith transferred from Disability SA to the NDIS in 2018, “and really, when people transition, you don’t have much oversight at the state level and that is worrying us “.

“Obviously there is a breakdown in the auditing system that exists for this to occur,” he said.

“I don’t want to go into all of the specifics of this case but obviously it’s … a major crime investigation in South Australia but what we know is that there … very clearly gaps, we need to find out what those are as quickly as possible.  Then we need to speak to Federal Government about what they’re going to do and there may be a role for us in South Australia as well.”  

Federal opposition NDIS spokesman Bill Shorten called for an independent inquiry into Smith’s death under NDIS-administered care.

“It is not good enough for NDIS Minister Stuart Robert to just blithely handball this to the NDIA Quality and Safeguards Commission,” he said.

“What if that organisation becomes a subject of the inquiry into Ms Smith’s demise? Are they meant to investigate themselves? There is no way this can be done objectively.”

He said the death was a tragedy.

“She should be alive and thriving. Instead she was neglected, abandoned, and has died.

“Ann-Marie was failed in life. She will be failed in death if the Government choose to cover up, whitewash or hold only a deeply-conflicted inquiry.”

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