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Hidden camera horror puts surveillance laws to test

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John Rau’s new surveillance laws will be tested in the wake of shocking hidden camera footage of a nursing home patient being abused by a carer, with the State Opposition and Senator Nick Xenophon joining a chorus calling for wider use of CCTV at aged-care facilities.

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Adelaide woman Noleen Hausler felt compelled to install a hidden camera in her 89-year-old father Clarence’s room at the Mitcham Residential Care Facility after ongoing suspicions the bed-ridden dementia patient was being mistreated.

The footage captured revealed shocking acts of abuse by carer Corey Lyle Lucas, which were aired last night on the ABC’s 7:30 program.

Lucas pleaded guilty to two counts of aggravated assault and, according to Hausler, served three weeks of a 10-month sentence imposed last year.

The footage has highlighted the issue of elder abuse, particularly where victims are unable to communicate their treatment.

But the fact it occurred in SA has also put the Government’s new surveillance regime in the spotlight, with Attorney-General John Rau’s revised Surveillance Devices Act passing parliament earlier this year. While it is yet to come into effect, broader calls for the extension of hidden cameras or CCTV will test the provision allowing the use of such devices where “reasonably necessary for the protection of the lawful interests of that person”, or if it is in the public interest to do so.

Tony Kerin, co-chair of the Law Society’s Criminal Law Committee, said Hausler’s decision was effectively vindicated by the footage being deemed admissible in court, but added that the new law “hasn’t been tested”.

“If she’s got legal authority to help [her father], you could argue those powers give her the ability to do what she did,” he said.

“[But] it highlights the very issues that were debated at the time [the bill was drafted]: What do we do in this situation? Is it appropriate or is it not?”

Opposition spokeswoman Vickie Chapman said it was clear “that we need to introduce legislation to allow surveillance devices to be used to help prevent the abuse of vulnerable South Australians”, adding that would involve allowing nursing home residents to install cameras in property owned by a third party.

She said this would include the consent of a guardian on behalf of the resident.

“Aged-care facilities are homes for many South Australians… it is appalling and disgusting to think that elderly South Australians are essentially being abused in their own homes, and it must be stopped,” she said.

Xenophon said Hausler’s case could be “the tip of the iceberg”, urging provisions to broaden the use of CCTV and attacking federal cuts to the aged-care sector.

Hausler revealed the nursing home’s operators, Aged Care Services Australia Group (Japara Healthcare), threatened her with legal action for breach of the existing surveillance law, as well as the Aged Care and Privacy Acts, although it appears these threats were not followed through.

In a statement, the group expressed “shock, concern and sadness” at the “rogue act by someone who has now been criminally prosecuted”.

“We reiterate our sincere apologies to the resident and his family,” it said.

“The issue of whether cameras should be permitted in residents’ private bedrooms and bathrooms is an extremely complex one, especially as many residents are toileted, changed and showered in these areas. It raises important questions about consent, and the privacy and dignity of all residents.

“While we have cameras in common areas in our homes, we don’t have any plans to introduce them into residents’ private bedrooms and bathrooms.”

Hausler’s lawyer, Adair Donaldson, told ABC891 today that while “some will argue she shouldn’t have gone to that extent of using covert vision… I think the method she used was quite justified in these circumstances”.

“But moving forward, if we were to look at how we could use this type of vision to bring about a change for the better, what I believe should be happening is that you can allow monitoring to occur in the privacy of rooms so long as it is well signed,” he said.

“We’re not talking about covert vision; what we’re talking about is well-signed vision that allows the proper monitoring of residents and you would think that every institution would want this because it not only protects the residents it protects the institution as well.”

Hausler told ABC891: “I knew Dad was in trouble… my basis was Dad’s safety.”

She said she had sought a meeting with Rau, but the request was not met.

“I just really wanted to know exactly what the legislation was that currently exists so that I knew whether I had done the wrong thing or not,” she said.

“If I hadn’t done the wrong thing, well, then we need to go forward and make appropriate changes to make sure that nobody else has to do what I was forced to do.”

Premier Jay Weatherill said the abuse Hausler suffered was “absolutely unacceptable”, but argued it was a federal area of responsibility.

However, he said “all options” – including “technological measures” – should be considered to ensure the rights and welfare of aged care residents were safeguarded.

“This is a matter of commonwealth responsibility and imperatives… if there’s some legal permission the commonwealth needs we’ll be happy to provide it,” he said, adding that the privacy concerns of aged care workers would also need to be considered.

He said Rau “properly indicated” to Hausler “the legal position -which is that if agreement is able to be reached that a surveillance device can be included in an aged care facility”.

“But beyond that there really is an area of doubt about the legal position, and that’s a matter for legal advice to be taken in an individual case,” Weatherill said.

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