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Disability taskforce member hits out as Labor blasts "disarray"

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The chairperson of a taskforce formed after revelations about the shocking death of Ann-Marie Smith has hit back at criticisms from the Labor Opposition, calling them “borderline offensive”.

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It followed an admission from another member of the panel, disability advocate Sam Paior, that the two week deadline for its initial report is not “enough time to do a really good job of this at this point”.

“But I think we need some quick answers and some quick action and from those will come those longer term, better answers,” Paior told ABC Radio Adelaide this morning.

She was responding to Labor critiques that the taskforce was rudderless, with no formal guidelines and draft guidelines that do not specifically reference Smith’s death.

Police, Coronial and state and federal inquiries are already underway into the circumstances of Smith’s death in hospital on April 6 from septic shock, multiple organ failure, severe pressure sores and malnourishment which developed at her Kensington Gardens home.

Despite being assigned a carer by NDIS-administered non-government organisation Integrity Care SA, SA police said the 54-year-old woman with cerebral palsy spent 24-hours a day for more than a year sitting in a chair, and there was little food in the house.

After the police announcement, Integrity Care said it had terminated the employment of Smith’s carer Rosemary Maione, due to “serious and wilful misconduct”.

However, the taskforce was initially established by the Marshall Government “to examine the current gaps in oversight and safeguarding for people living with profound disability in South Australia”.

Labor’s Human Services spokeswoman Nat Cook said today that “it beggars belief this taskforce still doesn’t have a finalised terms of reference, given it is due to report to the government in just 12 days time”.

“Steven Marshall and [Human Services minister] Michelle Lensink have been unable to give clear answers to simple questions about the status of this taskforce… it is clear they are not taking this matter seriously.”

Labor leader Peter Malinauskas said “it’s vitally important we get to the bottom of this case to ensure it never happens again”.

“This is why we need an independent judicial inquiry, rather than the government’s independent taskforce, which is now in disarray.”

But this prompted an impassioned response from taskforce co-chair Kelly Vincent, a former crossbench MP for the Dignity party.

Vincent said it was “absolute nonsense” that the terms of reference did not exist, but said they would not be publicly released until cabinet noted them tomorrow.

“They’ve been circulated to members of the taskforce… there’s absolutely no truth to this narrative that we’re working without guidelines,” she said.

“Quite frankly, this game the Opposition and members of parliament have been playing… is actually counter-intuitive to the work of the taskforce – and borderline offensive.”

She noted taskforce members were not being paid, and “everyone’s doing this out of a desire to make real, positive, lasting change”.

“We’re not some secret corporate entity… we’re a dedicated group of people who are sick and tired of seeing members of our community abused, neglected and dying in these horrific circumstances.”

She said it was never the role of the inquiry to “report on Ann-Marie Smith’s death directly”.

“There’s already a number of inquiries going on, including a police inquiry… as much as this is about Ann-Marie, she isn’t the first and she probably won’t be the last.”

Paior told InDaily Smith was “the trigger for a whole look at all of the systems”, but conceded “you can’t do a bang-up job in a month”.

“Of course you can’t – you can identify what needs to be done more.”

She earlier told ABC radio she had been “meeting with people from universities and families and people with disabilities have been contacting me and sending me their information so we’re just in that collection phase”

“I see this as the first step – I’m possibly talking out of turn but I don’t think this taskforce is the be-all and end-all,” she said.

“I think this is going to be an initial report and it’s going to talk about all the other things that we need to do… we don’t have enough time to do a really good job of this at this point but I think we need some quick answers and some quick action and from those will come those longer term better answers.”

She said the draft guideline for the taskforce was to: “consider gaps in safeguarding arrangements for people with disabilities in South Australia arising from the policies and practices of: 1) The NDIS or the NDIA.  2) The NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission and 3) State Government instrumentality.  The taskforce seeks to consider the gaps from a developmental, preventative and corrective perspective.”

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