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Vulnerable People - Impact of Staffing Issues

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Wednesday, 30 June 2021

Tags: Corrections, Elder Abuse

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Mr Deputy Speaker, I want to say on behalf of the Greens that the matters are raised in Labor's private member's time are very important and we support the calls that are made in this motion for the Government to address the understaffing in the prisons, at Ombudsman Tasmania and in Child Safety, also that the Government releases terms of reference for the inquiry into the Public Trustee, which has been done, so the second part of the motion has been achieved. The first part has not, however.

There is barely time for me to touch on the breadth of issues that have been raised in this motion because they cross such important portfolio responsibilities for the protection and support for some of the most vulnerable people in Tasmania. It is a matter of record that both these portfolios have been the topic of controversial media over the last week and that this minister has not covered herself in glory in the way in which she has responded to severe breaches that have been identified, on the one hand by the Custodial Inspector in his report that came out the other day, Lockdowns Review 2021, highlighting severe breaches of Tasmania's corrections regulations, and of the United Nations Convention on the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.

The minister is also responsible for the portfolio where there have been numerous public conversations, building to a crescendo of stories of pain and real suffering of people who have had their liberty denied and been treated like children, who have found themselves to be utterly out of control of their living situation and their ability to return to their house and manage their finances after a period in hospital, and found themselves not even at times able to access a phone to have a conversation with Advocacy Tasmania.

We know that from the moving testimony and really strong statements from the CEO of Advocacy Tasmania, Leanne Groombridge, but she is speaking into a space that many Tasmanians have been speaking into for years now, as individual cases have been dismissed as too hard to grapple with, as the member for Clark, Ms Haddad, commented. It has all been pulled together now, and in fact it was pulled together by the Tasmanian Law Reform Institute in an issues paper which was released three-and-a-half years ago, in December 2017, and then a year later the final report in December 2018.

Ms Archer - That is not three-and-a-half years ago.

Dr WOODRUFF - This minister has sat there and not acted and it is incredibly important. The issues paper was three-and-a-half years ago.

Ms Archer - I am sorry.

Dr WOODRUFF - These have been documented in the public domain for over three and a half years.

Ms Archer - You don't act on an issues paper - come on.

Members interjecting.

Mr SPEAKER - Order.

Dr WOODRUFF - There are issues of people's liberty being denied and people being essentially treated as prisoners and their property withheld from them, even being denied to return to their house to be cared for by their life partner.

I wrote to the Public Guardian in 2017 on behalf of a person who I will not name because I have not spoken to him about it. He and his wife of 40 years had no children, they had always lived together, she had dementia and he cared for her. He wanted to continue to care for her. She fell over sometimes but did not severely hurt herself. She went to hospital at one point to recover and at that point it was decided that the Public Guardian should be called in, someone in the hospital made that decision, and the Public Guardian decided that she should not return home.

What happened was that there was no documentation in the correspondence. I wrote to Ms Archer, then minister, and she wrote back about this case. I re-read her response to me in 2017 about this very painful case of a person who had been caring for his wife. She was taken and put into residential aged care, BUPA. Yes, she had dementia, and yes, she fell sometimes, but her husband was really aware of that and he lovingly, carefully followed her around, made sure every day she got up and put a skullcap on so that her risk of falling and damaging herself was minimised as much as possible. He would feed her, he would do all the caring things that a loving partner does.

She was put into BUPA residential aged care and had numerous falls because staff were not there to attend her and look after her and make sure she put her skullcap on. She was regularly not fed the sort of food that she wanted to eat, and that she had eaten for her whole life, and her devoted husband who wanted to care for her was denied that right.

The response from Ms Archer - and I just make this as a point that continues -

Ms Archer - I cannot comment on individual cases.

Dr WOODRUFF - There are so many, this is the point. Ms Archer, who did say she would not like to be interrupted, would like to hear the thread that follows through all of this: is the person whose liberty is denied, is not asked what they think - and this woman was not asked. I do not see any reference in the letter. The reference is what the staff thought, what BUPA thought, what the Public Guardian thought. There is not a single mention about the woman who was removed from her husband's care, what she thought -

Ms Archer - She had dementia.

Dr WOODRUFF - what her wishes were, because she had dementia, and this is the point -

Members interjecting.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - Order. This is not an argument. Interjections should cease.

Dr WOODRUFF - Because you have dementia does not mean you are incapable.

Members interjecting.

Ms HADDAD - Point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. The member for Clark, Ms Ogilvie, just said that I had no credibility in this because I have no experience of dementia.

Ms Ogilvie - No, I did not actually say that.

Members interjecting.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - Order, order. I will ask the two members to leave the Chamber if that continues.

Dr WOODRUFF - The TLRI was very clear that the Guardianship and Administration Act must be reformed to remove the need to establish that a person has a disability, and to reflect whether the person is able to make decisions with the use of appropriate support.

They also said decisions about a person's life must be based on a person's views, wishes, preferences and rights, and that this act must remove the 'best interest test', and the best interest test is being used as a [inaudible 5.08.35] for taking away people's liberties, and as a way of dealing with people when they are not cooperative.

So, we have a whole range of people who are allowed to deprive a person of their liberty without an adequate assessment of what that person wants and needs, including social workers, aged care providers and doctors and nurses in hospitals. We have numerous situations where there is dysfunction and abuse in the management and care of people. Where people are forced from their home without looking at whether home support is possible, without looking at care packages, without looking at alternative housing options.

People are able to be processed in one hour, and can be put into care against their will for up to three years. This is a totally dysfunctional system, and it is really on the minister's head that it is taking so long for her to act on the TLRI recommendations, which have been sitting there since December 2018.

We call on the minister, plead for the minister to work with the other departments, especially the Health minister -

Ms Archer - I just said they are working on it already.

Dr WOODRUFF - Yes, but when? When? You have form in this House, minister, for putting things off. This is something which is occurring for people every single day.

On the matter of prisoners' rights, well, the minister also has four prisoners in Tasmania, breaches to the UN Convention, breaches to her own laws. She might like to say this just happened in a month last year. Actually, the Custodial Inspector is documenting abuses to freedoms that happen all the time.