Springbank Secondary College & Ms Ann-Marie Smith

11 June 2020

I rise today to speak about the potential closure of Springbank Secondary College, a unique school located in the federal seat of Boothby in South Australia. A review commissioned by South Australian Minister for Education John Gardner into the future of the school is currently underway. News of the review has most significantly distressed the students and their parents and caregivers. This is because so many people involved with the school value its strong commitment to providing a fully inclusive and positive school environment for the 37 students in the disability unit and the many more students on the autism spectrum in the broader mainstream student cohort.

The review goes against commitments the minister made just a year ago to invest $10 million in the school. It would be very disappointing if the economic needs of the state are prioritised over the educational and social benefits that Springbank Secondary College provides to its unique and much-loved cohort of students. The best needs of children must always be the paramount consideration.

Having such a unique cohort of students within the broader mainstream cohort is invaluable. It allows for all students to have a greater understanding of compassion, empathy, diversity and inclusivity. To seek to end this cohesion would be cruel in the extreme. There are currently around 167 students enrolled in this school, up from 144 last year, and prior to the announcement of the potential closure it was projected to have 200 students in 2021.

Contrary to media reports and statements made by the minister, the school population is actually growing. It is attracting students from outside its zone because what it uniquely offers is not normally available at larger campuses, such as Unley High School, which is already well and truly oversubscribed. One of my constituents has a son who was rejected by Unley High School last year. The deputy principal told the family, 'We can't educate your son and we are extremely embarrassed.' Fancy hearing that! Would any of us like to hear that from the deputy principal of a school?

The family was then referred to Springbank Secondary College and were told that the college could cater for their son. Their son was subsequently enrolled there and is now thriving in a welcoming, inclusive and specialist environment which understands that children with a disability and children on the autism spectrum are well and truly worth being educated. Springbank Secondary College invests the time and effort in giving all children with disabilities fair and equal treatment, like their peers. If these children are forced to enrol in schools that don't want them and in much-larger, less-welcoming schools they will fall through the cracks. We cannot let this happen.

The recent shocking death of South Australian Ann Marie Smith shows only too tragically what can take place when people with a disability are seen as a number, forgotten and neglected by the system that is meant to care for them. Ann Marie's death has left us all deeply shocked and reeling. She died on 6 April from severe septic shock, multiple organ failure, severe pressure sores, malnutrition and issues connected with her cerebral palsy. To be clear: it was not her disability that killed her. Her manner of death was entirely preventable.

Shockingly, Ann Marie died after being deposited in a woven cane chair in her living room for 24 hours a day for over a year. The cane chair operated as both her toilet and her bed. Ann Marie's last year was a life confined to that cane chair surrounded by filth. She was malnourished and suffering from horrific pressure sores. Absolutely no-one should ever have to endure such pain, suffering and isolation.

As a South Australian and as a father I'm appalled by what happened to Ann Marie. It brought home that fear that grips many parents who have adult children living with a disability—the fear of what will happen to their child when they die. Who will love and care for them? Who will advocate and protect them? My heart goes out to these parents whose fears have now intensified after learning the sickening details surrounding Ann Marie's tragic death.

Ms Smith had loving parents, who made provisions for her. She was diagnosed with severe cerebral palsy and needed significant assistance for toileting and hygiene. They had cared for her all of their lives. She lived in a house that had been set up to enable her to be well looked after long after her parents' death. That house ultimately became her prison. She had not been seen outside for many years.

She lived alone at her Kensington Park home in Adelaide's eastern suburbs and had to rely on a carer for all her needs following her parents' death. That carer was employed by the ironically named Integrity Care (SA), who subsequently confirmed the termination of employment of Ms Smith's carer five weeks after her death.

The directors of Integrity Care must also be held to account. After Ms Smith died in the Royal Adelaide Hospital, a complaint was made to the Health and Community Services Complaints Commissioner about her care by the doctors who treated her. Ms Smith's death has been declared a major crime, with the South Australian police investigating how she was unable to move from the cane chair for more than a year and had no access to a toilet or fridge containing food. No doubt the police will uncover more despicable facts as the investigation unfolds. Further, it was revealed that the South Australian Minister for Human Services, Michelle Lensink, became aware of Ms Smith's death only after SAPOL called for information from the South Australian public.

Her shocking and preventable death has highlighted significant and stark gaps in the NDIS system with respect to the oversight and safeguarding of people living with profound disability. It is unfathomable to me that there was no line of sight by state or federal agencies over the care of Ms Smith, when there should have been. They have failed in their duty of care to Anne Marie. She was receiving services which were funded and regulated by the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission, and these failings must be investigated independently. So many questions remain which must be addressed. How does this happen under our watch? How do these things happen under the National Disability Insurance Scheme? The NDIS is set up so that we have multiple levels of support and multiple levels of checking. Where was the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission? Where were they, indeed?

The minister, Stuart Robert, has said that checks were done in Anne Marie's case, but he refuses to provide any detail by hiding behind an investigation. Clearly, there have been many failures in her care at a state and federal level. People like Anne Marie should not have just one person coming to their house. They should not be kept inside a house in a cane chair for years. They should not be denied a fridge, denied love, denied care, denied respect and denied dignity.

The South Australia coroner will conduct an inquest into Ms Smith's death following the SAPOL investigation. Other investigations into her death have been announced by the South Australian government, including a task force that will report in only a matter of weeks. I wrote to the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability, requesting that it conduct its own investigation into the death of Ms Smith. This is very important given the commission's statutory independence from government and the fact that it has been specifically tasked with examining the very issues at the heart of her untimely and preventable death—particularly the protection of people with disability against experiencing violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation.

Before I close, I want to publicly honour Anne Marie's life today. Every individual, every human, has intrinsic value, and when we fail to care for the weakest and most vulnerable amongst us it diminishes us all.

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