Media Release: The Disability Royal Commission will hear evidence this week regarding death of NDIS participant Ann-Marie Smith

The Disability Royal Commission holds its second hearing on disability service providers this week. The 5-day investigation is expected to focus on service provision in South Australia, including the circumstances surrounding the death of Ann-Marie Smith, an NDIS participant who died in April last year after being grossly neglected in her home by her support worker.

Ms Smith is reported to have been left, for an extended period of time, in a woven cane chair before passing away from a combination of septic shock and organ failure caused by malnutrition.

The Royal Commission will be investigating what changes have been made by the South Australian and Commonwealth governments since the incident, to safeguard people with disability from violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation.

The hearing will also focus on the living arrangements of people with disability, in particular the recent experiences of people with disability in segregated congregate living situations (also called group homes) operated by the South Australian Department of Human Services.

People with Disability Australia (PWDA) president, Samantha Connor, was pleased to see that the Royal Commission intends to investigate South Australian disability accommodation services.

“For many years, violence and abuse against disabled people has been perpetrated behind closed doors, in segregated environments,” said Ms Conner. “Often due to a lack of adequate services and supports.”

Ms Conner also emphasised the importance of ending segregated housing arrangements for people with disability, in line with Australia’s human rights obligations.

PWDA has long campaigned for people with disability to have the same right to choose where they live and who they live with as everyone else in the community.

In its submission to the Disability Royal Commission on quality and safeguards, PWDA has also urged the Royal Commission to examine whether complaints bodies, such as the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission, are treating cases of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation in group homes as regulatory breaches, rather than criminal matters which should be referred to police.

PWDA chief executive officer, Sebastian Zagarella, expressed concern that incidents of violence in groups homes are not being dealt with appropriately.

“We see situations where providers are simply being issued with fines, while the perpetrators of violence and abuse are moved on from the service without further repercussion,” said Mr Zagarella.

PWDA has advocated for the establishment of an independent national body to oversee safeguarding and complaints mechanisms in disability services.

“Right now, we have different state and territory governments applying their own safeguarding systems to a national NDIS, and we have a woefully under-resourced NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission, who also have no power to address incidents if service providers are not NDIS registered,” said Mr Zagarella.

“The system is complicated, and people with disability – people like Ann-Marie Smith – can end up slipping through the cracks, with tragic and horrifying consequences.”


For more information please contact:

Amanda Ellis
Senior Policy Officer, PWDA
Mobile: 0431 998 273
Email: media@pwd.org.au