Legislative Council: Wednesday, April 10, 2024


South Australian Civil and Administrative Tribunal

The Hon. H.M. GIROLAMO (15:03): I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking a question of the Attorney-General on the South Australian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, better known as SACAT.

Leave granted.

The Hon. H.M. GIROLAMO: The opposition has been approached by a mother whose son is living with a disability. Ms Tricia Neagle has won an appeal in the Supreme Court to have her son returned to her care from being under state guardianship. Ms Neagle, who has given permission for me to discuss her situation, has raised concerns about the extreme length of time taken to address her case, which is currently with SACAT, and the concerns about the current care of her son.

The Supreme Court decided in her favour in June 2023, and Ms Neagle has been waiting for over 10 months for SACAT to finalise a decision for her son to ideally be returned to her care. Ms Neagle has reached out to both the office of the Attorney-General and the Premier's office, to no avail. She struggles to gain access to her son, including birthdays and Christmas Day. She also has concerns regarding limited access to information and details of her son's case, which includes what he is eating, what medication he is being prescribed and why he is regressing in his capacity building. Tomorrow marks three years since her son was removed from her care. My questions to the Attorney are:

1. What are the current wait times for cases to be heard by SACAT, and why is this case taking over 10 months?

2. Why does SACAT and the Office of the Public Advocate not provide files and details of proceedings, including the reasons for removal of individuals from home care to parties participating in SACAT proceedings?

3. When did the Attorney's office last contact Ms Neagle, and what advice was provided in response to her concerns?

4. How will the Attorney ensure fairness and timely accountability for people navigating SACAT, so that mothers like Tricia don't have to wait so long for results?

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector) (15:05): I thank the honourable member for her question. I don't have all the details, but I am aware of matters very similar to this that MPs raise. It might be that the matter the honourable member has raised has been raised with my office by one of her colleagues in the lower house.

I am not going to go into details. There are, of course, confidentiality provisions within the SACAT Act that I don't intend to breach, even with parliamentary privilege; however, what I can say is that SACAT is involved many times in some of the most deeply personal ways in people's lives. Appointing a guardian or appointing an administrator to make decisions about life, about medication, accommodation, or as an administrator with financial decisions, are indeed very grave ones that go to people's fundamental liberties.

SACAT has been in existence almost exactly nine years and in that time have made somewhere around 270,000 orders across all jurisdictions, including those that deal with guardianship and administration. I think on this particular matter—but certainly it is raised with me by people who have raised their own particular views about who should be appointed administrators or guardians. As I said, it is a difficult area when a tribunal has to make judgements about who is best placed to look after not just the financial needs but needs that include decisions about medical care and accommodation of individuals.

I think SACAT are generally quite well regarded in terms of how they handle these decisions, as the Guardianship and Administration Board that preceded the establishment of SACAT nine years ago were as well. I am always happy when people raise it with me confidentially, as I think there are provisions in the act that require to look into the circumstances of individual cases, and it is certainly something I have done when quite a number of MPs have raised issues because, as I have said, it is a pretty fundamental intrusion into the way you live your life, to have someone appointed to make these fundamental decisions for you, and it can be difficult and traumatic, particularly for family members, but I am always happy to answer questions as best I can, given the confidentiality that applies.