Human rights denied in horrific Adelaide death of woman with disability, Ann-Marie Smith

May 19, 2020

Australian Lawyers for Human Rights (ALHR) repeats its call on the Australian Government to establish an independent oversight body for all people with disabilities living in the community after the recent news of the death of Ann-Marie Smith, who is reported to have lived in squalor and without proper care in her Adelaide home. 

Natalie Wade, Vice President and Chair of the ALHR Disability Rights Committee says, “Australians with disabilities have the human right to live free from exploitation, abuse and violence. It is overwhelmingly concerning that despite a national Royal Commission into this very topic and the recent introduction of the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission in 2018, we continue to have people with disabilities die in Australia as a result of poor care and abuse.”

Ms Wade continued, “Since the news of Ms Smith’s death, government agencies and ministers have failed to take any responsibility. They have a legal responsibility and the statutory power to protect people with disabilities from violence, abuse and neglect, yet Ms Smith is dead. The Government must ensure that safeguards and systems are working to protect people with disabilities living in the community”.

Following Ms Smith’s death, the South Australian Government has announced a taskforce to consider the system’s failings surrounding the death. Ms Wade comments, “ALHR welcomes the establishment of a taskforce into this tragic event, but this is not the answer. People with disabilities have the human right to be protected from exploitation, abuse and violence and the right to live free of inhumane and degrading treatment. Permanent independent oversight services are needed to achieve this.”  

The South Australian Minister for Disabilities has called for ‘spot checks every three months on vulnerable people in care’. Ms Wade cautions, “We must be careful when deciding what an oversight body looks like. It must be accessible to people with disabilities and respect their right to privacy, while protecting their right to live free from violence and abuse. In reviewing existing oversight bodies such as the Community Visitor Schemes around Australia and the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission, a human rights-focused approach must be taken and draconian measures which unduly interfere with the privacy of people with disabilities must be avoided.”

“In the absence of a Human Rights Act, the most vulnerable people in our community live without any human rights framework to ensure the work of government protects their rights and freedoms. This confronting case of violence and neglect against a woman with disability is yet another example of the consequences of inadequate human rights protections in Australia.” 

Contact Matt Mitchell on 0431 980 365 or