Labor MP Leesa Vlahos quits SA's state election race

 abc.net.au  2/15/2018 6:44:56 AM  2  political reporter Nick Harmsen

Updated February 15, 2018 18:09:02

The former Labor minister at the centre of the Oakden nursing home scandal, Leesa Vlahos, has quit SA's election race just days before the Independent Commissioner Against Corruption is due to deliver a report into maladministration at the government-run facility.

Ms Vlahos today wrote to Premier Jay Weatherill to withdraw from the prized number one position on Labor's Legislative Council ticket ahead of the March 17 election.

Ms Vlahos is currently the Member for Taylor in the Lower House, and was mental health minister when SA's chief psychiatrist Dr Aaron Groves released a damning report into the Oakden facility in Adelaide's north-east.

The report found evidence that elderly residents with dementia had been overmedicated, mistreated and inappropriately restrained.

The Labor Party today issued a statement from Ms Vlahos, just minutes after the ABC asked the former minister to confirm her position on Labor's ticket.

Ms Vlahos offered no comment, but in her statement said she did not expect to be the subject of adverse findings in Commissioner Bruce Lander's maladministration report, which is due to be publicly released by the end of the month.

"While I expect no adverse finding, I am concerned that the timing of the release of this report could mean that my candidature could become a distraction at this most important time," she said.

"As I was the minister at the time and now a candidate at the head of our Legislative Council ticket, I see I will become the target for a lazy Opposition looking to sneak into power under the Xenophon swing.

"I believe Labor — and South Australia — cannot afford the distraction. The future of this state is too important.

"I have decided, therefore, to step aside from public office at this time."

In a separate statement, Mr Weatherill confirmed Ms Vlahos's withdrawal.

"Today I was advised Leesa Vlahos has decided she will not contest the next state election," he said.

"This must have been a difficult decision for Ms Vlahos to have made, but I believe it is the right one."

The ABC understands Labor's state executive will meet this evening to reshape its Legislative Council ticket in the wake of Ms Vlahos's departure.

The number two candidate, Justin Hanson, appears likely to be elevated to the number one position, with fellow candidates Irene Pnevmatikos, Clare Scriven and Mahanbir Grewal also elevated up the ballot paper.

Vlahos distances herself from Oakden crisis

Earlier this month, Commissioner Lander took the unusual step of releasing a public statement, foreshadowing the release of his Oakden report on or before February 28.

Nominations for the election race are set to close on February 26, meaning the parties will need to lock in their candidate selections by this date.

In his statement, Commissioner Lander indicated his maladministration report would name figures linked to the Oakden facility, after dismissing legal arguments from three people to suppress their identities.

But Ms Vlahos today distanced herself from involvement in the Oakden crisis.

"As the chief psychiatrist's and other reports have revealed, the abuse preceded my time as Minister for Mental Health by some years, but when the matters surfaced it fell to me to address the crisis," she said.

"It was my job to rise in Parliament to apologise to the resident and their families both personally and on behalf of the whole Government."

Ms Vlahos quit as Mental Health Minister in September last year, on the same day her predecessor, Jack Snelling, also quit the ministry. Mr Snelling will also exit politics at this election.

The senior bureaucrat who oversaw the Oakden facility also announced plans to quit SA Health last week.

Jackie Hanson, the head of the Northern Adelaide Local Health Network, will return to Queensland in April to take up the role of Chief Operating Officer of the Queensland Metro North Hospital and Health Service.

Investigations into Oakden abuse ongoing

Patrina Cole, whose father Pietro De Cicco died in a fall at the Oakden home, said there would be "few people losing sleep" over Ms Vlahos's decision to leave Parliament.

"She didn't really provide members of the community any faith in her holding that position, especially with what's been released over the past 12 months in regards to Oakden," Ms Cole said.

She said it was an insult that Ms Vlahos had been placed in the top spot on Labor's ticket — a virtual guarantee she would be elected to the Legislative Council.

"Hopefully now with the report coming out, and the election looming, there's going to be some significant change... in proper care."

The Oakden aged care was closed last year and patients moved to another facility after the release of Dr Groves' report.

The Oakden scandal has been the subject of numerous inquiries and investigations, some of them ongoing.

Apart from Dr Groves' review and Mr Lander's maladministration probe, a coronial inquiry into the 2008 death of a resident is underway and several others are expected.

Incidents at the home have also been referred to police.

Earlier this week, a senate inquiry into Oakden criticised the time it took state and federal authorities to respond, claiming elder abuse and neglect were allowed to continue even after residents' concerns were raised with health authorities.

"Many subsequent instances of abuse and neglect occurred as a direct result of those with the oversight responsibility not acting earlier," the inquiry's interim report stated.

The State Government has accepted all six recommendations from Dr Groves' review, and welcomed the decision of Mr Lander to publicly release his report.

Topics: states-and-territories, elections, alp, government-and-politics, mental-health, corruption, adelaide-5000, sa

First posted February 15, 2018 16:51:17

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