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Uniting Communities was appointed as the advocacy service for vulnerable South Australians with disabilities following a series of recommendations from a Disability Protection Taskforce established after the death of Adelaide wife Ann-Marie Smith.

Ann-Marie Smith. Image provided by SA Police

The advocacy service was one of seven recommendations and 14 major security vulnerabilities identified by the Task Force on Disability Protection after Smith’s death in April.

Smith lived with cerebral palsy and died in hospital of septic shock, multiple organ failure, severe pressure sores, and malnutrition while under the care of Integrity Care SA, a nongovernmental organization managed by the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

She had been given a single paid carer to work seven days a week, but police said the 54-year-old had spent months in a chair.

The paid carer was later charged with manslaughter.

Smith had previously been a client of the state-owned Disability SA but was transferred to the federal NDIS in 2018, with the state ceasing to be responsible for overseeing or monitoring Commonwealth customers, causing a debate over the state’s Community Visitor program and the Access to NDIS customers triggered home.

In May, the state government set up the task force, led by disability attorneys David Caudrey and Kelly Vincent, to review the gaps in the supervision and protection of people with serious disabilities in South Australia and to make recommendations.

In July, it was recommended that the state government invest in individual advocacy to help individuals access what they need from NDIS and the community.

The tender for a disability advocacy service was announced in September.

The SA’s human services minister Michelle Lensink said the new nationwide advocacy service will receive $ 1.2 million over a three-year period and begin operations in December.

“This important service will be available this month and will provide legal representation for people to challenge NDIS decisions and educate and empower people with disabilities to stand up for themselves,” said Lensink.

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“Navigating the NDIS can be difficult and this advocacy program will help South Australians who are struggling to get the support they need.”

Uniting Communities, a nonprofit, already provides support services to individuals and communities across South Australia in areas such as mental health, elderly care and the disabled.

Lensink said the new service would “help people develop the NDIS”.

“This is the first time since 2007 that the state government has funded individual advocacy when the previous Labor government repaid it as a cost-cutting measure,” she said.

“We are determined to continue doing everything we can to remove the barriers for people with disabilities.”

While the SA’s shadow minister for human services, Nat Cook, welcomed the investment in advocacy services for people with disabilities, she questioned the United Nations’ ability to remain independent.

“Independence in protection from disabilities is essential. I congratulate the United Nations on its successful offer and recognize that they are a highly regarded provider of services for the disabled. However, I doubt the potential risk of conflict of interest with only one provider” said Cook.

“It is unfortunate that the non-government sector had less than four weeks to put its bids together and the government sat on its hands for months before selecting and announcing the winning bidder.”

The Task Force also recommended additional funding to continue the work of disability advocate David Caudrey and to expand the adult protection department to vulnerable adults of all ages.

The state government said it had implemented or completed the seven recommendations.

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