SOURCE: The Sydney Morning Herald
For more than a decade the residents of the Grand Western Lodge boarding house in central-western NSW were allegedly assaulted, underfed and sedated into a stupor, while the government department responsible for monitoring their care allegedly stood idly by.
On Tuesday they took a stand, launching a class action against the man who ran the facility, the company he worked for, and the NSW government.
Represented by Sydney law firm, Maurice Blackburn, the 40-plus residents, who have physical and intellectual disabilities, lodged a claim against boarding house manager Adrian Powell, Avibin Pty Ltd, and the Department of Ageing, Disability and Home Care in the Federal Court.
They are seeking compensation for injuries, false imprisonment and financial losses allegedly suffered during their time at the boarding house between 2000 and 2011.
"These residents lived in depraved circumstances that you wouldn't wish on your own worst enemy," Maurice Blackburn's NSW managing principal, Ben Slade, told a press conference held to launch the action.
"But they were paying 100 per cent of their pensions for the pleasure of living in this house of horrors."
In a series of articles dating back to 2002, Fairfax Media exposed the alleged inhumane treatment of residents at Grand Western lodge, located in the small town of Millthorpe near Orange.
Official government documents recorded a history of allegations of physical assaults of and by the residents.
A committee of seven residents at the boarding house allegedly exercised control over the others, meting out physical punishments, isolation, and massive unprescribed doses of psychotropic medications to sedate residents who they deemed out of control.
One man said he had been grounded in his room for a month, while another said he had been "hit everywhere, kicked and punched everywhere" over the course of 10 years.
In their action, led by former resident Paul McAlister, the residents also claim they were not given enough food of adequate quality, or suitable clothing or footwear.
"They emerged underweight, with hearing aids not working, and in ill-fitting clothes," the barrister leading the action, Jenny Tallis, said.
"They had levels of tinea, and other skin conditions you wouldn't expect to see in this day and age."
It is alleged the NSW Department of Disability and Home Care's monitoring of the boarding house's licence was negligent, with staff allegedly being aware of the risks to residents but failing to properly inspect the facility.
This allegedly continued even after the alleged treatment of residents was exposed by Fairfax in 2002. It took another nine years for the boarding house to be closed down and residents moved into alternative care.
The chief executive of People with a Disability Australia, Matthew Bowden, said he hoped the action would also lead to an improvement in housing and support provided to people with disabilities across NSW.
"There are still some 600 [people with disabilities] living in boarding houses in NSW," Mr Bowden said.
"That number has shrunk significantly as boarding houses have closed...but obtaining appropriate supported housing and care for this group remains a major issue."
Fairfax is seeking comment from Mr Powell, Avibin and the Department of Ageing, Disability and Home Care