Millthorpe boarding house almost empty

Only one resident is left in the Grand Western Lodge boarding house in Millthorpe after the government gained rarely-used legal powers to remove 25 people from the facility last Friday.

Another will be removed when he is found.

In all 43 people have been removed from the boarding house and re-located since the start of July.

The boarding house, which has operated since 1987, is licensed by the state government to accommodate people with psychological and intellectual disabilities.

The longtime licensee, Adrian Powell, has had a difficult relationship with the Department of Ageing, Disability and Home Care which monitors licensed boarding houses.

The department is prosecuting Mr Powell under the Youth and Community Services Act relating to obstructing access to departmental staff.

The Minister for Disability Services, Andrew Constance, said the action to remove residents was taken after three Ombudsman's reports in nine years, and concerns that had been raised directly with him.

''I will always err on the side of caution when it comes to the wellbeing of people with disabilities living in boarding houses,'' he said. He announced the government would strengthen the legislation that governs licensed boarding houses to better safeguard the rights of residents.

At a two-day guardianship tribunal hearing in early July allegations were made about a punishment regime at the lodge, illegal use of medication, financial control by the owner, and other matters, some of which were heard in closed hearing.

The Public Guardian was appointed for 13 residents who were judged in need of help to make decisions. Two chose to leave the lodge immediately and another left soon after. But most said they wanted to stay.

In the days after the hearing, further evidence came to light that prompted the department to remove five women after gaining coercive powers under section 11 of the guardianship act that had not been used before. It allows for forcible removal, if necessary, and police presence. The Public Guardian also relocated 10 others.

The latest removals followed an emergency hearing of the guardianship tribunal in which the rarely used section 11 was again granted. A resident in Millthorpe who did not want to be named said two police officers in a car and one on a motor bike were present. ''People looked very sad to go, for some it's been their home for 20 years,'' he said. ''Some locals were crying, a big part of the town is gone.''

He said the residents went quietly, and were helped into a mini-bus and four cars by 20 people.

Mr Powell has many supporters and has usually won his battles with the department over the years.

Matthew Bowden, executive director of the advocacy group, People with Disability Australia (PWD), said PWD began to alert the department and police to allegations of serious risk of harm to residents in June 2010. ''It has taken over a year for the department to take effective action in response to these allegations,'' he said. He called on the government to expedite the much needed reform of the licensed boarding house sector.

The resident who remains at the lodge is believed to be a man who at the July guardianship hearing was found to have the capacity to make his own decisions.

The tribunal will decide in September whether the 30 residents removed under section 11 powers are in need of a guardian or can make their own decisions.