Former Federal Court judge to investigate SafeWork SA over death of Outback nurse

18 May 2022

A former Federal Court judge will undertake an independent review into the adequacy of SafeWork SA’s investigation into the murder of Outback nurse Gayle Woodford, the State Government has announced.

John Mansfield AM QC will head the review which will also examine the agency’s engagement with the Woodford family during its investigation.

Ms Woodford was employed as a nurse in the APY Lands community of Fregon for the Nganampa Health Council (NHC) when she was raped and murdered by Dudley Davey in March 2016. Her killer is serving a life sentence.

In April 2021, SafeWork SA launched an investigation into possible breaches of the Work Health and Safety Act 2012 by the NHC after the Deputy Coroner delivered his findings and recommendations into Ms Woodford’s death.

In April last year, Deputy Coroner Anthony Schapel found that Mrs Woodford’s death could have been prevented had the NHC not allowed nurses to work alone when attending to male clients. Police had even warned the NHC that not even their own officers attended jobs without a partner in the APY Lands.

Last month, SafeWork SA determined not to proceed with a prosecution against NHC on the basis there was no reasonable prospect of conviction of criminal offences. 

However, State Attorney-General Kyam Maher on Wednesday said concerns have since been raised and the Government is determined to ensure such concerns are investigated thoroughly.

The independent review, led by a widely respected former Federal Court judge, is set to be completed by July 2022 and will be made publicly available.

Mr Maher said its findings will be duly considered in a separate, wide-ranging review of the practices and procedures of SafeWork SA. That review – an election commitment – will consider the agency’s investigative and prosecution functions, and the regulatory framework around work health and safety more broadly.

Following Ms Woodford’s murder, the Woodford family and the ANMF (SA Branch) successfully campaigned over three years for a law which protects health care professionals working in remote areas from attending after-hours emergency callouts alone.

Speaking at our A Voice to Lead online forum last week, ANMF (SA Branch) CEO/Secretary Adj Associate Professor Elizabeth Dabars AM said: “We think it is an absolutely shameful set of circumstances that has led to the regulator failing to prosecute the employer for their actions or inactions in relation to safety.

“We believe it is completely unacceptable. Had we the power to prosecute ourselves we would be pursuing it ourselves as an advocate.

“We don’t have that capacity at the moment, it is something that we have argued strongly for and will continue to argue strongly for,” Ms Dabars said.

ANMF (SA Branch) Director, Operations and Strategy, Rob Bonner told FIVEAA presenter and News Corp columnist David Penberthy it was not SafeWork’s role to second guess what a court might find. Mr Bonner said it was SafeWork’s job to mount a prosecution based on what was clear evidence of management failure.

Mr Maher said: “No review or inquiry can make up for the loss of Ms Woodford, but I want to ensure her loved ones’ views are heard.

“I have spoken with those supporting the Woodford family and I thank them for their time and for representing the family’s concerns.

“My thoughts are with the Woodford family. I know personally how much Gayle was appreciated by those members of the Fregon community who she worked with and cared for.’’