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Despite legal protections, couples in Australian residential aged care facilities experience institutional interference in their intimate and sexual relationships. Panoptic surveillance remains widespread in aged care. Little attention is given to privacy. Some residents’ doors are kept open at all times. Couples may be separated or provided with single beds only, unable to push them together. Staff frequently enter without knocking, commonly ignore ‘do not disturb signs’ and often gossip about residents. This culture has its origins in colonial institutions. Attempts at legislative reform to redress this situation have been met with mixed responses, with the most vociferous opposition coming from religious conservatives. A recurrent source of conflict is the tension between the ‘rights’ of religious and political institutions versus those of individuals. This article identifies systemic issues faced by partnered aged care residents, their historical origins, and the legislation that is designed to protect residents. Using a thematic analysis methodology, it reviews political debates in the past 40 years, in both federal Parliament and newspapers, and provides a critical analysis of recurrent themes and ideologies underpinning them. It concludes with recommendations for legislation that is consultative and ‘person-centred’ and recommends proscriptive privacy protections. Adoption of these ideas in future policy reforms has the potential to create more positive outcomes for partnered aged care residents.

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Journal Article

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