The residents' rights movement has a relatively recent history in Australia, although it is well established in the United States. The recent Ronalds consultancy (1988-1989) established a national policy agenda for the residents' rights movement in Australia, including a Charter of Residents' Rights and Responsibilities, a Resident/Proprietor Agreement, independent advocacy services and complaints units with the Department of Health, Housing and Community Services. A less well publicised aspect of recent reforms to the aged care system also converges significantly on the issue of residents' rights. In 1987, a new and sophisticated system of nursing home regulation was introduced by the Australian government. The standards monitoring program, which is at the forefront of international developments in this field, is resident centred and outcome oriented. The data presented here suggest that the program has contributed toward the development of residents' rights in nursing homes, via improved commitment amongst management, and greater participation by residents. Yet overall progress in residents' rights remains precarious. Several conflicts of interest and sources of constraint are identified.