Date: 
Thursday 15 June 2017

Author

Dr Kay Patterson, Age Discrimination Commissioner

 Thursday 15 June 2017

Swanston Room, Melbourne Town Hall,
Cnr. Swanston and Collins Streets,
Melbourne. 3000

(NOTE:  Check Against Delivery)

Introduction

• Acknowledge traditional owners Wurundjeri Peoples of the Kulin Nation.

• Thank Dr John Chesterman for introduction.

• Acknowledge:

o Professor Rosalind Croucher – President of the Australian Law Reform Commission
o Colleen Pearce – Victorian Public Advocate
o Jenny Blakey – Manager of Seniors Rights Victoria.

I would like to acknowledge the Federal Attorney-General, the Hon George Brandis QC, for initiating and launching the ALRC inquiry into elder abuse. I also thank the Attorney for focusing attention on this very serious issue of elder abuse by commissioning the Australian Institute of Family Studies to conduct a scoping study (completed this year) and committing to fund a prevalence study and national elder abuse hotline. I would also like to congratulate Rosalind and her team at the ALRC for the outstanding work they have done and the time and effort they have put into conducting the national consultation and completing this report.

The recommendations in this report are carefully considered and include both immediate reforms and long-term measures. The report addresses a number of specific areas and topics, ranging from powers of attorney and family agreements to aged care, superannuation and the role of banks.

Elder abuse is often considered in the context of family violence but it can have very different dynamics and consequences. The ALRC report recognises and understands these nuances and thus recommends a range of options and responses to this complex and multi-layered problem.

Most importantly, the report resonates in the voices and stories of the individuals, community groups, organisations and industries who have taken the time to contribute to the inquiry or make a submission. For example, the Eastern Community Legal Centre in Box Hill (Kaz McKay): over 100 nurses, police, ACAT teams, carers etc. came together to discuss and make a submission to the ALRC discussion paper.

Another example is the Australian Research Network on Law (ARNLA) – small group of legal academics across Australia shared their expertise in a joint response to the ALRC papers. There are many other examples. Through this inquiry, I have seen a coming together of knowledge, ideas and passion like no other.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of the individuals, community, government, business and other stakeholders who have contributed their energy and passion to the inquiry. I urge you to not let this flame die down but continue with even more focus and commitment as we move on to the next stage of implementing recommendations from the report.

As the report states, now having been tabled in Parliament, the Report becomes a public document.

The ALRC has a strong track record of having its advice followed and recommendations implemented – its Annual Report 2015-16 records that 60% of ALRC reports are substantially implemented and 26% are partially implemented, representing an overall implementation rate of 86%.

However, ultimately implementation is a matter not for the ALRC but for all of us.

Implementation – everyone’s responsibility.

I have an absolute aversion to reports which do not get debated and implemented. In this elder abuse report, the ALRC has laid down a solid foundation for us to take action and progress change.

Like torchbearers, the ALRC has lit the flame and shone a light on the hidden scourge that is elder abuse. Now it is up to us to take up the torch and let its light spread to all corners of our country – our homes and workplaces, aged care settings and hospitals, the local coffee shop, hairdressers, banks and pharmacies.

It is the responsibility of all of us to ensure that the flame for purging the blight of elder abuse does not diminish or go out.

It follows that it behoves all of us to work tirelessly to ensure that we implement as many as possible of the ALRC report recommendations.  Let’s break the record and make it 100%!! Rosalind quoted in her speech the words of the Toronto Declaration on the Global Prevention of Elder Abuse (2002) that elder abuse in an ageing world is ‘everyone’s business’.

I would like to reiterate this point in the words of the following African proverb: ‘It takes a whole village to raise a child’. Whether it be the rights of people with disability, the equality of people from different cultures and background, or protection from abuse for the elderly – it takes a whole country, every one of us, to guarantee that the rights of our citizens, including our seniors citizens are paramount.

Now, more than ever, as the number of Australians over 65 (now about 15% of the population) is expected to more than double within 40 years, we need to pay attention to the rights and needs of the elderly.

Indeed the issue of elder abuse will only become more critical as the baby boomer generation ages and home ownership for young Australians decreases, placing more pressure on the transfer of wealth between generations.

Elder abuse helpline statistics provide clear evidence of this. For example, figures from Advocare’s National Elder Abuse Annual Report show the number of calls to elder abuse hotlines across Australia more than doubled within a year, increasing from 3159 in 2013-14 to 6515 in 2014-15.

Whenever I speak on the topic of elder abuse at an event, on talkback radio or on TV, there is always someone who comes up to me to recount their personal experience of elder abuse or something that happened to their friend, colleague or family member.

Elder abuse is real and it is rife. It touches all aspects of our society and it is all of our responsibility. I need not remind you that the elderly in our community are our parents, grandparents, mentors and friends.

Barring a premature death, each and every one of us will grow older and it is in the interest of all of us to ensure the protection of our older Australians and eliminate elder abuse and work to create a tomorrow that is better than today.

What next?

Rosalind reflects in her speech that the role of the Age Discrimination Commissioner is well placed to lead a number of strategies and actions in the proposed National Plan, which will involve bringing together key stakeholder groups. I intend to take up this mission. I am absolutely committed that in my term as Age Discrimination Commissioner, I will focus on eliminating elder abuse as one of my key priorities and work to progress implementation of the recommendations in the report.

My plan is to work with Governments and stakeholders to achieve the goal which includes a National Plan that offers the opportunity to develop strategies beyond legal reforms to include national awareness and community education campaigns, training for people working with older people, elder abuse helplines other initiatives.

In particular, I believe we need wider community education around the importance of having Powers of Attorney and Enduring Powers of Attorney as well as the responsibilities of all parties involved in these documents.

Training of professionals who work with older people is also critical. For example, lawyers assisting people to prepare wills, Powers of Attorney and enduring documents need to ensure that the older person understands that they can set conditions on their POA or that it can be revoked. Similarly, doctors and health professionals need detailed training around what they are entitled to disclose about a patient’s situation without fear of breaching professional codes or privacy rules. They also need to know about appropriate referral pathways and services for elder abuse.

In fact, all professionals who intersect with older people need to be alert to the signs of elder abuse – this includes lawyers, accountants, health professionals, pharmacists, hairdressers, Centrelink officers and many others. These people are often an important contact point for many victims or potential victims. They are well placed to recognise the first signs of risk and say something or take action that could have a significant impact on outcomes for the older person.

I want to acknowledge that there is a lot of tremendous and very innovative work that is currently being done in the area of elder abuse. I would like to take this opportunity to commend and acknowledge those who continue to work tirelessly on limited resources and time to protect older Australians from abuse.

I would encourage a broader sharing of good practice and resources across jurisdictions and stakeholders to ensure that we build on our experience and continue to move forward in our mission to eliminate elder abuse. One way to do this may be through a clearing house or online hub to highlight and share best practice.

Conclusion

As we walk down the path of implementation, we will come across practical difficulties and nuanced problems which haven’t been addressed. We may become overwhelmed by the enormity of the task and discouraged by the many layers of this complex issue. 

However, I urge you all to keep in mind the broader vision. Be open to negotiation and remember we have a common goal of safeguarding the rights of older Australians, who like everyone else, have a right to be respected and to live independent, self-determined lives, free from abuse, violence and neglect. These are rights worth persevering and fighting for.

Address

Melbourne VIC
Australia