Human Rights and The Ageing Community Challenge
22 May 2012 at 10:20 am
Services to older people should be based on human rights principles, according to Australia’s first full time Age Discrimination Commissioner, Susan Ryan.
Ryan told the Aged and Community Services Australia National Community Care Conference in Adelaide that there is a growing awareness of the need to affirm and protect human rights for older people globally and in Australia.
“Despite the existence of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and human rights treaties, older people are not recognised explicitly under the international human rights laws that legally oblige governments to realise the rights of all people,” Ryan said.
“Hence, there is increasing support for a convention focused on the rights of older people is required. Australia is in principle supporting moves towards an international convention for older people.
“The development of a convention however will take time. In the meantime, we need to use as effectively as possible Australia’s current provisions, principally, the Age Discrimination Act 2004 and a dedicated Age Discrimination Commissioner,” she said.
The Age Discrimination Act 2004 protects the rights of people of any age to be free of discrimination based on age, in areas and services defined in the legislation.
Susan Ryan told the Conference that the creation last year, for the first time, of the full-time office of the Age Discrimination Commissioner was intended by Parliament to be a further step in ensuring active attention to the previously neglected area of age discrimination.
“In the work that I have developed since I commenced the role last August, age discrimination in employment has, because of the force of numbers, become my top priority," she said.
“Pushing capable and willing workers out of their jobs for no reason other than that they have turned 50, or 55, or 60 or some other age well short of eligibility for the age pension creates poverty and despair. It leads to serious health problems, most of which would have been avoided by the chance to continue work.
“The difficult circumstances faced by many older people needing care in their later years have in many cases been exacerbated by age discrimination in the workforce at an earlier stage of their lives."
The Federal Government has established several high level bodies to propose solutions, principally the Consultative Forum on Mature Age Participation and the Advisory Panel on the Economic Potential of Seniors.
On February 8 2012, the Attorney-General sent a reference to the Australian Law Reform Commission to review all commonwealth laws and policies that provide barriers to mature age participation in paid work and other activities.
“I have been appointed as a part-time commissioner to the ALRC to assist in this work,” Ryan said.
Ryan told the Conference that the provision of quality aged care and support in the appropriate environment is a basic human right.
“The aged care sector, home based and residential care, has long been concerned with equitable access to services and the respect and dignity of the recipients of aged care services,” she said.
“While most attention recently has understandably been on funding formulas, commonwealth state responsibilities, service delivery arrangements and workforce matters, it is time to bring into greater focus the principles contained in the human rights treaties Australia has formally signed and ratified.
“These principles include non-discrimination and equality, that is non-discrimination on grounds of gender, race, culture, belief, and sexual identity; as well as rights to information, privacy, choice, to active and informed participation, and to accountability.
“The principle I would give top billing to in this context is that of choice. If the older person receiving care is to have dignity and respect, her or his choices must be accepted, and as far as possible, implemented.
“There are other important aspects of aged care where human rights principles need to be highlighted. The greatly increased provision of services will require a greatly expanded care workforce. Carers whether they are they working in residential facilities or providing care to individuals in their homes are entitled to fair treatment. As well as fair pay and conditions, they will require appropriate training and supervisory support."
Ryan said that carer training should incorporate human rights sensitivities.
“Our whole community has a huge challenge ahead in ensuring that from now on, aged care meets the highest possible standards for all people, including the highest level of respect for their human rights.”