Calls For a National Plan to Address Elder Abuse and Neglect
15 June 2017 at 4:08 pm
A landmark report calling for the establishment of a national plan to combat and prevent the abuse and mistreatment of elderly Australians has been welcomed by the social sector.
To coincide with World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD), the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) released its final report on Thursday.
The 428 page report comes after a 15 month inquiry where the ALRC consulted with 117 stakeholders around the country, released two consultation documents, and received more than 450 submissions.
ALRC president Professor Rosalind Croucher said the framework could be used to implement wide-ranging reform.
“In developing the recommendations in this report, we have worked to balance the autonomy of older people with providing appropriate protections, respecting the choices that older persons make, but also safeguarding them from abuse,” Croucher said.
Central to the 43 recommendations was the development of a national plan to be used as the basis for the ongoing protection of older people from abuse.
Some of the recommendations, aimed at addressing the potential for financial abuse, placed greater responsibility on financial institutions.
The report also recommended a new model for preparing and executing wills, and national guidelines governing how tribunals support elderly people who are subject to guardianship applications.
A total of 14 out of the ALRC’s 43 recommendations were about improving aged care, in both residential settings and the home.
The report called on new laws requiring aged care providers to report any allegations or suspicion of abuse or neglect to an independent body, improved screening of aged care workers and the regulated use of restrictive practices.
Law Society of NSW president Pauline Wright welcomed the report and its recommendations and said increasingly older Australians were facing abuse which could be in the form of physical, psychological, emotional, financial, sexual abuse or neglect.
“Sadly, financial abuse also frequently occurs, often perpetrated within families or by someone known to the victim such as a friend, carer or neighbour,” Wright said.
“Measures to prevent financial abuse are particularly critical given the rise in Australia’s ageing population and the increasing number of Australians living with dementia.”
Wright said that a national plan could comprise of awareness campaigns, elder abuse hotlines, training for people working with older people and research into the prevalence of elder abuse.
“Laws concerning powers of attorney and guardianship in each state and territory should be harmonised to reduce complexity and overlap,” Wright said.
Aged and Community Services Australia (ACSA) CEO Pat Sparrow said the report was an important addition to a “multifaceted societal issue”.
“It’s only through a coordinated and sophisticated approach – that considers legal and all other factors that allow elder abuse to occur – and with buy-in from government, industry and all other stakeholder groups, that we can truly combat the underlying causes of elder abuse and ensure that older Australians are treated with the respect and dignity they deserve,” Sparrow said.
She said the aged care sector was already highly regulated and reforms should be based in the area where they were needed most.
“We need to ensure that all of the pieces fit together to improve outcomes for older people and we don’t create unintended consequences as a result of more regulation and reporting without achieving improved protections,” Sparrow said.
“Aged care is already a heavily regulated industry. However, reporting in and of itself doesn’t ensure better protection. Before creating new regulations we need clear evidence that this would provide additional protection whether this be in aged care or in the community where the majority of abuse occurs.”
In a joint statement the shadow minister for ageing and mental health Julie Collins and the shadow assistant minister for ageing Helen Polley said Labour welcomed the report.
They said it was “devastating” that elder abuse was primarily perpetrated by family members.
“We particularly acknowledge the report’s focus on financial exploitation, which is the theme of the 2017 WEAAD and continues to be the most common form of abuse experienced by elderly people,” they said.
“Labor again calls on the Turnbull government to take this report seriously, and act quickly in the interests of all older Australians.”
In a statement, Senator George Brandis said the Turnbull government would carefully consider the recommendations and work across portfolios to develop a response.