Tuesday, 20 February 2018

2GB – Alan Jones Breakfast Show



Subjects: Elder Abuse

ALAN JONES: Professor Judith Sloan, writing in The Australian newspaper on February 16, set the scene perfectly when she said: take a look at the figures. In 2012, people aged 65 and over made up 14 per cent of the population. In the likeliest scenario, this proportion will rise to 22 per cent in 2061 – in just more than 40 years.

In 2012, there were 420,000 people 85 and older, making up two per cent of the population. This group is expected to grow rapidly to make up five per cent of the population by 2060.

Now, we can look at a time not so far away – 2040, as noted in the PricewaterhouseCoopers report, Practical Innovation: Closing the Social Infrastructure Gap in Health and Ageing, commissioned by Australian Unity – there will be more than 5 million people aged 70 and older in 2040. It's also noted that 400 people are turning 75 every day.

Professor Sloan wrote: "it's been known for some time that older people require more from our health system and obviously older people place demands on our aged care system and accommodation and services. These are amongst the challenges we face of an ageing society where the proportion of younger taxpayers to older people continues to fall".

Well one of those aged related challenges will be addressed today when the Turnbull Government details a proposal to develop a national plan – this is awful stuff, this – to counter elder abuse.

We're talking about the financial abuse, the neglect, the exploitation of our elderly people. We're talking about something that affects up to 12 per cent of the population. I suppose it's frightening that we even need such a thing. But the Government has pointed to a 2017 Law Reform Commission report that highlighted what's been described as a litany of abuse. And those of us – and we've all been through this – who have aged people, parents, relatives in care constantly are concerned about this issue of abuse.

All of this will be addressed today by the new Attorney-General, Christian Porter.

You've heard me say before this man has ability. It's hoped a draft plan will be in place by the end of the year and the Minister Christian Porter is on the line. Christian, good morning.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Good morning, Alan.

ALAN JONES: I was looking at the Human Rights Commission website. It says elder abuse has been defined by the World Health Organisation as a single or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action occurring within any relationship where there's an expectation of trust which causes harm or distress to an older person.

That's the guts of it, isn't it?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well yeah, and that's a pretty good legal definition, but as we all know from anecdotal evidence about the types of things we're talking about - older Australians being pressured by immediate or extended family members to do something or other with a house, with a bank account or powers of attorney being used in a way that they weren't envisaged would be used.

And maybe if I just start with an example, Alan, for you and your listeners; so, in some states in Australia, there's a formal requirement to have powers of attorney registered centrally. In other states – New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria – there's no such requirement.

So, the Australian Bankers' Association make the very fair point – that if they see a power of attorney in a state where it's not registered, they actually don't have any way to check whether or not it's real. And one of the things that we're doing – the Turnbull Government – as well as having invested $15 million at the last election, is developing a national plan to try and find problems like that that exist in our legal systems and our safeguards, and fix them.

ALAN JONES: Yes, I just- gee, you're onto something here. I mean we talk about verbal abuse, name calling, bullying, harassment, threatening to put them in a nursing home.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: All of this. And we don't know at the moment, sadly, how prevalent this is and where it's most serious.

So that 12 per cent figure that you used is a figure that's been the product of overseas research that shows that in some comparable countries, 12 per cent of over 65s have been subject to elder abuse. And in Australia, we don't actually have research, evidence and data to tell us what that figure is in Australia.

And so part of this program, as well, is to do the research, collect the data - because if, as is estimated by some groups, that 40 per cent of the abuse is financial, then clearly that's where the focus of our response has to be.

ALAN JONES: Yeah, I read that piece by Kay Patterson, which I'm sure you've read as well.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: She's very good.

ALAN JONES: She's a good lady, Kay Patterson, and the Age Discrimination Commissioner now, Kay – and she wrote about a bank teller who was concerned when a regular customer came in with her son asking to withdraw $50,000. When the manager asked if she really wanted to withdraw the money, she said her son had told her she wouldn't see her grandchildren again if she didn't. So, what are you going to do to address this?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, again, the Australian Bankers' Association have made the comment at the sessions of the forum that I'll be speaking at today, that one of the problems that bankers face is that when they see this type of thing at the coalface – when they see suspicious behaviour, if you like – that there's no centralised point at which they can make a complaint. Now, very often it's appropriate to make a complaint to police, sometimes it might be a public trustee or a public advocacy office, but there's no centralised way of doing that.

And I think, again, that is a very fair observation of one of the things…

ALAN JONES: … So for example, Christian, if people – all the time, I get letters here from people, all the time – saying, look I've had to put my mum into aged care because she needs care that I can't provide. But I mean, there is no care, and I don't know. I'm paying a lot of money, and I don't know who to talk to. What do you think I should do? And how will this address that?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, what it will do is look at the best practice amongst all the states and territories in the Commonwealth and engage in a year-long effort to harmonise that up to the best practice consistently.

So, if you were experiencing an issue where you thought that some kind of financial abuse was going on, or physical abuse in a care setting, that there would be a clear line of complaint, you would know where to go…

ALAN JONES: Well, where would you go?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, I mean, at the moment it would depend on the circumstances, but you might go to police in some instances. If you think someone was…

ALAN JONES:… It's very hard for people, isn't it, to know all that? I mean, that's the point. And then they say we want proof and the police are busy, they've just had a robbery up the road and whatever. I just don't know what – I mean, you're identifying the problem. I'm saying, how do people – simple, ordinary people like your mum and dad, where do they go? Where do they go?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, if it's a financial problem, at the moment you'd be looking at state trustees or public advocacy office or the Ombudsman.

ALAN JONES: They don't even know they exist, Christian.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: And that is precisely the point.

That's one of the reasons that we invested $15 million to have a centralised knowledge hub at the time of the last election, because we recognised that this problem has been under-appreciated, under-investigated, and misunderstood.

And as you point out, by the middle of this century, about a quarter of all Australians will be over 65. So, we're trying to get ahead of this problem and we're trying to ensure that these issues, that you realise are there and that I realise are there, can be sorted out by the end of the year.

ALAN JONES: They'd love to be able to know there's some central outfit that you can ring. For example, people are suffering mental illness, we say: ring Lifeline. And at least there's a line there and someone to talk to you.

Someone goes in and sees their mother, and she hasn't had breakfast, she hasn't been looked after, she's not even properly covered, she hasn't been properly washed, and she thinks – my god, what's happening here? Who can I talk to? No one.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, and I think that this is likely one of the recommendations that will come out of the national plan process that we're announcing today, because as you point out, those types of call lines like Lifeline which can affectively triage problems for people are very effective. And as we've noted here, depending on what the problem is, there might be any number of responses and complicated processes that people will have to engage in…

ALAN JONES: Complicated, that's the thing. It intimidates people from even knowing where to go.

Look, we'll keep in touch. Well done, you do a wonderful job in very complicated areas. Good luck with that and keep in touch.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Thank you very much Alan.