Tuesday, 19 March 2019

ABC Radio Perth Breakfast - Elder Abuse National Plan



Subjects: Elder Abuse – National Plan

NADIA MITSOPOULOS: In the meantime Christian Porter is the Attorney General. Good morning.

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Yeah good morning to you both.

NADIA MITSOPOULOS: This is a five year plan. What are the details?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well it's obviously meant to try and prepare Australia for an ageing population and some of the effects that are felt by ageing Australians and older Australians. It is obviously meant to be a national plan. It's got five priority areas. The national plan will be implemented over the next several years but it literally starts right now. So two initiatives that we've brought forward with the launch of the national plan are we are setting up a truly national 1800 line, which is 1800 ELDERHELP. And what that will do is connect callers from anywhere in Australia to the appropriate state and territory services where they can discuss potential or actual elder abuse, get the information referrals they need to protect themselves. And as part of the launch today of the national plan we're also providing $18 million over four years for national trials of specific front line services designed to support older people who are victims of abuse. They'll be spread out across Australia, every state and territory will get at least one of the trial services. Here we'll be funding relationships Australia in Mandurah and also the Kimberley Community Legal Service to run services for people who are at risk or who are experiencing elder abuse. And as you've noted that might take a variety of forms - it might be physical, it might be neglect, very sadly it manifests often as financial abuse and the misuse of the money and assets of older Australians.

NADIA MITSOPOULOS: What sort of services? Because organisations like AdvoCare for instance already to work in this area, what is it that people will be able to do besides ring a hotline? Which- and a hotline has also been in existence for some time.

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well in actual fact each of the states and territories have had services and they've had some phone lines for those services but a bit like national hotlines on domestic violence, this is the first time that there's a national hotline. And one of the difficulties of course is that if you're experiencing elder abuse as an older Australian knowing where to start the process of restitution, mediation or getting assistance is not always the easiest thing. So having a dedicated national line that will be well publicised, and people know is their first port of call if they were running into difficulties - I think is a very significant step forward. And yes there's been a range of services that are available. What this $18 million is meant to do is to provide additional services - so specialist elder abuse units, health justice partnerships, very importantly case management and mediation services. As you say many of these scenarios of abuse, whether they're neglect or physical abuse or very often financial abuse actually require mediation and resolution between family members and that's something that specialist services can provide. This represents a quite significant increase and trialling of new services as we learn more about the types of abuse that are occurring against older Australians. And it obviously is part of what's going to be a five year coordinated plan with great cooperation from all the states and territories. And part of this plan is actually commissioning research so that we can work out what the prevalence of elder abuse is in Australia and all the contexts in which it occurs and in which context it occurs the most often and we therefore need to focus our resources on.

RUSSELL WOOLF: Around the world, you made the point that up to 12 per cent of elderly experience some level of abuse or another. Would you think that Australia was any different to the rest of the world in those numbers?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: I think it would be comparative but the point is that many other countries - sort of comparative western democracies have undertaken this research so that they can come up with that kind of data analysis and that hasn't been yet conducted in Australia, it's being conducted now as part of this national plan. But by the middle of this century, so about 2056, we estimate that 22 per cent of Australians - that's about 8.7 million people - will be aged over 65. And then if you look at those international studies of prevalence of the abuse of older people, some of those studies show that in comparable places that 12 per cent of older people have experienced abuse. Now if you assumed that even at a 5 per cent rate at the scale of the population of older Australians, you're talking about 185,000 older people who might be experiencing abuse or neglect or financial abuse in Australia. So in terms of a vulnerable minority you might argue that's probably the single biggest minority that exists in Australia and you know for all of, sort of I guess, Russell, our generation of Australians were born in the 1970s and you're watching your baby boomer parents age, and you hear stories or you come across situations where you see older Australians not being treated with the respect and dignity and care that they absolutely deserve, and this is only something in terms of an issue and problem that is going to enlarge as the population of older Australians enlarge. We're trying to get ahead of this curve and devote sufficient resources and research to understanding and fixing the problem.

RUSSELL WOOLF: We're talking with the Attorney-General Christian Porter who's in his home state and joins us on ABC Perth and WA Breakfast with Nadia and Russell at 8.39.

NADIA MITSOPOULOS: And Attorney-General, it's all very well to set up these five specialist elder abuse units, as you mentioned, one in Perth, one in the Kimberley, as a trial but part of the problem is actually getting people into that front door because it often involves family members and there's a real reluctance to report- by people who are affected by this and that's the battle.

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Look, I mean, you're absolutely right, and trying to make sure that people seek assistance and help and report instances of abuse is part of the national plan going forward. And there are five priority areas - the first of those is enhancing our understanding; the second is improving community awareness and access to information; the third is strengthening the service responses, which we've talked to a little bit about this morning; the fourth is planning for future decision making in strengthening safeguards for vulnerable older Australians. And I guess the fundamental point is that people should never feel ashamed about the fact that they think that they need assistance because they believe that they're being neglected or treated unfairly or abused or taken financial advantage of. And so, as we work across Australia with all the states and territories to enhance our understanding of the problem, to improve community awareness, we think that part of that will increase the number of complaints and individuals seeking assistance. In some ways, this is comparable to the sort of environment that we found with respect to domestic violence not that long ago, where there was perhaps a greater reticence to report and investigate than there is now and so we're trying to create the same willingness to report, levels of understanding, and desire to investigate and assist on behalf of Government and all government agencies and departments.

RUSSELL WOOLF: The number that you need to call is the hotline number the Government has set up - 1800-ELDER-HELP. 1800-ELDER-HELP. The Attorney-General is with us, but we want to know if you've had an experience yourself. Have you perhaps as an elderly member of our society been abused at some level or perhaps a parent or grandparent of yours and you are willing to share a story? We'd like to hear from you - 1300-222-720.

NADIA MITSOPOULOS: And if you know if this is happening, how difficult is it to report it, because there is a real reluctance. If you are observing this in your family, is it easy for you to actually try and get this issue resolved?

RUSSELL WOOLF: What about penalties, Attorney-General, then for people that are found to engage in elder abuse? Should they be made stronger and harsher?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well, we've had a look at the types of offences, criminal and civil penalties, that exist for the type of behaviour that we obviously want to see far less of. It seems that the preliminary view, is a fair one, is that there are lots of offences that capture the type of behaviour. But it's awareness and understanding, reporting and investigation of the behaviour that's the difficulty. If I just use one example - one of the priority areas about planning for future decision making is that the states and territories are looking into developing options for harmonising enduring powers of attorney and particularly, in relation to financial powers of attorney. And one of the issues, say for instance, that even frontline workers at bank branches have said is that very often people will present with a power of attorney - and in some jurisdictions in Australia, there's no central register that the frontline officer in a bank or an accounting firm can actually check whether or not the power of attorney is real and has been properly executed. Of course, powers of attorney are very important instruments to allow families and children, in most cases, look after the affairs of someone who is failing or not being able to look after their affairs themselves. But they are also documents that can be opened up to quite serious abuse and of course, the financial abuse of older Australians.

So, one very simple thing here is to make sure that we can have a consistent national approach to the ways in which power of attorneys are got and the way in which they're recorded.

NADIA MITSOPOULOS: Because tougher penalties, though, maybe - will that be the trigger though for people to report? Because I understand what you're saying there but can those sort of offences be a bit clearer and more specific to elder abuse?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well, I think there's definitely room for that.


CHRISTIAN PORTER: And of course, we've got seven jurisdictions across Australia and again, the fifth part of this national plan is a thoroughgoing audit and review of all of the state and territory legislation which is designed to try and identify gaps in safeguarding provisions. Now, that might be, first of all, trying to find instances of behaviour that we know are regularly arising that aren't properly covered by penalties and offences whether they be criminal or civil; or secondarily, if there are offences, are the types of outcomes and punishments that attach the offence appropriate to the behaviour? So, that is a process that this national plan kicks off. It's an important process. But I guess, preliminary to that is the very important issue about raising awareness even with respect to the laws and penalties and behaviours that we outlaw at the moment, and we think that's probably the very first and most important step in this process over the next several years.

NADIA MITSOPOULOS: We'll leave it there