Thursday, 22 February 2018

Matter of Fact – ABC News 24 (Guest Presenter Fauziah Ibrahim)



Subjects: Elder Abuse

FAUZIAH IBRAHIM: The Attorney-General, Christian Porter, joined me a little earlier this evening to talk more about this national plan

Attorney-General, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us.

CHRISTIAN PORTER: That's a pleasure.

FAUZIAH IBRAHIM: Now, we will get to the issue of elder abuse and aged care, but first I want to get your opinion of the news of the day and that is Victorian Nationals MP Andrew Broad's push for Barnaby Joyce to resign as Nationals Party Leader and DPM, are you glad that this looks like it's coming to a head?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well, look, I'd say first I've been out my electorate at a function with constituents today so I've not had the benefit of hearing the words that Andrew has spoken firsthand, so I'll take your word for it that that's representation of what he has said.

The second observation I make is the one that we made consistently which is that as members of the Liberal Parliamentary Party we don't involve ourselves in the Nationals' internal votes for office-bearing positions inclusive of that of their leader.

FAUZIAH IBRAHIM: Alright, Attorney-General, well, let's get straight into the issue at hand here. Let's talk about elderly abuse, let's talk about aged care here. You've been Attorney-General for two months now and this is one of the first major actions that you are taking. You've said that this is a personal priority for you, why is it so personal?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well, I think the Attorney-General's portfolio really requires you to have a good look at the way in which the law and law reform can affect Australians' lives.  And as a society, we've been appropriately swift and strong in our responses to child sexual abuse to issues like domestic violence.

But it wasn't really until Malcolm Turnbull made an undertaking to allocate an early $15 million to the issue of understanding elder abuse that that has really reached the level of significant attention that it deserves. And as a government, the Turnbull Government's absolutely committed to the issue, we've announced a national plan to tackle the issue.

But ultimately, by the middle of this century, half of all Australians will be over 65, we have very strong anecdotal evidence about high levels of abuse of elderly Australians, including in both the physical and a financial setting, and it's a problem that isn't going away. In fact, obviously, as our population ages, it will become a more acute problem. So we, as a government, are very committed to looking after what will be Australia's largest minority which is ageing Australians.

FAUZIAH IBRAHIM: Let's talk about this national plan that's being proposed here and first things first, you're calling for a definition of elderly abuse. Why is this significant, why do we need to have a legal definition of this?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Because we need to measure the level of elderly abuse and that requires a definition and we need to understand the various contexts that it occurs in and where it occurs most often.

So, what we don't have in Australia unfortunately is a very good, if any, real evidence or data base to tell us about the prevalence of elder abuse. I mean, we all hear the stories, of course, with some regularity about financial pressure being placed on an elderly Australian by a neighbour, or a family member to do something with their finances or their property, so we know that there is a prevalence.

From overseas studies we know that in comparable countries that the way in which elderly abuse occurs may be as high as 12 per cent of the over 65 population. But the first and critical step is to research, allocate and collate data and evidence so we can understand the scope of the problem and define the problem so that on a national level, with all the states and territories we can make sure that we are enlisting best and consistent practices to safeguard the rights for older Australians.

FAUZIAH IBRAHIM: Attorney-General, this is all very commendable, but research takes a very long time. We know that the national plan is…a draft of the national plan is expected by the end of this year, and yet the abuse is continuing so really what can the law do now to protect the vulnerable and elderly?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well, all of our data and research efforts are going to be finished, in actual fact, quite soon, and they’ll inform us as we go forward with the national plan.

But can I just give you a simple example? In some states in Australia, there is a central registry of enduring powers of attorney, in other states and territories in Australia there isn't. So, a regular issue that arises is that if someone, a financial planner, or a banker, or someone close to an elderly Australian sees an enduring power of attorney that they have some doubts about, they do not have in many jurisdictions a central registry that they can check to check the bona fides of the enduring power of attorney.

Now, that's just one simple example and there'll no doubt be hundreds of examples like that where we can look around Australia, see what the best practice is and ensure that we are at a consistently high level to protect the rights and enhance the safety of older Australians. The national plan report, in its draft form, we expect to be out later this year. So, we are looking to do this in a fairly swift timing and turnaround. But as I said recently, this is an issue whose time has absolutely come to be addressed.

FAUZIAH IBRAHIM: It certainly has. Well, there's a Senate committee looking into the Oakden nursing home abuse, and then, of course, they're looking into the wider abuse amongst residential care and nursing homes across Australia. They're coming out with a very dire picture. Are you shocked that this is happening in Australia in this day and age?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well, unfortunately, these sorts of problems, both in the physical settings of things such as aged care but also in financial settings, in terms of people placing undue duress and pressure on elderly Australians to deal with their assets happens all over the world. And, of course, it happens increasingly as the population ages and as our lifespan increases and mental frailties affect more and more Australians as they age. So, as a society, of course we've been very fast and appropriate and powerfully have we responded to issues such as child sex abuse, issues like domestic violence.

But here is this very large group of Australians getting larger all the time and there hasn't been, I think, until the Turnbull Government made these types of commitments, perhaps the attention that it deserved, but it is well and truly a priority and focus of government.

And a huge step forward will be a national plan developed through the Council of Attorneys-General in Australia to ensure that we know the extent of the problem, where it is happening most often, and what are the rules, and the laws, and the systems, and the funding changes that we need to make right across Australia to improve the situation.

FAUZIAH IBRAHIM: But this is a holistic approach that needs to be adopted here, it needs to be taken right across ministries / various government departments.  How much support do you think you will get in terms of trying to push these changes through?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well, you're quite right, this isn't just about the law and law reform, although that will be a central and important part of improving the situation for elderly Australians.

But it's also about working with other ministries in all of the states to try and affect best practices in our response. I mean, another example that we might offer you is that where someone sees undue financial pressure being exerted against an elderly Australian, it's sometimes difficult for them to know where to go, whether it's to a public trustee, or an Ombudsman, or a senior rights centre. What I think would likely be one of the issues that we'll be considering during this process with the states and territories is developing some kind of centralised way in which people and families who are exercising due and proper care for elderly Australians, where they do have concerns, they can go to one place and the problems can be triaged and sorted through.

So, of course, it's going to require responses from all levels of government and from different ministries, and portfolios, and sectors inside government, and the private sector, as well. I mean, the Australian Bankers' Association, which deals on the coalface with a whole range of financial issues, the bank accounts, the loan practices, the mortgages for older Australians, has made some very sensible submissions.

So, this is very much going to be a partnership going forward, all of the states, all of the territories, the Commonwealth, and all of the corporate, commercial and civil institutions that should and do want to protect the rights of older Australians.

FAUZIAH IBRAHIM: Attorney-General, thank you so much for speaking with us this evening.

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Thank you very much.