Thursday, 14 June 2018

Today with Karl Stefanovic



Subjects: Elder Abuse Action Australia

KARL STEFANOVIC: It's such a big issue right now, the abuse of elderly Australians in nursing homes and aged care facilities. This morning, the Attorney-General is launching a new group to tackle the problem, and Christian Porter joins me now.

Christian, good morning to you.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Yeah, good morning Karl.

KARL STEFANOVIC: Thank you for your time this morning. Will this action group stop the violence?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, we think it has to be part of a suite of measures to tackle what is a growing problem. I mean, every one of your viewers, no doubt, has anecdotal stories and experiences of older Australians being abused. Very often it's in a financial setting; people taking advantage of older Australians to try and strip them of assets or to financially disadvantage them. So as a Government, the Turnbull Government's been particularly focused on this area. We've allocated $22 million, and as you've noted today, we're establishing for the first time Elder Abuse Action Australia - so the first time ever that there is a singular organisation devoted to protecting older Australians from this type of abuse.

KARL STEFANOVIC: So how will it work from a logistical point of view if there's someone, say for example, in an aged care facility in Far North Queensland and they're being abused, quite often they're too afraid to say anything, how does it work from a practical point of view?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, from a practical point of view, there's just an organisation that that person or a concerned member of their family, which is often how these things come to light, can contact and there will be experts who are able to assist, advise and generally protect the rights of those older Australians. And this is part of a much broader plan. So last week, at the Council of Attorneys-General, we announced the development of a register for a harmonised system of powers of attorney. One of the other problems is the abuse of powers of attorney, and when financial organisations are dealing with these matters, they've got nowhere that they can go to work out whether or not it actually exists for a start.

KARL STEFANOVIC: How many people are going to be in this? Because I'm sure there are plenty of complaints happening, and how do you know that the action is going to be immediate?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, it's designed to give immediate action and it’s established with a good amount of funding and we've allocated $22 million to this as a priority area in the last budget. But one of the things that we have to do and are doing is studying the prevalence of elder abuse. International studies have put it very high as a percentage of the population, and Karl, we're an ageing population. So by the middle of this century, about 23 per cent of Australians will be over 65. And it just goes to show how timely it is to get on top of this issue, because at the present time in Australia, the fact is we just actually don't know how prevalent this is. But we all have good anecdotal evidence that it's on the rise, and it's causing enormous distress to older Australians during the time in their life that they should be most looked after.

KARL STEFANOVIC: So given all of that, is it enough what you're devoting to it?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, I mean, it's very likely that this is going to be an issue that as we understand more about, more is going to have to be devoted to it. But we've established a first-ever national action plan. We're working through the state and territory Attorneys-General to establish this register of powers of attorney, which is something that's never happened before and the first ever action group for elder Australians. But the primary issue here for us is we really need to understand the extent and context of the problem. We know for instance that it most likely and most often arises in financial settings around the states and property and finances and bank accounts. But of course, it's not limited to that, and you noted that there are some people in residential care in Australia, older Australians, who face physical abuse.

KARL STEFANOVIC: I think it's a very good thing; it's a very good step in the right direction. Just finally, news today that a mandatory basic English test for all new permanent resident migrants is being considered by the Turnbull Government. Not your portfolio, but you generally- do you support it?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I do. I think it's just common sense. I mean, all of these things have to be done in a balanced and efficient way, but it is very, very difficult, if not impossible, to succeed in Australia without a thorough-going grasp of English. So making sure that both; we have the resources available to ensure that people can get that grasp of English, but also that we compel people and make sure that that is a first port of call for migrants who want to make Australia their home. It's better for them, it's better for the country, and it certainly creates a much healthier structure.

KARL STEFANOVIC: Attorney-General, good to talk to you this morning. Thank you.