Source: Australia Government Ministerial Statements
Subjects: elder abuse
AMBER SHERLOCK: It is a silent epidemic affecting our elderly, and today the abuse of older Australians in nursing homes and aged care facilities is being brought to light. The voices of those most vulnerable are being heard, with the Attorney-General today launching an action group to tackle the problem.
Joining me now with more is Attorney-General Christian Porter. Good afternoon to you. How will this program work?
CHRISTIAN PORTER: So today we created an organisation that will be known as EAAA, so Elder Abuse Action Australia, and it’s part of a wide ranging set of reforms meant to deal with what you’ve described as an epidemic – and I don’t think that you’re far off – of elder abuse.
We know one thing for sure: that Australia is ageing. So, by the middle of this century, about 23 per cent – almost a quarter of Australians will be over 65. We know one thing anecdotally, and that is that the abuse of older Australians is on the increase. Often that’s physical abuse in a variety of settings, but most often it’s financial abuse, so very unfortunate situations where families or friends basically con older Australians and strip them of assets, their bank accounts, transferal of property, and inappropriate behaviour of that kind.
So we have established a very important umbrella organisation that will assist older Australians who are in these unfortunate circumstances.
AMBER SHERLOCK: So how are you aiming to stop the violence?
CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well, there’s three things that we’re doing. We’ve allocated in excess of $37 million, and the first stage is to develop a plan – a national plan – around elder abuse, and that is going to be underpinned by a massive amount of research we’re doing – which has been done in other countries, but not Australia – to try and understand the prevalence and the rates, and the increase in rates, of elder abuse and where and when it happens, because if we can understand the settings and the context for when these terrible things happen, we’re going to be better placed to respond to them.
This particular network brings together all of the coal face service delivery organisations that help older Australians, so that if an older Australian or a concerned family member thinks that there’s an older Australian who’s been taken advantage of or who’s being abused financially or physically, that they’ve got somewhere to go, that they can make a complaint, and that they have an advocate who can stand by their side.
AMBER SHERLOCK: Now, you mentioned financial abuse – last week there were urgent calls for protection to prevent this happening to elderly Australians. How are you looking to assist with the financial side of it?
CHRISTIAN PORTER: So, a range of things, but a very important first measure is last Friday at the Council of Australian Attorneys-General – so all of the state and Commonwealth Attorney-Generals – we agreed to move towards a harmonised, consistent system for powers of attorney. One of the things that we’re finding – and particularly financial institutions tell us this – is that quite often, someone will present at a financial institution showing a power of attorney, which gives them authorisation to deal with an older Australian’s bank account or property, but the financial institutions find it very difficult to work out whether or not that power of attorney is actually real and genuine.
So we want a consistent system across Australia for the allocation of these powers of attorney – which are very important and very useful legal documents when they’re used properly, but they’re also open, unfortunately, to abuse. We’re looking to drive towards a consistent system, but we’re also looking to have a national registry, so that anyone dealing with an older Australian who’s subject to a power of attorney can effectively go online and work out whether or not that document is for real.
AMBER SHERLOCK: Yes, very important stuff. Now, when will we see these changes implemented?
CHRISTIAN PORTER: The research is underway now and that will be available by the end of the year. The National Action Plan is being developed and will be available shortly. The organisation we’ve created to represent and advocate for older Australians who experience abuse starts today. So, all of these things are underway and not before time – this is a growing problem and the Turnbull Government really is the first government to take a very serious policy approach in this important area.
AMBER SHERLOCK: Yeah, I’m sure all Australians agree some really important work’s being done. Attorney-General Christian Porter, thank you so much for your time today.
CHRISTIAN PORTER: Thank you.