Oct 06, 2022

ROPA urges Government to join the UN to protect elderly rights

6_10_22 UN convention

A new advocacy network has been established and has called on the Federal Government to support a United Nations (UN) Convention on the Human Rights of Older Persons.

Rights of Older Persons Australia (ROPA) has launched a campaign for stronger human rights protections for older people in Australia and globally. 

Beverley Baker, ROPA and National Older Women’s Network member, said the convention would underpin the discussion of what is legally okay and what is not when it comes to the treatment and care of older people. 

“Australia has led the way in endorsing and promoting conventions for human rights so now, with an ageing population, we believe they should be leading the charge again,” she said. 

“It is vital that even though our rights are covered in some places, they’re not cohesive and hang together. 

“We really need [these rights] spelt out so that your diminishing rights are linked to your diminishing capacity, not your age.”

Last year, the UN declared the Decade of Healthy Ageing after discussing and investigating statistics surrounding our globally ageing population, and they found there was a need to universally define rights for older people. 

Currently, a UN subcommittee, other working groups and ROPA are looking into the convention.

From sharing their campaign, ROPA have received confirmation from 40 organisations indicating they are prepared for and support it. 

“We can demonstrate to the Government that this is a system-wide belief and it is an essential step in the right direction,” Ms Baker said.

“The civil service organisations who work in this space, the people who work for, and with our ageing population are saying this [convention] is essential and needed to establish a basis of human rights to protect older people.”

The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety investigated the treatment of older people in care settings which further emphasised the need for a set of universal rights aged care residents and staff can refer to. 

ROPA believes existing UN treaties offer inadequate protection of the rights of older people, and the protections that do exist are often scattered and ineffective.

“We didn’t realise [before the Royal Commission] that 50 women a week were being sexually abused in residential aged care and they had no legal right to do anything about it,” Ms Baker said. 

“Human rights do not disappear because you are in a nursing home or you are old.

“If you are mentally impaired or incapacitated, your human rights are transferred, no matter what age you are. 

“But if you’re still cognitive of what’s going on around you, suddenly you lose agency and an ability to determine what you want in your own life and how you want to live it.”

Ms Baker highlighted that as the population’s needs change as they age, policies and facilities need to be adapted to accommodate the shift, and starting a conversation about it is the first step. 

“Let’s stop pitting generation against generation – that’s ageism at its worst,” she said. 

“Let’s start looking at your life from start to finish and begin making sure at every life stage, the things you need as a human being to live with respect and dignity are protected and preserved.”

ROPA would like to see the Government establish a multi-stakeholder group in Australia, made up of older Australians from diverse backgrounds and circumstances, including civil society groups and frontline workers.

The aim of this group would be to inform Australia’s leadership in upholding the rights of older people, actively support and participate in the UN’s efforts to develop a new convention, and ratifying and implementing the treaty in Australian law.

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