Feb 20, 2018

Stopping Elder Abuse: Attorney-General Announces National Plan to Address the “Critical Issue”

A National Plan to address elder abuse will be developed to ensure the protection of older people in our community.

Attorney-General, Christian Porter, announced the National Plan today, in a speech to the Fifth National Elder Abuse Conference in Sydney.

The Council of Attorneys-General, comprising the Commonwealth and all State and Territory Attorneys-General, has agreed to work together to develop the Plan.

“This is a key first step in bringing government, business and community stakeholders together to properly address this critical issue,” the Attorney-General said.

“Australia has an ageing population, with the proportion of Australians aged 65 or over rising from 15% of the population in 2014-15 to 23% by 2055 and there is no doubt that, as a community, we need to address the risk of abuse that faces people as they age.”

A National Plan was a key recommendation of the 2017 Australian Law Reform Commission’s (ALRC) Report: Elder Abuse – a National Legal Response, which highlighted a litany of examples of serious physical abuse, financial abuse, neglect and exploitation of older people.

“Abuse takes many forms and can have wide reaching emotional, financial and physical effects on victims,” the Attorney-General said.

“We have all seen or heard stories about older people facing abuse in a variety of circumstances, from financial pressure to provide family members money or change wills to abuses in aged care settings.

“But right now we don’t have a detailed picture of the problem in Australia. What we do know from overseas studies is that elder abuse affects between two and twelve per cent of older people and it affects both men and women.

“As part of our 2016, $15 million election commitment to protect the rights of older Australians, the Turnbull Government will fund a national study to examine the prevalence of elder abuse in our society and provide evidence-based findings to inform the National Plan.

This builds on existing research projects already commissioned through the Australian Institute of Family Studies and its partners to develop a National Research Agenda for Elder Abuse.

“The national study will provide a strong evidence base to ensure that the National Plan provides an appropriate framework for strategies and actions that all sectors of the community can take to protect older Australians from abuse and, in the future, track our progress in protecting them from abuse.”

As recommended by the ALRC, the National Plan has five goals:

  1. promote the autonomy and agency of older people;
  2. address ageism and promote community understanding of elder abuse;
  3. achieve national consistency;
  4. safeguard at-risk older people and improve responses; and
  5. build the evidence basis.

“Addressing elder abuse is not just a legal problem,” the Attorney-General said.

“Attorneys-General across Australia will, in contributing to the National Plan, work with ministers across health, community services and other portfolios to develop the Plan in consultation with older Australians, the community sector and the business and financial sectors.”

The Council of Attorneys-General expects to receive a draft of the National Plan by the end of 2018.

Aged Care Peak Body Responds

Aged & Community Services Australia (ACSA) welcomes the proposed National Plan to protect older people in our community against abuse.

“ACSA has consistently advocated for a national approach to tackling the problem of elder abuse. We look forward to consulting with the government on their National Plan and sharing our views on ways to stamp out this significant societal problem,” said ACSA CEO Pat Sparrow.

It will be important that the co-ordinated, national response include:

  • Implementing a consistent national approach to powers of attorney and guardianship;
  • Improving access to information online (with a particular focus on the My Aged Care portal);
  • Introducing more accurate and comprehensive data collection and research processes;
  • Boosting investment in elder abuse-focused training programs for the aged care workforce; and
  • Re-examining the current reporting requirements for residential aged care and investigating more effective and efficient methods.

“Older Australians make an immense contribution to communities across the country, and through greater recognition of the inherent dignity and worth of all older people we can bring about significant societal change,” Ms Sparrow said.

“At the very core of elder abuse is the loss of dignity and basic human rights. Ageism is a scourge on society, and if we can combat this way of thinking, we can go a long way to preventing elder abuse.”

Ms Sparrow said a significant part of tackling the problem is improving access to education programs so that more people are able to spot warning signs and help an older person if they believe abuse may be occurring.

“In addition, developing a set of nationally consistent prevention and detection measures, as identified in ACSA’s Paper on Elder Abuse Prevention, will help to address the underlying causes of elder abuse and ensure that older Australians are treated with the respect and dignity they deserve.”

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  1. I hope elder abuse by a spouse in the home is also addressed and believed no matter how “charming” the abuser appears.

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