Australia Needs a National Plan for Elder Abuse

By Andrew Heaton

(image via Next Avenue)

Australia needs a national plan to combat the abuse or unsatisfactory treatment of elderly members of our community, a new report has found.

Released last week by Attorney General George Brandis, the report from the Australian Law Reform Commission recommended that a national plan be devised to combat elder abuse, which it says would form the basis of a long-term approach toward protecting senior Australians from unsatisfactory treatment.

The plans would include:

  • Reforms to better protect residents in aged care facilities, including establishing a serious incident response scheme in aged care legislation, enhanced worker screening processes and regulating the use of restrictive practices.
  • Better protection for superannuation, including clearing up ambiguity as to whether or not an enduring power of attorney can sign a binding death benefit nomination.
  • National best practice guidelines to improve lawyer and financial advisor understanding of how to detect and prevent elder abuse using wills.
  • Amending the Code of Banking Practice to require banks to take reasonable steps to identify and prevent financial abuse of elder customers
  • Introducing adult safeguarding laws in each state and territory and ensuring that safeguarding services are available to ‘at-risk’ adults.

The plan would be informed by a national study of the prevalence of elder abuse, the report said.

The Commonwealth has already committed to such a study, and a scoping study in this area was completed by the Australian Institute of Family Studies in May 2017.

Both around the world and in Australia, the importance of preventing elder abuse has grown as the population ages.

In 2014/15, data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics suggests that around 15 percent of the population were aged 65 or older – a portion expected to grow to 23 percent by the year 2055.

Elder abuse can take many forms, including physical (e.g. pushing, shoving or rough handling, use of restrictive practices), emotional (e.g. bullying, verbal abuse, withdrawing affection), financial (e.g. stealing money, abusing power of attorney arrangements), sexual and neglect (e.g. failing to provide food, shelter or medical care).

Welcoming the report, Brandis said the government was considering its recommendations.

He says protection of older Australiana is a responsibility shared by all.

“All Australians have rights which do not in any way diminish with age,” Brandis said.

“These rights, built on a foundation of autonomy and dignity, are at the core of the ALRC’s work.”

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