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Commissioner ‘hopeful’ of elder abuse changes

Work is underway within government on the Australian Law Reform Commission’s proposals, says Age Discrimination Commissioner Kay Patterson.

A team within the department of the Attorney-General is working on the recommendations for legal reform outlined in the ALRC report into elder abuse, while a sub-committee of federal and state attorneys-general is working on issues that cross jurisdictions, says Dr Patterson.

In addition, the Attorney-General’s department has been working with federal departments such as health and social welfare which are responsible for areas that the ALRC has recommended be reformed, she said.

Kay Patterson

“I’m very hopeful we’ll see a high acceptance of the recommendations,” Dr Patterson told Australian Ageing Agenda on the sidelines of the Domestic Violence and Older People forum at Sydney’s Royal Hospital for Women on Wednesday.

“The ALRC in its last report said that about 80 per cent of its recommendations are accepted. I’ve challenged the department and others to get 100 per cent on this one.”

Dr Patterson said she has been working with the banking industry on some of the issues flagged by the ALRC as important for preventing financial abuse of seniors.

The ALRC’s report, released last week, covered areas including family agreements, superannuation, banking and enduring appointments. Almost a third of the 43 recommendations involved changes to the laws governing residential and community aged care (read AAA’s story here).

Beyond the recommendations for legal reform outlined in the ALRC report, Dr Patterson said she hoped to see greater awareness of the issue within the community, particularly among people who may identify suspected abuse.

“A lot of people who come into contact with seniors – for example, hair dressers, accountants – are frightened to report what they see as elder abuse because of privacy concerns. We need to educate the community they’re not at risk if they genuinely believe the person is at risk of harm or abuse.”

On Wednesday, Geoff Rowe, CEO of Aged and Disability Advocacy Australia, called on state and federal governments to ensure the ALRC’s recommendations are implemented.

“We cannot, as advocates, politicians, aged care workers, and sons and daughters urge people to speak their truth and then turn a blind eye after hearing of their suffering,” he wrote in an opinion piece for AAA.

At the forum on Wednesday, which was organised by the Prince of Wales Hospital’s Aged Care Psychiatry Service, researchers and frontline legal and domestic violence services variously praised the ALRC’s report and endorsed its broad-ranging recommendations.

Related AAA coverage: Elder abuse inquiry ‘an important milestone’ say groups

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