The government has launched a four-year national plan to combat elder abuse through action in five priority areas including research, education, prevention and the strengthening of support services and safeguards.
The National Plan to Respond to the Abuse of Older Australians, which Attorney-General Christian Porter launched on Tuesday, provides a framework for coordinated action across federal, state and territory governments over the next four years.
A national plan was a key recommendation of the 2017 Australian Law Reform Commission’s (ALRC) Report: Elder Abuse – a National Legal Response launched in June 2017, which highlighted examples of serious physical abuse, financial abuse, neglect and exploitation of older people.
Mr Porter said the plan reflected the commitment of the nation’s federal, state and territory governments to work together to ensure that older Australians could feel and be safe.
“There’s no doubt that a key benchmark of any society is how it treats and protects its older citizens, particularly those who may be vulnerable to abuse in whatever form it takes, emotional, physical or financial.
“This national plan provides a framework for coordinated action across federal and state and territory governments over the next four years and reflects the commitment of all governments to act now to support older Australians dealing with elder abuse,” Mr Porter said.
The priority areas for action outlined in the plan are to:
- build our understanding of abuse of older people, so we can better target our responses
- build community awareness to create the momentum for change
- continue to strengthen our service responses
- help people better plan for their future
- strengthen safeguards for vulnerable older people.
Mr Porter also officially launched the new national elder abuse free call number 1800 ELDERHelp (1800 353 374) on Tuesday. This initiative was announced by the government in the December 2018 Mid Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook.
The number connects callers from anywhere in Australia to a state or territory phone line where they can discuss potential or actual elder abuse and get information and referrals, Mr Porter said.
As announced in the 2018-19 Federal Budget, the government is providing $18 million over four years for national trials of three types of frontline services designed to support older people who are victims of abuse.
This funding will support the establishment of specialist elder abuse units, health-justice partnerships and case management and mediation services.
“Every state and territory will have at least one trial site starting before the end of June this year,” Mr Porter said.
The government is also funding research looking into the prevalence of elder abuse of older Australians. The study is expected to begin this year and report findings mid-2020.
Call for more action
Consumer peak body COTA Australia welcomed the launch of the plan and the national helpline.
Chief executive of COTA Australia, Ian Yates, said he commended the federal, state and territory governments for working together to rollout a decisive action plan to reverse the growing incidence of elder abuse.
“Every single older Australian deserves to be confident they will be safe from elder abuse in all its forms and in the event that they are abused, they should have access to resources that will allow them to safely reach out for help and support receive necessary protection,” he said.
Mr Yates said COTA looked forward to working with all levels of government, the organisations involved in the frontline service trials and older Australians to monitor the implementation of these trials and the national plan.
While fellow consumer peak National Seniors Australia welcomed the hotline, it called for immediate action rather than research to end the shameful issue of elder abuse in Australia.
The peak’s chief advocate Ian Henschke said the four-year national plan to respond to elder abuse placed too much emphasis on further research and too little on addressing the shameful community issue.
“The government’s announcement to introduce a free national hotline to report elder abuse is a positive step, provided people are aware of it,” Mr Henschke said.
He said it was important there was funding provided to educate people about where they could complain about elder abuse.
“What we need is more immediate and direct national action to provide appropriate protection for vulnerable older Australians. National seniors is always be supportive of good research but in this case the priority is action.”
He said the government made a commitment in last year’s budget to standardise power of attorney orders and this needed to be addressed as a priority.
“We are appealing to all governments at all levels to work together to achieve meaningful progress in this area to protect some of the most vulnerable people in our community.”
The national plan, companion documents and further information on elder abuse initiatives are available here.
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