The NSW government has begun the process of selecting a new Ageing and Disability Commissioner with wide powers to investigate and seize evidence of abuse of vulnerable adults.
The successful candidate will take up office in July.
As reported by Community Care Review last December, Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced that a “powerful and independent” Commissioner would be established to stamp out the abuse of older people and adults with disability.
The commissioner would be able to initiate investigations independently or following a complaint or a referral, and would have power to execute search warrants and seize evidence, the Premier said in December.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Premier and Cabinet told CCR on Wednesday applications for the position closed on April 29 and a merit-based process is underway to recruit the new Commissioner.
“The new Commissioner will start operations from 1 July 2019 to help protect older people and adults with disability in home and community settings,” the spokeswoman said.
“An announcement will be made once a candidate with the right skills, experience, and knowledge has been selected.”
However a parliamentary brief says key questions remain about the new position.
The parliamentary research service document says state and national reports had identified the limitations of existing agencies in investigating abuse of vulnerable adults.
But the review notes important questions remain about the proposed NSW Commissioner, including whether his or her jurisdiction will extend to all “at risk” adults, whether mandatory reporting will apply to specific agencies and individuals or whether the consent of the person involved will be needed for an investigation.
The powers of the commissioner would also need to be considered in relation to so-called adult safeguarding laws where the need to protect a person against harm has to be weighed up against their right to make decisions about their own lives.
Welcomed by consumer advocacy groups
Craig Gear, CEO of the Older Persons Advocacy Network said OPAN members from South Australia, where the state goverment has established an Adult Safeguarding Unit, were going through safeguarding provisions.
“Getting it right is very important,” he told Community Care Review. “Getting it to align with the work of the Quality and Safety Commission is really important and also not to infantalise older people. The powers have to be responsive but carefully considered.”
The December 15 announcement came after a number of reviews found evidence of abuse and neglect of vulnerable adults, including older Australians and those with disabilities.
It also followed a recommendation by a parliamentary committee in December to establish a public advocate for people with disability.
Russell Westacott, CEO of the NSW Seniors Rights Service, told Community Care Review the appointment of a commissioner would be a major step forward for the protection of older Australians.
“Seniors Rights service welcomes that fact that we’re going to have a commissioner and we look forward to working with them on various issues in the future,” he said.