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Call for RC to take human rights approach


The aged care royal commission’s interim report comprehensively addresses a range of system failures but it lacks reference to human rights, says a law expert.

The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety’s interim report details failures in the aged care system that are breaches of human rights but they are not explicitly listed as such, said Andrew Byrnes, a professor of law at the University of New South Wales Australian Human Rights Institute.

“It is striking how little reference the report makes to human rights. Even as it details and denounces a litany of practices that are humans rights violations that result from the failure of the system,” Professor Byrnes told the Australian Association of Gerontology Conference in Sydney on Thursday.

“The commission used very strong language in its description and condemnation of a range of failures in the operation of the Australian aged care system, most of which involved violations of internationally guaranteed human rights,” Professor Byrnes said.

Professor Andrew Byrnes

The human rights violations listed include many aged care recipients experiencing inhumane or degrading treatment, a lack of respect and privacy and discrimination on the basis of age, Professor Byrnes said.

He said the interim report refers to several standards and principles that could be described as rights or included rights’ values however “they’re just not explicitly identified as human rights norms.”

Professor Byrnes also said the interim report also failed to address ageism as a factor of the development of the aged care system.

“The interim report is almost completely silent on ageism as a background and causal factor in the construction and operation of the aged care system,” despite the commission being “more than aware of ageism,” he said.

Professor Byrnes said tangible steps to address human rights in aged care include:

  • apply relevant international human rights standards such as the convention of the rights of people with disabilities in the aged care and disability royal commissions
  • gather existing statements of older people’s rights to develop a chart of human rights of older people that extends beyond health and aged care
  • a commitment from the Federal Government and the Opposition to undertake human rights impact assessment of budget bills
  • require all productivity commission inquiries to assess the impact of human rights
  • adopt a general national bill or charter of rights that includes specific references to the rights of older people
  • develop a new international treaty on human rights of older people or at least on ageing and human rights.

Professor Byrnes said he recognised it was an interim report, which was produced in a short time frame.

“The commission has clearly indicated its intention to adopt a far-ranging rethink of the way long term care and support are made available to other Australians,” he said.

“Our discussions at this conference are an opportunity to encourage and reinforce the commission in that approach and perhaps add to some additional ideas to it,” Professor Byrnes said.

Elder abuse service needs more support

Elswhere at the conference, Senior Rights Service CEO Russell Westacott said there was a growing need for elder abuse legal and advocacy services but no additional resources to address the demand.

Russell Westacott

“In 2018 and 2019 year alone, demand for Seniors Rights Service’s legal services grew by 25 per cent in one single year. More than 3,422 legal services were delivered across New South Wales in that year,” Mr Westacott told the conference.

“It’s a huge growth in one year but it has not been matched with additional resources,” Mr Westacott said.

There is uncertainty if demand will continue to increase at this rate, he said.

Also, on the rise is the demand for Seniors Rights Services advocacy service, which have increased by 27 per cent over the same period.

“Again [it is] an unsustainable increase without resourcing that tracks at that pace of demand,” Mr Westacott said.

“Rights based agencies need to be better resourced so we can work with older people or their representatives in the community so we can stop matters escalating into situations that have even worse outcomes for the older people and generally rely on more services,” he said.

The AAG conference takes place at the International Convention Centre Sydney 5 – 8 November. Find out more here.

Australian Ageing Agenda is a media partner of the AAG.

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