For the long-time advocates and service providers in attendance at the 4th National Elder Abuse Conference in Melbourne on Wednesday, the years of campaigning finally paid off, when Attorney General George Brandis announced a new federal inquiry into how Australia’s laws can prevent elder abuse.
Senator Brandis said he had sent a reference to the Australian Law Reform Commission to conduct a new inquiry into the laws and frameworks to safeguard older Australians from abuse.
“The inquiry, which will report in May 2017, will identify best practices for protecting older Australians through the legal system,” he told the audience.
Older Australians held one quarter of household wealth in Australia, which was expected to increase to nearly half by 2030, and the opportunities for exploitation of that wealth would “escalate,” Senator Brandis said.
For years, the state-based advocates and support agencies working in the area of elder abuse, as well as various legal experts, have called for a more uniform legal approach to the issue.
For instance, in late 2014 Professor Wendy Lacey, Dean of Law at the University of South Australia, called for Australia’s criminal laws to be reviewed in light of the low rate of prosecutions for elder abuse, and for the various power of attorney and guardianship laws at state level to be re-examined.
On Wednesday, Senator Brandis also released the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) scoping study he commissioned to define the nature and scope of abuse in Australia.
He said the AIFS study found that elder abuse could destroy seniors’ quality of life and increase the risk of untimely death. “We believe financial abuse and psychological abuse are the most common; we know abuse is most likely perpetrated by adult children taking advantage of their parent’s love and trust.”
Senator Brandis said the Federal Government intended to collaborate with other governments, the community sector and the private sector to raise awareness and bring about cultural attitudinal change to elder abuse.
Following the announcement, seniors groups said they welcomed the new inquiry.
Alzheimer’s Australia’s said people living with dementia were at significantly higher risk of being taken advantage of.
“We need to ensure that older people, especially those with cognitive impairment are protected against all forms of elder abuse, whether they are in aged care facilities or in the community,” said the peak’s president Graeme Samuel.
Council on the Ageing (COTA) Australia chief executive Ian Yates said the inquiry was a good first step, but more was needed to protect older people.
Mr Yates said it was difficult to know the full extent of the issue of elder abuse as so much of it happens behind closed doors, but there has been growing evidence that it needed urgent attention.
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