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Call to action to end elder abuse

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The Government is considering recommendations to come out of a long-running Federal inquiry into elder abuse.

The Human Rights Commission has made a call on all Australians to recognise the rights of older people and end the abuse and neglect so many of them face.

The call comes as the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) releases its findings and recommendations following a 15-month Federal Inquiry into elder abuse.

The report, Elder Abuse – A National Legal Response, is the result of 117 national stakeholder meetings and more than 450 submissions.

The Age Discrimination Commissioner, Dr Kay Patterson AO, said the report was a seminal piece of research that has the power to change lives.  She also believes the report puts all Australians on notice (in particular those working with older people) that they have a responsibility to understand what elder abuse is and to commit to its elimination.

“The report contains 43 recommendations and my plan is to work with Governments and stakeholders to drive the adoption of these recommendations. This includes a national plan to protect the rights and well-being of older Australians with a goal to end elder abuse,” she said.

Elder abuse includes psychological or emotional abuse, financial abuse, physical abuse, neglect and sexual abuse. It has a devastating impact on individuals, families and communities across the country.

ALRC president Professor Rosalind Croucher said the framework could be used to implement wide-ranging reform.

“In developing the recommendations in this report, we have worked to balance the autonomy of older people with providing appropriate protections, respecting the choices that older persons make, but also safeguarding them from abuse,” Professor Croucher said.

One of the key recommendations in the report is implementing a national study to examine how common elder abuse in Australia is – to research the overall number and severity of incidents of elder abuse and neglect in Australia. 

The report did not examine the impacts of elder abuse on health and well-being. Also not included in the report is whether providing inappropriate health care is a form of abuse. 

Law Society of NSW President Pauline Wright also welcomed the report and its recommendations, noting increasingly older Australians were facing abuse which could be in the form of physical, psychological, emotional, financial, sexual abuse or neglect.

“Sadly, financial abuse also frequently occurs, often perpetrated within families or by someone known to the victim such as a friend, carer or neighbour,” Ms Wright said.

“Measures to prevent financial abuse are particularly critical given the rise in Australia’s ageing population and the increasing number of Australians living with dementia.”

In a statement, Attorney-General George Brandis said the Turnbull Government would carefully consider the recommendations and work across portfolios to develop a response.

The AMA believes that family and domestic violence (FDV) is unacceptable in any circumstances. A recent position statement by the AMA points out that elder abuse is a less well covered form of family and domestic violence.  It too can be physical, but also involves psychological and financial abuse. A copy of the position statement can be found at: position-statement/family-and-domestic-violence-2016

Meredith Horne