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New plan to stop elder abuse

The federal government has made a commitment to Australia’s senior residents, and today announced a national plan to stamp out elder abuse.

As part of the plan, Commonwealth and state attorneys have agreed to collaborate and report instances of physical and financial abuse, neglect and exploitation of the elderly.

New federal attorney-general Christian Porter said ending the mistreatment of older people would be a priority in his portfolio.

“Abuse takes many forms and can have wide reaching emotional, financial and physical effects on victims,” he said.

“We have all seen or heard stories about older people facing abuse in a variety of circumstances, from financial pressure to provide family members money or change wills, to abuses in aged care settings.

“Australia has a rapidly ageing population and the community needs to address the risks of abuse confronting people as they age.”

The proposed plan – pitched at an elder abuse conference in Sydney today – has the backing of Labor, which said it would work with the government to tackle the issue.

Shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus suggested cost of living pressures and the lack of available affordable housing played a part in the problem.

“Where cost of living pressures and inaccessibility of affordable housing are pronounced, there exists a social environment where (elder abuse) is likely to become more prevalent,” he said.

“Labor is committed at all levels of government to combating elder abuse in all its forms and will work with the government on implementing recommendations.”

While there isn’t a detailed picture of the problem in Australia, overseas studies have shown elder abuse impacts between 2 and 12 per cent of older men and women.

The Turnbull Government will now fund a study on the prevalence of elder abuse to inform the national plan.

Meanwhile, Uniting Care Australia has issued a statement to congratulate the federal government on the announcement.

Elder abuse is a serious issue facing too many vulnerable people and has ongoing negative effects on their lives that ripple through communities; it is criminal behaviour that is wrong on every level, a spokesperson said.

“For the sake of our elders, we must confront this issue and promote recognition of the value of every individual within our society.

As we all age, caring for the most vulnerable in our communities is a shared responsibility and we all must play a part.

“We offer our complete support in realising the Australian Law Reform Commission’s intent to address this through a nationally consistent framework of safeguards.”

ACSA has also welcomed Porter’s announcement, and put forward several suggestions for the national plan.

Chief executive Pat Sparrow said the national response to elder abuse would need to: implement a consistent approach to powers of attorney and guardianship, improve access to online information, introduce more comprehensive data collection processes, boost investment in elder abuse-focused training, and re-examine the current reporting requirements for residential aged care.

“ACSA has consistently advocated for a national approach to tackling the problem of elder abuse; we look forward to consulting with the government on its National Plan and sharing our views on ways to stamp out this significant societal problem,” Sparrow said.

“Older Australians make an immense contribution to communities across the country, and through greater recognition of the inherent dignity and worth of all older people we can bring about significant societal change.

“At the very core of elder abuse is the loss of dignity and basic human rights; ageism is a scourge on society, and if we can combat this way of thinking, we can go a long way to preventing elder abuse.

“In addition, developing a set of nationally consistent prevention and detection measures, as identified in ACSA’s Paper on Elder Abuse Prevention, will help to address the underlying causes of elder abuse and ensure that older Australians are treated with the respect and dignity they deserve.”

As recommended by the Australian Law Reform Commission in its 2017 report, the strategic plan will aim to promote the autonomy of older Australians, safeguard those at risk and address ageism.

It will also promote community understanding of elder abuse.

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