Elder abuse needs national response, says report

The Australian Law Commission on Thursday launched its final report into elder abuse to coincide with World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.
The Australian Law Commission on Thursday launched its final report into elder abuse to coincide with World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.

An elderly Ballarat woman has lived for three years without hot water, heating or cooking because her registered carer and flatmate failed to pay the gas bill, an aged care outreach worker said. 

The carer disappeared three months ago and the woman in her seventies, who is frequently hospitalised, now faces “imminent homelessness”.

Wintringham Specialist Aged Care outreach worker Andrea McCarthy said a national policy framework for elder abuse would give workers a uniform regulator to report to. 

The Australian Law Commission (ALC) on Thursday launched its final report into elder abuse to coincide with World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. 

The ALC called on Attorney General George Brandis to create consistent laws across states and territories with a national policy framework. The report’s 43 recommendations include a national serious incident response scheme, guidelines for financial institutions and a national study into the prevalence of elder abuse.

If that means it’s going to sabotage the only relationships they have, most older people are reluctant to consider any intervention at all.

Wintringham Specialist Aged Care outreach worker Andrea McCarthy

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Ms McCarthy said the service, which operates in Ballarat and at Creswick, sees cases of financial elder abuse every week.

Currently workers are left to navigate cases of abuse according to their individual ability and discretion, she said.

“Generally we’re referring people to police or it’s Office of the Public Advocate or it’s the Council For Older People but as to their capacity, that’s then up to their discretion and their protocols.

“We can talk to our clients about what options they have and that is generally going to the police or a family violence service but if that means it’s going to sabotage the only relationships they have, most older people are reluctant to consider any intervention at all.”

Council of the Ageing chief executive Ian Yates said the report’s most important recommendation was for a national plan to combat elder abuse.

“There isn’t any state that’s the model and the problem still is that then people fall between the cracks between the states and we do need a national approach,” Mr Yates said.

“There are so many different arenas in which all of this takes place.”

Mr Yates said elder abuse – like domestic abuse before it – was more widespread than people understood. 

“I would typify it as in the early days of understand domestic violence. It took a long time for people to recognise that this was a significant issue and then try and work out what the quantum of it was.”

Senator Brandis said in a statement the government would carefully consider the recommendations. The ALC inquiry inquiry received 458 submissions, many documenting harrowing stories of serious physical abuse, financial abuse, neglect and exploitation, he said.