AGEING ISSUES: Dr Kay Patterson has three major ageing issues she will target in the next four years.
AGEING ISSUES: Dr Kay Patterson has three major ageing issues she will target in the next four years. Tracey Johnstone

Ageing in good hands: Dr Kay Patterson

AGED Discrimination Commissioner Hon Dr Kay Patterson AO has set a clear agenda and she plans on using every element of her public sector, education experience and network to deliver deep change in issues vital to ageing Australians and the broader community.

"I hope by the end I can say I have made a difference for older people," the 72-year-old said.

She has another four years with her support team of three to achieve some lofty, but worthwhile goals around her three chosen focus areas - elder abuse, homelessness for women aged 50 to 70 and seniors in the workplace.

Elder Abuse Report

On June 14 the Australian Law Reform Commission released its 43 law reform elder abuse recommendations to safeguard older Australians.

"There is a lot of momentum around that," she said.

Dr Patterson is now meeting regularly with a team of five from the Attorney General's office to work on a national plan out of the ALRC report and a first-time prevalence study.

"I have said to both the attorney and shadow attorney that I would rather focus on getting this report implemented rather than writing another report.

Even though the report is about law reform, Dr Patterson said, "There are things that aren't in the report that I think need addressing later on."

Registration of Power of Attorneys is a focus area for her. She has also spoken to Anna Bligh of the Australian Banking Association about finding a practical implementation for this recommendation since the banks have been pushing for this to happen.

Homelessness

Women who are working, and aged between 55 and 70 and renting. If they become sick or lose their job and can't pay their rent, they will become homeless.

"I think you need a range of solutions because someone at 55 will have very different needs of someone who is 65. I would like to form a council of women who see this as a major issue and could invest into a property fund so that a person who has a bit of super can buy some equity so her rent is doable on the pension then years down the track. Women who have been working have all sorts of resources; they have networks, and when the time comes they may be able to use them."

For others who don't have networks and resources, she says it will put downward pressure on social housing.

"Can we use their capacity to work or their super, using different solutions for the different women within that group to give them some housing?

Willing to Work

Since the mid-90s and through to the adoption of the Age Discrimination Act in 2004, Dr Patterson pushed for the removal of the compulsory retirement age.

Her vision now is see implemented as many as possible of the Commission's Willing to Work report recommendations.

Dr Patterson includes among her concerns about Australia's older workforce is that Australians are living longer than they had imagined they would and a lot of older people weren't in superannuation from the beginning because it wasn't portable which many of them are approaching retirement with less super.

"And, a lot of companies realise there is a big people dip after the baby boomers and there isn't people coming in to fill those places," she said.

"Many companies are now realising that suddenly they may have a dearth of people and what they've got to do is keep their people working longer."

Another area of focus for Dr Patterson is education.

She is targeting human resources and health worker sector students with the aim to get more human relations courses about older people and the positive things of employing older people into education institutions.

"The culture they set now is the culture they will inherit when they are older," Dr Patterson said.

"If young people coming up behind them in clinical situations or employment, see people dealing with older people in an understanding way that gets the fact they don't always want to have full-time job, that's the culture they will experience. If they don't do that, they get the culture that currently exists which is less than helpful and understanding the motivation of older people."

Her next target is the Human Resources Institute of Australia, working with them to ensure professional development education around older worker issues.

"I am attending any event they invite me to talk to them about what they can do in their businesses and giving them examples of best practice," she said.

"I feel like I need to be like a bee, running around seeing the best practices and then pollinating them around the country."

Her final target is seeing developed materials similar to what will be produced for the students, that will help industry leaders to become better informed as to the value and importance of older workers.

She hopes to use avenues such as the Institute of Company Directors to get directors to ask questions about diversity.

"It will affect their bottom line if they lose all that knowledge,"she said.

"If they see older people in their company being looked after, and employing them, or making sure they can transition to retirement, then I am going to be more loyal to that company, because that's what is going to happen to me."


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