ELDER ABUSE: Australian Law Reform Commission recommendations balances dignity and autonomy on one hand with protection and safeguarding on the other.
ELDER ABUSE: Australian Law Reform Commission recommendations balances dignity and autonomy on one hand with protection and safeguarding on the other.

Elder abuse steps out of the shadows with commission

ELDER abuse steps out of the shadows today with the Australian Law Reform Commission reporting on what must be done to start it turning around in our ageing world.

The commission makes 43 law reform recommendations led by the development of a national plan to deal long-term with elder abuse issues in Australia.

COTA Australia chief executive Ian Yates AM describes the report as "pretty comprehensive".

"This report tackles the issue from the point of view of the older person, from the person being abused," Mr Yates said.

"I think it's an excellent piece of work.

"It has given the government a very comprehensive way of making in quick time, a real difference to the incidence and treatment of elder abuse because it starts with a need for a national plan and framework and it hasn't shied away from significant underlying issues, joining with us and many others, in arguing that part of what governments have to do is be prepared to tackle ageism as one of the underlying causes of elder abuse.

"It then moves on to a very comprehensive set of measures that are a really constructive contribution to tackling issues that everybody knows are there and have not been dealt with for at least a decade.

"This is a very clear plan for governments to move forward and it recognises that it's not just a commonwealth issue, but that the commonwealth needs to go to COAG and say to the states we have really comprehensive, well thought through and well-presented plan, why don't you all sign up to it?", Mr Yates added.

Some of the key recommendation areas within the report are -

1. National plan to combat elder abuse

The report recommends the Federal Government work with state and territory governments to combat elder abuse by developing a national plan which has a policy framework, outlines strategies and actions by government and the community, set priorities for the implementation of actions, and provides for research and evaluation.

2. Aged care

Aged care legislation should provide for a new serious incident response scheme for aged care with the scheme to require providers to notify to an independent oversight body of any allegation or a suspicion of a serious incident and the outcome of an investigation into a serious incident.

3. Enduring appointments

Safeguards through state and territory legislation are needed against the misuse of an enduring document.

4. Family Agreements

State and territory tribunals should have jurisdiction to resolve family disputes involving residential property under an 'assets for care' arrangement.

5. Superannuation

The structure and drafting of the provisions relating to death benefit superannuation nominations should consider witnessing requirements, authorities of the holder, procedures for the approval of a nomination and the extent to which other aspects of wills law may be relevant.

6. Will

The Law Council of Australia alongside state and territory law societies, should develop national best practice guidelines for legal practitioners for the preparation and execution of wills and other advanced planning documents to ensure they provide thorough coverage of key matters.

7. Banking

The Code of Banking Practice should require banks to take steps to prevent the financial abuse of vulnerable customers, including staff training, the use of software and other means to identify suspicious transactions and reporting abuse to the relevant authorities.

8. Guardianship and financial administration

Newly-appointed private guardians and private financial administrators should be required to sign an undertaking with respect to their responsibilities and obligations.

9. Social Security

The commonwealth Department of Human Services should develop an elder abuse strategy.

10. Safeguarding adults at risk

Adult safeguarding laws should be enacted in each state and territory. These laws should give adult safeguarding agencies the role of safeguarding and supporting 'at-risk adults'.

ALRC president Professor Rosalind Croucher AM, commissioner-in-charge of the inquiry, said, "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."

Mr Yates said the government can reasonably claim it is already moving on this issue through the receipt of the Australian Institute of Family Studies scoping report for a prevalence study.

He hopes the next step is for the Attorney General George Brandis to commit to the recommendations being taken to the next COAG meeting.

"I also think that the aged care sections should be considered by the Kate Carnell and Ron Paterson review into quality regulatory arrangements because I think the recommendations on aged care are more sophisticated than they were the draft (report) and are worthy of very serious and detailed consideration," Mr Yates said.

The full report can be found at www.alrc.gov.au/publications/elder-abuse-report

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