Select Committee into Elder Abuse — Final Report

Select Committee into Elder Abuse — Final Report —
“‘I never thought it would happen to me’: When trust is broken” — Motion

Resumed from 19 September on the following motion moved by Hon Nick Goiran — That the report be noted.

Hon ALISON XAMON: I wish to say a few more words about this report. I am aware I have already made a contribution on it, but this report has so many elements that I think are worthy of extrapolation and discussion in this place that I would like to speak about it a bit further.

One area of the report that I would particularly now like to speak to is the issue of elder abuse of Aboriginal Australians. From the outset the committee proactively sought to try to get data around the rate of elder abuse within Aboriginal communities because it wanted to ensure that it was being quite thorough. We were already aware that particular evidence needed to be sought on people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer and other areas who had been identified to be potentially at additional risk; Aboriginal Australians was another area of inquiry. Evidence was given around the specific issue of humbugging. I want to say how difficult it was to try to get any evidence around the rate of humbugging, particularly as it pertains to older Aboriginal Australians. It was very clear that comprehensive data has not been sought on this area, and there is no clear research around the rate of humbugging; instead, we received anecdotal evidence that this is a particular issue for older Aboriginal Australians.

Members who have read the report are aware that one of the recommendations and findings of the report was that when we are talking about the definitions of elder abuse for Aboriginal Australians we are talking about people who are 10 years younger than the age of 65, which has otherwise been recognised as the standard cut-off point for other Australians. We are talking about Aboriginal Australians aged 55 or older. That is partly because of the reduced life expectancy amongst Aboriginal Australians, but also culturally the nature of when people within Aboriginal communities are deemed to have elder status. We were advised that applying pressure to older people to obtain a monetary benefit is an issue of particular concern within Aboriginal communities.

Of course, that highly complex issue arises through cultural concepts around reciprocation and the obligation to provide for kin and broader family. The issue that arises is when does it turn into abuse, and when does the sense of placement in community and that cultural sense of reciprocation become an abusive relationship. The sorts of evidence that came to the committee’s attention were about a disconnect between younger Aboriginal people and traditional cultures of respect towards elderly Aboriginals Australians, the role that that plays and how difficult that can be. Of course, there is then the risk that we are talking about older Aboriginal Australians who are left sometimes destitute, effectively, because their money has been taken and they are left with very little to live on.

One recommendation was that the Department of Communities commission research into the prevalence and forms of elder abuse, and specifically look at the unique challenges that Aboriginal Australians face within Western Australia. Recommendation 5 reads —

The Government develop an action plan that is culturally safe, developed in conjunction with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and acknowledges the unique circumstances that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander older people face in Western Australia.

One thing that came to our attention was that other states have already started doing this work. They are doing a reasonably good job of raising public awareness and ensuring that materials are available that reach out to older Aboriginal people who may be experiencing humbugging and the distress around that, and also trying to use messaging to particularly target younger Aboriginal as to why humbugging is not okay.

I draw members’ attention to page 33 of the report, which is an example of one of the sorts of brochures used in South Australia in which specific material is being targeted. A range of materials has also been produced in other states. That tries to make clear what constitutes abuse. As I said in my previous contribution, the committee found that very often people think their behaviour is perfectly normal and acceptable, and it is not until it is pointed out to them that they recognise that what they have been doing is, in fact, abusive. I have seen materials from other states that contain some really targeted messaging for young people about what it means to respect Aboriginal elders. They say things like, “It is not okay to engage in the various behaviours that effectively constitute abuse.”

It is really important, should the government decide that the Department of Communities will be the lead agency in the state response to elder abuse, which is, of course, one of the recommendations that arose from the Select Committee into Elder Abuse, that some priority is given to developing a targeted campaign for Aboriginal Australians within Western Australia to help tackle the issue of elder abuse or humbugging within their communities. It will be absolutely essential, however, that if those campaigns are developed, they are done in conjunction with Aboriginal communities. In my opinion, it is simply pointless to try to produce campaigns, materials and messaging without talking to the very people who will be affected by the campaigns or who are the intended targets of the campaigns, because, frankly, they have the wisdom to best direct the messaging around that.

I also point members to recommendation 6, which is that the government ensure that when the national plan to combat elder abuse is released, it addresses humbugging as a form of elder abuse that affects Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander older people and includes culturally safe strategies and responses. The reason that particular recommendation was put forward is that it recognises that although we need to be and should be proactive in this state to ensure that we are running campaigns around this, it is important also to ensure that this particular issue does not fall off the agenda for the national response to elder abuse.

I want to say how disappointing it was to see that no one agency has the knowledge or has been pulling together any sorts of strategies on how to address issues of elder abuse and humbugging within Aboriginal communities. Hopefully, the Department of Communities will take up the challenge and will recognise that this is an important component in addressing elder abuse issues within the Aboriginal community. I wanted to draw members’ specific attention to those particular recommendations.

[Comments from Hon NICK GOIRAN]

Consideration of report postponed, pursuant to standing orders.


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