HON ALISON XAMON (North Metropolitan) [9.52 pm]: I rise to acknowledge that yesterday, 15 June, was World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, which is signified by a purple ribbon. I am wearing one tonight, and I notice that a number of members in this chamber have also been wearing one all day today. That is very heartening, because it is estimated that between two and 14 per cent of older Australians can experience elder abuse in any given year, and that is without looking at what happens to older people over a long period. Although it is too early to ensure that we have robust data on what is happening this year, it is believed, unfortunately, that abuse towards older people is likely to have risen significantly as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic. As members will be aware, older people are particularly vulnerable to the virus, so their need to physically isolate has been, of necessity, one of the most extreme. That enforced isolation can, unfortunately, exacerbate existing risks, and also limits older people’s opportunities to report issues and mitigate the likelihood of elder abuse occurring.
There is also rising concern that there might be additional increases in the rates of elder abuse following the COVID-19 crisis because it is anticipated that individuals and families will face increased financial pressures. As members will be aware, financial elder abuse is one of the most prevalent forms of elder abuse. The government has declared that it has a focus on elder abuse; it keeps saying how important it is to address the issue, and obviously that is good, but there continues to be a lack of awareness of elder abuse. It is estimated that only one in 24 cases of elder abuse is reported. Raising awareness is a really vital part of addressing elder abuse.
I also note that raising awareness and early identification is one of the four priority areas of the new WA elder abuse strategy, which was released late last year. Every time there is media coverage of an elder abuse incident, there is an increase in the number of calls to the elder abuse helpline. By continuing to talk about elder abuse, we are helping people know that they can reach out and get support. But it is not enough to simply talk about what an important issue it is to address, and I am concerned that, despite the talk and the good intentions, we still do not have significant backup with action. It comes down to simply not having enough money for services on an ongoing basis. Every year there are more and more calls to the elder abuse helpline, and these calls, as reported by the services, are becoming increasingly complex. As a result, they require more and more time. Unfortunately, there is a limited number of places to refer people for ongoing help and support.
The helpline has effectively become an essential service, but it is limited. Helpline staff generally need to be able to talk to the older person for a significant time to be able to provide advice. It is important to note that the helpline is an advisory, not a reporting, service. It does not have any powers to investigate concerns, unlike the child protection mandatory reporting scheme system. I note that both New South Wales and South Australia now have bodies that undertake some important investigative work. These are newly established and it will be important to monitor their work so that we can determine whether Western Australia should also look at adopting a similar sort of body. I note that those bodies were established following some quite horrific cases of elder abuse, so it is better that we be on the front foot and not wait until something devastating occurs.
I want to acknowledge the 10-year strategy; I think it is aspirational and it articulates the many important strategies required to address elder abuse—obviously, things like improving the legal and justice responses to elder abuse. We have seen increases in specific responses by Legal Aid and, of course, the Northern Suburbs Community Legal Centre has been doing excellent specialised work for a very long time, but has long said that it simply does not have the resources to meet the need. We also need to ensure that our services are culturally safe and responsive, as well as physically accessible for older people, and are person-centred and consistent with best practice.
Importantly, we need to investigate the development of perpetrator behaviour change programs and support services. The strategy refers to the importance of making sure that we have improved monitoring through data collection and sharing, as well as targeted research. All these are recommendations that came out of the Select Committee into Elder Abuse, which looked into the issues of elder abuse. The strategy acknowledges that our current responses to elder abuse are too complex and that complexity not only is inefficient, but also creates gaps, confuses victims of elder abuse and hampers data collection. The strategy seeks to achieve better integration and coordination of responses to elder abuse through monitoring the progress of recommendations arising from relevant state and Australian parliamentary committees.
On that note, it is really important that the recommendations that arose from our parliamentary committee inquiry are actioned. My concerns are not about the 10-year strategy; rather, I am concerned that there is no backup commitment to meet what are otherwise quite worthy aspirations within the plan. A lot needs to be done in this space. We need to talk about these matters—we need to do far more than just talk; we must act—and we must do so not only on World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, but at every opportunity. We will have to keep a particular eye on what happens in this space as we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.