Select Committee into Elder Abuse — Final Report —
“‘I never thought it would happen to me’: When trust is broken” — Motion
Resumed from 10 October on the following motion moved by Hon Nick Goiran —
That the report be noted.
Hon ALISON XAMON: I wish to make more comments on this excellent report, of which I feel a great deal of ownership, having been a member of the select committee that undertook this 12-month inquiry. As the weeks have progressed, I have spoken to particular elements of the report because I think it is worthy to ensure that they are on the parliamentary record and that we have an opportunity to discuss these issues even further.
In my last contribution, I started to talk about members of the community who are particularly vulnerable to the risk of elder abuse. Today I wish to reflect on two more categories of population that, unfortunately, experience disproportionate levels of elder abuse and why those vulnerabilities come about. It is important for us to have an understanding of that. It came to the committee’s attention in hearing evidence that there is a distinct risk of elder abuse occurring in culturally and linguistically diverse communities. That is the case for multiple reasons. Older people from CALD backgrounds may not have a comprehensive grasp of English, hence they may not be able to readily access services and independent support, and lack of English may contribute to isolation. As the report clearly details, isolation is a distinct risk factor for elder abuse. We need to recognise that there needs to be a way to ensure that older people from CALD backgrounds with limited English can have their isolation addressed and have access to appropriate interpreters and services, which should be available in multiple languages. If we do not ensure that they are made available, we run the risk of allowing people to fall off the radar.
It was found that as people got older—even if they had developed a reasonable grasp of English—they would often become more cognitively impaired, or may develop elements of dementia, and would often revert to their original language, and in fact lose much of the English capacity they had developed over decades. We need to recognise that it is not just new migrants, but also people who have been here for decades and decades who have learnt English, but due to the nature of their developing cognitive impairment have lost that capacity and become more isolated.
It was also very clear that a lot of older women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds can be particularly vulnerable. They often come from particular cultural backgrounds in which financial literacy amongst women is not encouraged and it was expected that as they got older, members of the broader family would assume responsibility for managing the family’s finances. Unfortunately, the committee received evidence indicating some quite heartbreaking stories of children and grandchildren who had taken advantage of this cultural expectation that they would take control of the family’s finances and subsequently had taken the money for themselves and effectively abused the trust placed in them. This issue is different from enduring powers of attorney and enduring powers of guardianship, which have already canvassed in this place and we recognise need to be amended. This issue is broader than that. It was discovered that the children or the grandchildren often felt that they were perfectly entitled to be able to take the money and to treat it as their own, which unfortunately meant that very often people were left with inadequate income.
We heard about the term “familism”, which is a cultural value that emphasises the importance of the family over the individual. That is a significant issue for many members of some CALD communities. It means that there is a reluctance to report elder abuse when it occurs and an interdependence is created within family systems in which there is a great reluctance to reach out to agencies or institutions for support and instead people become highly reliant on family members. This is fine if someone has a functional family. I am sure that in many, if not most, CALD families this works to great success. I, for example, have observed the Italian family of my daughter’s father that has very diligently taken care of elderly family members within the broader family. I have certainly seen the way in which the nature of those relationships can operate in an entirely functional and deeply caring way, but, unfortunately, that is not always the case, and that is the evidence the committee heard. It is a real challenge for government to assist older people who find themselves in a situation in which they are effectively being subject to elder abuse, but for cultural reasons have a genuine reluctance to seek help. Certainly, that is a challenge that will have to be addressed should the Department of Communities take up the recommendation that it become the lead agency in the state to address elder abuse.
Another area I particularly want to refer to is the rates of elder abuse amongst the LGBTI community. The committee received some really interesting evidence about what is happening to older LGBTI Australians. I draw members’ attention to finding 16 because it really encapsulates where the committee landed on this issue. Finding 16 says —
Older people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans or intersex are subject to the same type of abuse as the rest of the community but also can experience discrimination unique to their identity and, as a result of their life experience, are less likely to speak up and report elder abuse when it occurs to them.
That might sound like a bit of a strange finding by the committee, but the evidence we received is that certainly older LGBTI Australians have some very distinct and unique needs as they age, and that is quite apparent, but when it came to the issue of vulnerability to elder abuse, the evidence did not indicate that rates of elder abuse as such amongst LGBTI Australians were actually any higher than for other Australians. The committee found unique vulnerabilities amongst Aboriginal Australians, and I spoke about this last week, around cultural issues and humbugging.
The CHAIR: Hon Alison Xamon.
Hon ALISON XAMON: The committee found that there are particular vulnerabilities for women who have low levels of financial literacy, because sometimes they come from families in which there is domestic or family violence. A whole range of issues might make women more vulnerable. As I said, there are specific challenges for people within the CALD community, mainly around the concept of familism, low levels of English literacy and a reluctance to reach out to services that might mean that they are inherently more vulnerable. But it was not found that LGBTI older Australians necessarily are at risk of higher rates of elder abuse as defined within the report. Having said that, the committee did find that LGBTI older Australians absolutely have very unique challenges and are at inherent risk of other areas of concern. Most notably, evidence came out about concerns around the treatment of LGBTI older Australians, particularly within our nursing homes, around the lack of appropriate facilities for LGBTI older Australians, a reluctance by some nursing homes to enable same-sex couples to share a room, for example, or to allow older trans people to be able to present, dress and be addressed by the gender by which they identify. These sorts of issues came out, as well as a deep concern about sometimes straight-out homophobic conduct by nursing staff within aged care facilities. There is no doubt at all that we have quite a lot of work to do for LGBTI older Australians to make sure that we are appropriately providing services and addressing their needs.
We need to remember that we are talking about older Australians who have grown up in an environment in which homosexuality was criminalised. Indeed, in recent months we finally passed legislation in this place to expunge homosexual convictions, because we have recognised how problematic and how wrong that was. These people have grown up in environments of secrecy and feeling as though they needed to be in the closet, and have lived in great fear of being who they are. For them, the transition to another environment in which they are inherently vulnerable—in this case, we are talking about a nursing home—brings with it enormous fear about what the future holds. As I said, that is amplified by their experience with some nursing facilities denying them the opportunity to be with their partners or to even present as who they are. We found that older lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex Australians tend not to speak out if they have, effectively, been subject to abuse. Even though they might not be inherently more vulnerable to it, they are less likely to speak out because from a lifetime of discrimination they have learned that they cannot speak out and defend themselves and ensure that their human rights are upheld. We have come a long way in our attitude towards LGBTI Australians, but it is important to recognise that LGBTI older Australians are living with the legacy of a lifetime of stigma and discrimination. That means that we need to ensure that our institutions and services are deeply sensitive to that and very much aware of their needs.
I will also point out another concern that was raised in the evidence and held by a lot of older LGBTI Australians, and not without basis—that is, posthumous abuse. This aspect of elder abuse appears to be unique to the LGBTI community. It describes the situation whereby the sexuality or gender identity of that person is effectively erased upon their death. We have heard many stories of this. For example, a man has been previously married to a woman and had children and later in life recognises that he is gay, or perhaps knew he was gay all along, and, finally, finds another life partner. Upon his death, the children or the surviving wife conduct the funeral proceedings and all history of his life as a gay man is completely erased and wiped out. His new partner and his new friends are not even allowed to attend the funeral.
Likewise, people who identify as transgender have their whole identity, which they have lived with and presented as for years and years, erased at their funeral. Whatever the biological sex they were born with is one that they have not identified with for a very, very long time, but that is how they are presented at the funeral. A lot of grief was expressed around this. People expressed fear because they did not want this to happen to them and they did not know how they could stop that from occurring. Also, there was grief from people who had experienced the death of a loved one who had subsequently had their real lives effectively written out in favour of a version of events that might appeal to some other people, but was not a reflection of who they were.
The concept of posthumous rights triggers much broader questions such as: Do we have rights when we are dead? Do we have the right to be represented as who we are? It was found that it is a form of elder abuse to deny a deceased person the right to be referred to and presented in the way that they chose, rather than the way that the family wishes them to be. It was found that those matters certainly fell outside the terms of reference of this committee, but that evidence was tendered and was worthy of putting in the report for people’s consideration. I think the particular needs of those two other population groups were worthy of bringing to the Council’s attention.
As always, I am sure that other people wish to speak on elements of this report. As I have said prior, I think this report is worthy of rather drawn out consideration. As such, I would like to move that consideration of this report be postponed to the next day’s sitting.
Resolved, on motion by Hon Alison Xamon that consideration of the report be postponed to the next sitting of the Council.
Progress reported and leave granted to sit again, pursuant to standing orders.