Select Committee into Elder Abuse — Final Report — “‘I never thought it would happen to me’: When trust is broken” — Motion
Resumed from 3 April on the following motion moved by Hon Nick Goiran —
That the report be noted.
Comments and speeches from various members
Hon ALISON XAMON: I would like to continue the remarks I have been making since this important report was tabled. I would also like to thank members who are contributing to discussion of this report. It is very heartening for me that people in this place, across the chamber, seem to be taking the issue of elder abuse seriously. It is an issue that should receive support from every party, and I am pleased that members are seeing the merits of this report. I remind members that the establishment of the select committee received unanimous support in this chamber. I am very pleased. I think it is a really important issue that we need to continue to keep a very close eye on.
I have spoken about a number of issues in the report already, but today I want to make some remarks about the issue of access to justice for older people experiencing elder abuse. This was a really important part of the report. We heard about the prevalence of elder abuse, the different ways in which elder abuse manifests itself and the way that particular populations can be particularly affected by elder abuse. However, some serious issues also arose around what people can do to seek redress when elder abuse has been perpetrated against them, or, indeed, if they are at the point of just needing the elder abuse to stop. A strong piece of evidence that came out time and again through the submissions and the hearings was the recurrent theme that, for a lot of people experiencing elder abuse, the last thing they want to do is go through any sort of legal process. That really needs to be emphasised. In our culture, we tend to leap to the idea that there is a legal remedy that people will automatically go to when a wrongdoing has occurred, but when we are talking about sensitive family relationships, or about situations for older people who are desperate to maintain relationships with the very people who are perpetrating abuse against them, we must recognise that the decision to go down a legal path to address that abuse is extraordinarily painful and difficult. Of grave concern to the committee, reflected in the recommendations of this report, was the evidence that it is also really difficult for people to get any sort of legal recourse should they decide to go down that path.
We need to be talking about two types of legal approach when we refer to legal recourse. The first is just letting people find out their legal rights. Where do they even stand in relation to a range of matters? Often people will have a feeling that something is wrong, but they will not know what is potentially available to them as recourse. The second factor, if people realise that they do have some sort of legal recourse, is the best way to bring this to the attention of the perpetrator. Sometimes, a very gentle approach is required—receiving the advice that affirms that the person has a remedy, and then raising the issue in an appropriate way with the person who has been perpetrating the abuse against the person, to make it clear that it is not okay and needs to stop.
I ask members to bear in mind the comments made by my colleague Hon Tjorn Sibma, who was on the committee, in his contribution to this debate last week. He highlighted the evidence that had been presented to the committee that showed that, in many instances, perpetrators of elder abuse have no idea that they are perpetrating elder abuse. They are simply unaware that what they are doing is illegal or even unethical. There is a great need to try to educate people about that and to have accessible legal structures that can facilitate the retention of those relationships in a way that lets everybody know the legal situation and where people stand legally.
Then we have the third situation in which people clearly just have to go to court. Property matters can be very complicated civil matters, and it can be very difficult for people to get the appropriate level of support to enable them to make the difficult decision to proceed with going to a lawyer. Many older people, particularly older people who may have lost all, or a huge proportion of, their assets due to financial elder abuse, will simply not have the resources to retain a private lawyer and commence proceedings. Indeed, it can be extraordinarily difficult even to find a private lawyer with an understanding of elder abuse. One thing that became very clear through the course of the inquiry was the critical role that our community legal sector plays in not only educating members of the community on how to recognise elder abuse and what sorts of remedies might be available to them if they are subject to elder abuse, but also supporting people to pursue legal remedy when elder abuse needs to be addressed. We found that, quite frankly, the services are not being made available in the state to the degree that we would expect.
We have previously spoken about the incredibly important role that Advocare plays in this space as often the first port of call for people who are concerned about elder abuse. Its helpline receives federal funding. Advocare also receives some state funding. People can ring up and get some idea about where they should potentially go for assistance. That is a separate discussion that I will revisit at some point in the future, but the appropriate funding for Advocare and the important service it provides is an ongoing issue. Advocare needs a legal referral pathway for people who need further legal advice. Really, there is only one community legal centre that has a specialised service that can provide support for older people who are experiencing elder abuse—that is, the elder law service provided by the Northern Suburbs Community Legal Centre. I once again acknowledge the marvellous work that was done by the late Karen Merrin, who was integral in ensuring that this service was established.
The committee found that the Northern Suburbs Community Legal Centre’s elder law service has a unique role to play in the overall CLC landscape. However, it can service only people who fall within the catchment area of the northern suburbs. For people who live elsewhere in the metropolitan area and for everyone who lives in regional Australia, there is no access to specialist older people CLC services. I think this should be of grave concern to everybody in this chamber. We do not have to be a regional member, although I imagine our regional members are particularly concerned; we just have to care about human rights and people to know that this problem needs to be addressed. One of the things that we need to look at is how to ensure statewide services are provided through the community legal centres so that if an older person needs advice or assistance to navigate complex, or even simple, legal matters to address elder abuse, they are able to do that no matter where they live. At the moment, that is not available.
Consideration of report adjourned, pursuant to standing orders.
Progress reported and leave granted to sit again, pursuant to standing orders.