Select Committee into Elder Abuse — Final Report —
“‘I Never Thought It Would Happen to Me’: When Trust Is Broken” — Motion
Resumed from 12 August on the following motion moved by Hon Nick Goiran — That the report be noted.
Hon ALISON XAMON: I rise because once again I would like to make some comments about this very important report “‘I Never Thought It Would Happen to Me’: When Trust Is Broken”, by the Select Committee into Elder Abuse, which I was fortunate enough to be deputy chair of. I have to say that, so many years after this report was tabled, I am incredibly disappointed that this government has simply not taken the issue of elder abuse review seriously. The report quite clearly outlined that a number of steps needed to occur. It was very disappointing to receive the government response to the report in the first instance. It effectively gave very little commitment to address the range of recommendations outlined in the report. To see that this has not been given any sort of priority by this government in any sort of meaningful way as we start to enter the closing stages of the fortieth Parliament is deeply distressing, particularly because we know that the rate of elder abuse, as outlined extensively in the report, is on the increase. In fact, I was very disturbed to hear concerns raised about how the rate of elder abuse has potentially increased in the context of COVID-19 lockdowns, in a similar way to how family and domestic violence has unfortunately increased as people have become increasingly distressed. One of the reasons for that, of course, is that, as outlined in the report, as people start to experience financial pressures, there is unfortunately a correlating increase in financial elder abuse being committed, with people feeling as though money that is ostensibly their parents’ is somehow theirs to take and the issue of what is termed “inheritance impatience” becomes very real.
This government could and should have done some very tangible things in order to address the appalling rates of elder abuse that we know exists in our community. The very recent feedback I have had from service providers such as Advocare Incorporated is that they feel the pressure they are under is as great as it ever has been, and there has been a complete failure to invest in things such as community campaigns to raise the issue of elder abuse.
One of the particularly disturbing things that came out of this report is the normalising of elder abuse—the fact that so many people in the community just do not recognise that the behaviours they undertake constitute abuse. People tell themselves that somehow what they are doing is in the realms of acceptable behaviour when in actual fact it is not. We need targeted campaigns for the early intervention and prevention of elder abuse, but they have not been invested in or undertaken as a matter of priority in any meaningful way by this government. I am very concerned that this area has not received the sort of attention that it absolutely requires.
I also want to express my ongoing frustration with the lack of progress about the way we are dealing with enduring power of attorney and enduring power of guardianship, and I am sure that others in this chamber will have more to say about this as well. Throughout this report there are a lot of recommendations about how we need to ensure that there is some sort of central registry for how EPAs and EPGs are managed. We found that there was a complete devolving of responsibility by the state government of this to the federal government, with the state government saying that it was too hard and that it would not bother looking at any central regime until the federal government did something. I am also frustrated that the federal government has not progressed this in any meaningful way so many years later, yet the need for the state government to step up in this space has never been lessened. Much time has passed and the government has had every opportunity to do something meaningful in this space, but instead all we have in the government response to the recommendations is a series of platitudes. There is just lots of in-principle agreeing with the recommendations, but a whole bunch of reasons for why nothing can be done in this space.
We could be doing better than this and we should be doing better than this. Older Western Australians deserve to be treated with a higher level of priority than this government has chosen to use. Instead, the mechanisms by which people can gain recourse have not been meaningfully assisted. There has not been more easily facilitated access to the State Administrative Tribunal for older people. There has been some commitment to increasing some legal services via Legal Aid, but that by no means touches the sides of what we know to be a huge demand for community legal services statewide for older people to be able to access information and have tailored services so they can know their rights and easily access services. I am extraordinarily disappointed that this government has chosen to fail our older people.
I also want to say how frustrating it is that the recommendations to improve the way that police can respond to concerns about elder abuse have not been progressed in any meaningful way. One of the recommendations was that specialist elder abuse units be created in the Western Australia Police Force. This idea did not come out of nowhere; it is replicated on a model that exists in other states. Yet, I note with disappointment that there has been no progress on this. This is the sort of easy and important reform that could occur if the political motivation was there to make it happen. Instead, we have not seen any serious consideration given to how such a matter could be progressed.
I do not want to hear about how nothing can be progressed because of COVID-19. That is just the worst type of buck-passing. This report has been here for years, there has been an opportunity to address this issue for years, yet there has been absolutely no progress whatsoever. People can stand up and say, “Don’t you understand, we have had a pandemic?” Yes, I do understand. I live in this community as much as everybody else; I am really not interested in hearing that. When I hear people say that now, all I hear is, “I am looking for any excuse to justify why we have made absolutely no progress in this space whatsoever.” In this state we need to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time, and I do not think it is mutually exclusive to address the crisis of the pandemic—and every single one of us has been pulling up our socks to try to address it—and also make sure that our older vulnerable Western Australians are receiving the necessary support for and protection from elder abuse that they deserve.
Again, I am really disappointed that as we draw to the close of the fortieth Parliament, this government has shown such disdain for addressing elder abuse. What a lost opportunity. There are a lot of recommendations in this report that should and could have been enacted, but instead we have just seen pretty much indifference about how this quite wicked issue is addressed and tackled.
Comments and speeches by various members
Consideration of report postponed, pursuant to standing orders.