Launch of Elder Abuse Action Australia

Caxton director, Scott McDougall addresses the launch of Elder Abuse Action Australia

Caxton Legal Centre is proud to be involved with the foundation of a new national peak body, Elder Abuse Action Australia (EAAA).

Launched on Thursday by federal Attorney-General, the Hon. Christian Porter MP, EAAA will support the national coordination and advocacy of issues related to the prevention of elder abuse.

Founding director of EAAA and director of Caxton Legal Centre, Scott McDougall, made the following remarks at the launch.

Launch of Elder Abuse Action Australia

14 June 2018, by Scott McDougall

Good morning and thank you Uncle Chikka for your warm welcome to Gadigal country.

I am very proud to be a founding director of Elder Abuse Action Australia, and it is a great honour to be speaking today with such distinguished guests in the audience, including the President of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Professor Rosalind Croucher, and the indomitable Age Discrimination Commissioner, Kay Patterson, who as Jenny mentioned, has been a great supporter of the EAAA.

This morning I wanted offer some hope and optimism as we reflect upon the enormity of the task that the Australian Law Reform Commission last year handed to the people of Australia via the Office of the Attorney General.  I say the people of Australia – not to take any weight of responsibility for implementing the suite of recommendations from the Attorney General’s shoulders– but to reflect the reality, as noted by the Attorney, and by the World Health Organisation’s 2002 Toronto Declaration, that:           ‘elder abuse in an ageing world is everybody’s business’.

We all have a responsibility to ensure that older Australians are able to exercise and enjoy what ought to be recognised as their fundamental human right to live free from violence, abuse and neglect.

Whilst we may all share that responsibility, it must also be said that the individual, is the person best placed, to protect themselves from abuse, and therefore, investing in and supporting the empowerment and autonomy of older individuals, is not only the right thing to do, it is an effective protective strategy to guard against abuse.  It was therefore very important that the ALRC gave such prominence to the principle of autonomy when framing the recommendations across the 14 chapters of its report.

We must however, also recognise that the utopian vision of all older people living autonomously in a society free from the effects of ageism, family dysfunction, systemic abuse and structural discrimination, is not yet a reality.  Many older people need support to protect themselves and some need protection.  All deserve dignity.

The Attorney General has this morning highlighted some of the important research that is currently underway and the EAAA is hoping to contribute to the progress of a national research agenda.  I think it is fair to say there is great interest amongst everyone in this room as to outcome of the prevalence study.  However, we do already know enough from the front line experience of organisations assisting a growing number of victims of elder abuse, to confidently say that it is a complex societal problem, which is trending upwards.  It is a problem that requires whole of government, and whole of society solutions, targeted at an individual, family and community level.

The ALRC Report offers important guidance to the Commonwealth, States and Territories about the wide range of law reforms required across multiple jurisdictions. Yet, with apologies to the Attorney General, who is both a lawyer and a politician, a comprehensive response to elder abuse cannot be achieved by parliament and the legal profession alone.

We need key agencies within governments of all levels, the legal and medical professions, health providers, allied health workers, social workers, aged care and disability advocates, banks, accountants and financial advisers, academics, researchers and educators, Indigenous health and legal services, culturally and linguistically diverse community leaders, police and law enforcement agencies, urban planners and architects – and as Kay is fond of saying – hairdressers! – all working within a coherent framework of laws and policies, and all geared toward supporting the autonomy and dignity of older people, as they plan for, and move through the ageing process.

This is where the National Plan becomes so important.  A properly resourced and thoughtfully directed plan is essential.  The success of any plan rests on the buy-in or emotional investment of the key participants.  With so many key stakeholders required to engage, the establishment of Elder Abuse Action Australia is a timely development to facilitate community input.

We look forward to working closely with the Attorney General and his department on progressing the National Plan and the creation of an Elder Abuse Knowledge Hub, and in time, we look forward to engaging with other stakeholders such as the Australian Bankers Association.  We are greatly encouraged both by the interest demonstrated by the ABA in the establishment of a national register of powers of attorney arrangements, and by the presence here today of their CEO, and my former Premier, Ms Anna Bligh.

We want to work with the banks to help confront the challenge of delivering safe banking services to older people in an era where technological advances have resulted in mass bank closures, and the loss of personal relationships between banking staff and their older customers.

In coming months and years, we hope to see the organisational capacity of the EAAA grow with a membership base of non-government organisations and individuals that is reflective of the diversity of interests I just mentioned, and which demonstrates that elder abuse truly is everybody’s business.

Finally, on behalf of the hosts of next year’s National Elder Abuse Conference, I’d like to thank the Attorney General for his announcement this morning of $50,000 in sponsorship of the conference which will be held at the Brisbane Convention Centre on 22 and 23 July next year.  I hope to see many of you there taking advantage of our beautiful weather.

Thank you.