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Wednesday, 28 February 2018
Page: 2273

Aged Care

Ms FLINT (Boothby) (14:44): My question is to the Attorney-General. Will the Attorney-General update the House on the importance of ending elder abuse across Australia? What action is the coalition government taking to end the terrible abuse of elder Australians, including in my home state of South Australia, and what are the alternatives?

Mr PORTER (PearceAttorney-General) (14:44): I thank the member for her question, noting the issue of elder abuse is of critical importance in her home state of South Australia with the release of the report into that government's handling of the Oakden Older Persons Mental Health Service. Before I return to that, I'll just note that the Turnbull government last week announced that it would lead a national plan on elder abuse. It's the first of its kind and it builds on the 2016 election commitment of the Prime Minister, where $15 million was committed as a critical foundation to protecting the rights of older Australians. The national plan was the capstone recommendation of the Law Reform Commission's 2017 report into elder abuse. It's important for everyone on our and on the other side's benches to understand that there couldn't be any national plan, which we've committed to lead, without that 2016 commitment of money from the Prime Minister, because that is developing the research base that allows us to proceed with a national plan.

What Australia does not know but will soon know is the frequency, scale and context of elder abuse. Other studies overseas have indicated that elder abuse can affect up to 12 per cent of the older population. In Australia we know that a quarter of all Australians will be over 65 by the middle of the century, but we are only just starting to understand how prevalent elder abuse is. Some studies have indicated, for instance, that about 40 per cent of elder abuse occurs in the financial context—things such as duress, undue pressure and fraud. But, as I noted at the beginning of this answer, there are very timely reasons for knowing and understanding that physical abuse of elders is occurring in Australia and that a national plan is warranted.

I want to put before the House three quotes from Bruce Lander QC's report on Oakden in South Australia, which I think summarised the astonishingly terrible situation that has developed there. He said first:

The consumers who resided at the Oakden Older Persons Mental Health Service (Oakden Facility) were some of the most frail and vulnerable persons in our community. They did not have a voice. They were obliged to live in a facility which could only be described as a disgrace, and in which they received very poor care. The process and procedures were such that they were forgotten and ignored.

He then went on to say of the South Australian Labor ministers:

… each Minister who had responsibility for the Oakden Facility was responsible for its failures …

He then said—which I think is a remarkable quote in the report:

Mr Snelling—

the Labor minister—

said that during his three years as Minister there was no political will to change the model so as to avoid an argument with the unions.

This is a 312-page report of some of the most horrendous treatment of older Australians, and a primary reason given as to why there was no reform was to avoid an argument with the unions. The report is entitled: Oakden: A shameful chapter in South Australia's history.