Lawyers have today welcomed the announcement that legislation will be introduced in South Australia for the establishment of an adult safeguarding unit to investigate elder abuse.
Maurice Blackburn national head of Wills and Estates Law, Andrew Simpson said South Australia was leading the way in implementing much-needed safeguarding protections for older people at risk of financial and other abuse and other states must follow suit.
“The introduction today of this legislation in South Australia is an important step, and we urge all states to take similar action as soon as possible in combating elder financial abuse,” Mr Simpson said.
“The Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) noted this issue in its 2017 landmark report, recommending every state and territory adopt adult safeguarding laws including the establishment of a Safeguarding Agency that has the power to coordinate services and also investigate or report complaints to police if needed.
“That report was handed down 12 months ago, but with the exception of South Australia we are still no closer to having such an agency in any other state or at a national level.
“While services exist to help older people with financial abuse, the majority of these services operate like patchwork and few people have knowledge of what their rights are or where they can go to seek help, meaning it is virtually impossible for an individual or a professional to navigate and negotiate the maze of services available if they suspect elder financial abuse.
“The Australian Banking Association has recently put a much needed spotlight on this issue, but it extends well beyond banking staff – indeed there are many professionals such as lawyers, financial planners, social workers and others who see suspected financial abuse but have nowhere to go as a first port of call for what they should do about this.
“This is also a major issue for families who suspect abuse or for individuals, many are embarrassed or afraid to seek help and the idea of trying to find that help can be very daunting.
“All levels of government must address this issue as South Australia is doing today, including critically ensuring that any agency established protects the rights of elder people to self-determination, autonomy and independence.
“Such an agency must also have protections in place for professionals who come forward with concerns of elder financial abuse, including the relevant exemptions as needed so that if a bank teller, social worker or someone similar reports a concern they can do so without fearing a breach of privacy or confidentiality.
“A safeguarding agency – at the state or national level – would fix this, and we urge all governments to follow the lead of South Australia and to act on this critical ALRC recommendation as a priority,” he said.