Office for the Ageing (Adult Safeguarding) Amendment Bill

Second Reading

I rise to support the Office for the Ageing (Adult Safeguarding) Amendment Bill and commend the Hon. Stephen Wade of the other place, our Minister for Health and Wellbeing and all things to do with having a great life, for this important initiative, a first in Australia, which needs to be progressed in a staged manner in its unique form. This starts with the legislation and the bill before us. It will be followed, I am advised, by a charter of rights and freedoms for vulnerable adults and the regulations and comprehensive code of conduct, yet to be developed. These are the machinery operations in respect of how this may operate

Members have already referred to the many recommendations presented to this parliament and others—the Closing the Gaps report, the Australian Law Reform Commission inquiry into Protecting the Rights of Older Australians from Abuse, and the final report of the Joint Committee on Matters Relating to Elder Abuse, which was tabled late last year. The shocking report received from Bruce Lander QC, the commissioner dealing with the investigation into Oakden, described it as a shameful chapter in our history. It only highlights the reasons why we are here and why it is important that we have this new adult safeguarding unit.

Obviously, we have the support of our police and other government and non-government agencies to manage extreme circumstances, but the thinking behind this is to have an approachable body that has the statutory responsibility and accountability to respond to reports of abuse, neglect and mistreatment of our vulnerable adults. The key focus of the unit will be on prevention, awareness raising and community education. I just heard a contribution by the former minister for ageing.

I commend her for the work that she did in this area during her time as the minister for ageing, but all these things in relation to educative action seem to have fallen on deaf ears in the past because how could you possibly allow matters such as Oakden to occur and then be exposed during that time? There has been continuous concealment in relation to the activities there and, whilst I do not blame the minister for ageing, she sat next to—I say that in a general way—the former minister for mental health in a cabinet, and some responsibility has to be taken for the continued cover-up.

Because I am in the habit of keeping records of just about everything—beware—I refreshed my memory on the Senate committee affairs' reference submission by the then South Australian government in August 2017 on the effectiveness of aged-care quality assessment and other protections for residents. It sets out a summary of the Chief Psychiatrist's report that had been prepared as a result of a 20 December 2016 decision to conduct a review in relation to Oakden. Guess what? Not a word is mentioned of what really happened in relation to the instigation of this report.

It commends the proposed—at that stage—ICAC inquiry and says that it welcomes it, but it still tries to claim credit, as the former government, for initiating the inquiry into the scandalous conduct in the Makk and McLeay wards and Clements House at Oakden. It just glosses over the plight of a family who had to go public in January 2017 to expose the concealment of month after month of complaint from Mrs Sprigg, who, as we know, became a South Australian of the Year for her advocacy in this area. Let's not gloss over the reality of what happened. Let's not write reports and submissions that attempt just to gloss over what really happened.

Notwithstanding the importance of this bill as part of an area of reform, when the member for Cheltenham, the last Labor premier of this state, was the minister for ageing he published a pamphlet under his name called Regaining Your Control. It is another thing I have kept, I might say. On page 4 of this booklet, he described elder abuse:

Elder abuse is any act occurring within a relationship where there is an implication of trust, which results in harm to an older person. Abuse can include physical, sexual, financial, psychological, social and/or neglect.

He went on to say, under his own hand:

The State Government has a zero tolerance for the abuse or harm of older people and we are committed to protecting older people from harm and to keeping them safe in their homes and in their community.

That was 15 years ago. We then find, a decade later, the shameful exposure of Oakden and a litany of other examples where people have been the victim of abuse, culminating in our own inquiry here in the parliament.

I can think of circumstances, for example, that resulted in much debate about having surveillance cameras in aged-care facilities. This was important because it followed Mrs Noleen Hausler's protests at the treatment of her father in the Mitcham home. The information about this scandalous conduct went around the nation and culminated in the person responsible at the facility being prosecuted and convicted. So we know there is a litany of behaviour that is unreported and continues to leave our aged people vulnerable.

Anne Gale, our Public Advocate, presented a submission to the Australian Law Reform Commission's inquiry, which I have just referred to. In her submission back in September 2016—and remember that she is the Public Advocate who is responsible for people with disability in aged areas—she wrote about a number of areas in relation to elder abuse. One was acknowledging that elder abuse of older persons was under-reported, and she provided data in relation to that. She felt that there needed to be an Australia-wide attempt to deal with a number of these issues. I think to a large degree, with the inquiries that have followed and indeed the recent announcement of the royal commission by the federal government, which is to be based here in South Australia, these warmly adopt some of the recognition in that regard.

She also made significant comment about the assessment of programs within aged-care facilities. She raised again the advance care directives, formerly known as the enduring powers of guardianship, and some of the limitations in relation to the 2013 legislation. She made comment generally in relation to enduring powers of attorney, which of course deal with the financial decision-making for a party. Interestingly, she also raised considerable concerns about deficiencies and extra orders that ought to be able to be available on the part of the South Australian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (SACAT), which is responsible for dealing with guardianship matters as a very substantial cohort of its work.

What is concerning to me is that a number of these issues are still left unresolved. So it is a commitment of this government that we do look at how we better protect people in terms of financial abuse circumstances or exploitation to ensure that they are not able to be exploited by often a member of family in the inappropriate use of a power of attorney in the management or use of funds or property owned by the older person.

Advance care directives also need to have considerable tightening, and that is a matter which I can assure the house is under review and legislation is being considered for ultimate determination by this parliament. We will act on these things, because we cannot leave them unattended to. I do not want to have a government—and I think we are completely at one in this on this side of the house—that will simply write another pamphlet, make another promise or have another review. There has to be real and effective statutory protection and policy programs that actually work and are going to protect people.

It is fair to say that probably I was, like a lot of people who come into this parliament, largely unaware of the plight of vulnerable older persons or even significantly of the disabled community before coming into the parliament. In our own families we have older parents or people with disability who are known to us, and of course we see them fall into areas of vulnerability.

Obviously, in the law I had quite a bit of exposure to dealing with issues regarding power of attorney and the like. In fact, I used to give a lecture called 'Sex in the 70s', which was designed for an audience of older people. I am sure they came along to it hoping to learn about more enjoyable activities in the bedroom, but it was, in fact, a lecture about protecting themselves against the sometimes rapacious and certainly exploitative 'greedy little grandchild' sector, as I call it.

It ensured that whatever their financial arrangements or personal arrangements regarding their cohabitation—whether they had been married, widowed, re-cohabiting, remarrying, sharing a house with another person who was a friend—these were all things that needed to be clearly thought about. This was especially the case if there was issue—that is, children or grandchildren—of unions in their lifetime because the testamentary intent of a will is not always even enough to stop exploitation while they are alive in terms of getting access to property or money, or stop big fights after someone dies.

These are important things that we ask our older South Australians to think about and protect themselves against as much as possible to ensure they have access to their rightful assets and income and that they are not exploited by others—sadly, frequently family members. Of course, that is not only a relationship of trust but also a relationship of affection, which makes that person even more vulnerable. As we mature, these issues become more important.

I had the privilege of chairing the Home and Community Care board for a number of years in the 1990s, prior to coming into parliament. This was quite a significant advance in the care of mature age people, assisting them to stay living in their homes. Jane Mussared, who is now in charge of the Office for the Ageing, was a member of that board, and I thank her for her support on this bill as well as for her continued support, over her lifetime really, in this area. It is an area where we, as best we can, we provide our vulnerable aged with the services they deserve, the support they need and the freedom to continue to make decisions, whether that be about their own accommodation or their own assets, for as long as they are able.

During that time I also had the privilege of serving as co-chair, in a way, with the late Dame Roma Mitchell. She was chair of another board that dealt with the ageing, and she would laughingly say, 'I've been asked to be the chair of this board, Vickie, because I'm a consumer.' She was quite mature age herself at the time, and we would sometimes go around the state together visiting different stakeholders and members in the community. She did not drive, so I had the chance to drive her a few times, and I would drive and listen while she chatted away. She provided a wealth of experience and information.

She was very keen to ensure that no matter how old you were, even if you were facing a loss of licence or some infirmity, or not being as ambulant as you had been in the past, or your physical strength was waning and things of that nature, you still had a chance to be able to enjoy your life, have holidays, go on trips, go exploring or bushwalking, whatever you want to do. That is what we expect our senior people to be able to do.

As members know, we have just come through a weekend celebrating the centenary of armistice. The generations before us have made a magnificent contribution to all the freedoms we enjoy today, and I think we are honour-bound to ensure that our mature, older population, as well as those with a disability, are protected by the benefit in this legislation.

By the initiation of this legislation and the protection that we want it to give, we can make sure that, if someone is concerned, they do not even have to pick up the phone and ring the police. They will have access to an approachable process, with an important area of review—an appeal process through the Ombudsman if necessary—to ensure that their concerns are raised, investigated and remedied.

The only other matter I really want to cover in this regard is that in addition to advance care directive legislative reform, the powers of attorney to deal with property—often known as enduring powers of attorney—will be on this government's agenda. We will be looking at some of the reforms that have recently been published by the South Australian Law Reform Institute, which has done considerable work in relation to succession law, the right of a testator, the importance of a person having the right to distribute their estate according to their wishes, and the review of the inheritance family provision law, which of course fits neatly into this question of the right of the testator. These are all matters that we consider need some attention.

Specifically in relation to financial abuse—because I think we will find in all these inquiries it is increasingly an area of exploitation or abuse that is permeating the distress to our older citizens—we think it is important that the obligations of someone who accepts responsibility as a power of attorney are explicitly referred to in the law so that it gives a very clear instruction and guide to those who take on this responsibility, whether they are a family member or a friend, or in a professional capacity as the accountant or lawyer or whatever.

We do have the Trustee Act. We do have obligations there. We do have laws in respect of powers of attorney, but we need to have some very explicit direction to ensure that people know exactly what their obligation is in this regard. While I consider that, I also record my appreciation to the Public Advocate, the Office of the Public Trustee, the Guardianship Board and all those in this area who currently provide assistance in relation to protection and support in a number of areas, but I particularly refer to financial support in the meantime.

I conclude by saying that it is not all bad. We need to make sure that there is a chance for our older persons to have a wonderful life and enjoy their twilight years. It is incumbent on all of us. I suppose we get a bit more pressed to the attention of this when we are no longer looking after our own relatives but might be rapidly approaching it. My time in the parliament has taught me a lot in relation to this area, and I would like to assure the parliament that this is another area of challenge that on this side of the house we are going to take up. We are not going to write a pamphlet about it: we are going to do something about it.