Alister Henskens portrait
Alister Henskens portrait

Elder Abuse

Alister having a morning tea

Mr ALISTER HENSKENS (Ku-ring-gai) (19:03:35): Ku-ring-gai has responded to the call by the Minister for Ageing for members of Parliament to raise awareness of elder abuse in their electorates and the support services available to their constituents. Elder abuse—the causing of physical, psychological, emotional, sexual or financial harm or distress to an older person—is an important issue. The New South Wales Government has historically demonstrated its commitment to preventing elder abuse and improving safeguards for vulnerable older people, including its continued delivery of the Elder Abuse Helpline and Resource Unit.

On 15 June 2017 Minister Davies encouraged the recognition of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day by holding a morning tea. On that day representatives from Ku-ring-gai's retirement villages and community groups, including the Ku-ring-gai Neighbourhood Centre, Lifeline Harbour to Hawkesbury and the Ku-ring-gai Community Workshop—the "Men's Shed"—joined me for coffee, tea, sausage rolls and cake and, more importantly, a wide-ranging discussion about the issues faced by elderly people in the community. Sadly, most of what I heard that day concerned emotional, psychological or financial abuse of older relatives by family members or carers.

Stories included accounts about the threats to stop grandchildren from visiting retirement villages and nursing homes; the refusal to be invited to family weddings unless financial benefits were provided; the withholding of money and the refusal to purchase essential clothing; resorting to eating pet food while living in multimillion-dollar homes because it was all they could afford with the money given by family members; and in a time of rising house prices, pressure to move out of home when not ready to do so—either to allow younger members of the family to take possession or to pass on the proceeds of sale to them—or to take out a reverse mortgage to fund the purchase of a house for a younger relative. The stories were both disturbing and sad.

Just as troubling was my realisation that many instances of elder abuse must go unreported because of the older person's feelings of shame or embarrassment that their family member—often a son or a daughter—is the perpetrator, or the fear of retribution or neglect. But they triggered a desire by everyone present to do whatever they could to keep older family, friends and members of the Ku-ring-gai community safe and connected. It is easy to forget that they are at greater risk because of their physical frailty, cognitive impairment, illness, social isolation and the frequent need for assistance with the most personal and basic tasks. My response was to arrange a number of forums at retirement villages and aged-care centres in Ku-ring-gai over the following months at which I promoted the Elder Abuse Helpline & Resource Unit. I also reminded the residents of the importance of preparing a will, making a power of attorney, appointing an Enduring Guardian and initiating a discussion about advance care planning.

Last week I again convened a World Elder Abuse Awareness Day morning tea. This time—no doubt because of the larger number of retirement village residents in attendance—the focus of the discussion was more on issues arising between residents and the managers of their villages. In these circumstances, the alleged abuse is more often psychological than financial—the failure to foster a sense of community and the unwillingness to address concerns compassionately were frequently mentioned—but such behaviour is just as alienating and stressful for those who are the subject of it. It provided a great opportunity for the managers of other villages to share what works for them and for the community groups to communicate the ways in which they can assist. In that regard, I particularly thank Geoff Wolf, Sue Lawrence and Michele Bell for participating in the discussion and for their insights.

Ultimately, there was a consensus on the power of regular and open communication to ensure the safety of our senior citizens, to provide a clear understanding of the options and help available to them and to assure them that they were being heard and their input is respected. Positive action by government in relation to elder abuse is continuing to happen. On 18 February this year Minister Davies announced new funding for caseworkers to manage complex elder abuse cases and to offer assistance beyond the normal referral sources, coordinating services such as police, Family and Community Services, health and disability services and culturally and linguistically diverse organisations.

On the same day as my morning tea the Federal Attorney-General launched Elder Abuse Action Australia. This is an alliance of peak groups from each of the States and the Federal Government to protect people from elder abuse, particularly fraud and theft, which will facilitate the development of the Attorney-General's national plan to combat elder abuse. I will never allow myself to become complacent about the threat of exploitation faced by seniors and I will continue to work hard to destigmatise the existence of elder abuse in Ku‑ring-gai by encouraging the elderly to tell their stories, as difficult as that may be. It has to stop.