Tasmanian MP - Elder Abuse speech

  ELDER ABUSE[6.16 p.m.]

Ms PETRUSMA (Franklin) - Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise to discuss one of society's most appalling and disturbing crimes that is often hidden behind closed doors, and that is the crime of elder abuse.  As I said in my inaugural speech, elder abuse is one of the reasons I went into politics.

Jacquie PetrusmaFrom working in aged care as a registered nurse and working with the Department of Health and Ageing where I actually investigated cases of elder abuse, I became very concerned that as a society we do not give our seniors the care and respect they deserve in their final years.  This concern has only increased, especially of late, as more examples of elder abuse have come to my office and have appeared in the media. 

Professor Linda Starr in the Aged Care INsite magazine provides an excellent definition of elder abuse.  Elder abuse includes a wide range of behaviours and is commonly defined as a single or repeated act or lack of appropriate action occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust which causes harm or distress to an older person. 

Elder abuse presents in various different forms.  It could be broadly defined as either neglect, physical, financial, psychological or sexual abuse.  Whatever form it takes is a breach of the older person's civil and human rights and may also be a crime.  Accurately estimating incidents of elder abuse is difficult for a number of reasons, including ineffective reporting systems, wide variations in the definition of abuse and the global legal response to this form of interpersonal violence.  However, it is estimated that in Australia the incidents of elder abuse is approximately 4.6 per cent of the elder population. 

A quick search of cases from around Tasmania and Australia during recent times presents a pretty bad picture of elder abuse and, more often than not, from those most closest to the victim, their own children.  For example, in ninemsn news on Monday the headline read 'Adopted son helped murder parents.  ' In this case the jury has been told that the accused, who was 21 at the time, has admitted murdering his parents for their inheritance.  From the Courier Mail yesterday a headline reads, 'Abuse of elderly people becomes a target', with the opening statement saying that experts say more than 30 000 elderly Queenslanders are physically, emotionally or financially abused every year, usually suffering in silence. 

From the ABC World Today program on 20 February this year the headline read, 'Experts call for federal body to act on elder abuse.' One of the most disturbing quotes in this story was from an expert in elder law, Sue Field, who talked about inheritance impatience and how this is motivating much of the financial abuse. 

Here in Tasmania the Guardianship and Administration Board's annual report for 2010-11 provides many examples of elder abuse happening in Tasmania.

It states:

'By far the most prevalent form of elder abuse disclosed in applications before the board is financial abuse.  It is significant that, of the examples of abuses detailed in this annual report, all but one were perpetrated by close family members.'

A study of elder abuse released in Victoria in the reporting period made the following key finding:

'The sense of entitlement felt by family members and others towards older people's assets is outstanding.  Impatient children will actively seek to obtain an early inheritance or will interfere in their parents' management of their assets to protect what they see as their entitlement.'

The report also states:

'Sadly, due to budget cuts, the statewide elder abuse advisory committee's four-year $2.6 million strategy has now been reduced by 42 per cent to a three-year $1 080 000 strategy.  The reduction in funding has meant the proposed new dedicated phone helpline, advocacy and counselling services will now not proceed.'

They also state:

'As no single agency is yet charged with a standardised collection of data about elder abuse, it is difficult to quantify how much abuse is occurring.  The phrase "tip of the iceberg" is used often, but the board is not in a position to say whether that is the case.  What we can say is that every example is one example too many.'

These are just a handful of the many of hundreds of known stories which, again, are only a handful of the tens of thousands of Australians and many Tasmanians who are living with elder abuse every day.  Sadly, we live in a world which, to a large degree, relies on us trusting that those around us will have our best interests in mind and we are getting closer to the end of our days.  It is therefore critical that protective measures are put in place that prevents real or perceived reassure on older Tasmanians to feel that they should end their lives prematurely.  We also need to ensure that children do not have inheritance impatience and that getting their early inheritance or their elderly parents' income support payments is the only way to make ends meet.  Most of all, we need a comprehensive elder abuse strategy across both State and Federal governments to ensure that elder abuse is minimised and that people feel supported and safe in their later years.