Select Committee into Elder Abuse — Final Report —
“‘I never thought it would happen to me’: When trust is broken” —
Resumed from 14 August on the following motion moved by Hon Nick Goiran —
That the report be noted.
Comments and speeches from various members
HON ALISON XAMON: I have not spoken about the final report of the Select Committee into Elder Abuse for some time because the chamber has had other business to deal with. Of course, I was very pleased to be the deputy chair of this committee. It was a really good committee and I am very pleased with the recommendations that came out of the inquiry. I look forward to having all of them implemented. I note that a number of recommendations have been taken on board already, and I hope we will see all of them implemented at some point.
Today, I particularly want to talk about the findings pertaining to chapter 6 regarding access to justice for older people experiencing elder abuse. Touching on the contributions from Hon Pierre Yang, I want to highlight precisely why it is really important that we ensure we have accessible and, dare I say, free services available for our older Australians to get preliminary legal advice and assistance, particularly in the area of finances. At the point when we undertook the review, there was really only one legal service available for older people specifically—that is, the older adults legal service available at the Northern Suburbs Community Legal Centre. Indeed, finding 30 states —
The Northern Suburbs Community Legal Centre provides a useful specialised point of contact for older people experiencing elder abuse, however it is only funded to a restricted catchment area in the northern metropolitan area of Perth. There is a need for every older person in Western Australia, regardless of where they reside, to have access to specialised community legal services.
That recommendation should be read in conjunction with finding 29—that community legal centres are often an essential first point of contact for older people. As part of that, we need to ensure that all community legal centres, not just the northern suburbs legal service, can identify cases of elder abuse and ensure that people are able to get specialist support and that there are appropriate referral pathways. The committee found that the legal service provided by the Northern Suburbs Community Legal Centre is excellent. It is a small centre and, by its own admission, is not funded enough, but it has really managed to create a centre of excellence around elder abuse and to produce resources and assist certain individuals. But it is frustrating that the centre is limited to assisting people within its catchment, because staff frequently hear from people outside the northern suburbs catchment area who desperately need support and advice.
I will add that one of the referral pathways to the Northern Suburbs Community Legal Centre is via Advocare. I am pleased to say that since this report was tabled, this government has given additional moneys to Advocare, principally to ensure that its hotline can deal with the increasing number of calls coming through. Advocare gives preliminary advice to people who have the courage—it does take courage—to ring up and find out more information. If Advocare is concerned that these people need quite specific legal assistance or further advice, it can refer them to the Northern Suburbs Community Legal Centre. It is frustrating that there is no other specialist centre to refer older people to. A lot of these older people are on fixed incomes, they do not have a lot of money and they certainly are not inclined to go hunting around for independent legal advice at Herbert Smith Freehills, for example. It is really important to ensure that we have these basic services available within the community for people to access.
I particularly want to note how impressed I was with the work that the Northern Suburbs Community Legal Centre’s older adults service is doing around the health–justice partnership that has been established in that catchment area as well. The partnership ensures that older people going through the hospital system who potentially have issues around elder abuse can be hooked up with various legal services in order to get those supports. That is happening because social workers within the hospital are able to identify that maybe someone is at risk or needs a little more advice, or they might witness someone being subjected to undue pressure from a family member. It gives social workers an extra opportunity to ensure that a person is perhaps getting a little more wraparound support. I think those sorts of health–justice partnerships are absolutely innovative and really important. I am seeing a commitment to some growth of health–justice partnerships in Western Australia, but we are really lagging when compared with the situation in other states, where the majority of health–justice partnerships have been created and are thriving.
In any event, recommendation 13 of the report asks —
The Government ensure that every older person in Western Australia, regardless of where they reside, has access to specialised community legal services which provide advocacy and advice on elder abuse.
I was pleased to hear of the government announcement on 10 April 2019 that Legal Aid WA would establish an elder abuse unit. In his statement, the minister referred to a new specialist legal unit being established within Legal Aid WA to prevent and raise awareness of elder abuse and safeguard the rights of older Western Australians. He referred to the role Legal Aid has traditionally played around issues of restraining orders, for example, and people subject to violence, and assisting people around various civil law arrangements. He went on to say that Legal Aid WA had recently decided to better coordinate some of these services by creating a seniors rights and advocacy service. He said that this service will provide free legal advice and assistance for older people who have experienced elder abuse or who are at risk.
I think it is a positive step. Certainly, in my opinion, Legal Aid has an important role in ensuring it is part of dealing with the scourge of elder abuse.
Consideration of report adjourned, pursuant to standing orders.
Progress reported and leave granted to sit again, pursuant to standing orders.