6th National Elder Abuse Conference

Four delegates from Seniors Rights Victoria and three from COTA Victoria attended the 2019 National Elder Abuse Conference, held in Brisbane last month.

We were among a crowd of 500 participants, from sectors and organisations across the country, united by a common purpose to progress change on elder abuse – to ‘rock the boat’ on policy inertia and to challenge each other, and government, on the best way forward. This led to some lively panel discussions and – if not opposing, then certainly contrasting – perspectives in the international keynote addresses.

Alexia Huxley, the Manager Policy and Communications with COTA Victoria, participated in a panel session on Victoria’s 10 primary Elder Abuse Prevention Networks.

For some speakers, a human rights approach privileging individual autonomy and the ‘dignity of risk’ was paramount. Other speakers championed safeguarding models that protect even a self-neglecting older person, or otherwise override an older person’s wishes in the interests of a broader sense of public justice.

Keynote speaker Bethany Brown, from Human Rights Watch in the US, outlined the ethical choices government and society encounter through enabling older people to have their human rights recognised and respected versus the overwhelming desire to ‘’protect’ older people under the guise of ‘duty of care’.

The former Deputy District Attorney of the San Diego County, Paul Greenwood, exhorted Australians to implement mandatory reporting, criminalise elder abuse, and prosecute perpetrators regardless of the older person’s preferences.

The protectionist tenor of his address is contrary to Seniors Rights Victoria’s commitment to the empowerment of older people and policy of upholding the independence of older people to make their own decisions. However, the message of criminalisation resonated with the audience and, certainly, we acknowledge there are some forms of financial abuse that might benefit from prosecutorial attention using existing laws

On several topics of discussion, Seniors Rights Victoria found themselves at the vanguard. For example, SRV has long been ‘rocking the boat’ for the creation of a national register for Powers of Attorney – a hot topic at the conference. Another hot topic that we have similarly promoted is the principle that supported (rather than substituted) decision-making should always be the first order of the day. It was validating to hear from a neuropsychologist and other professionals who share in our non-reductive approach to capacity.

Hopefully all who attended the 2019 conference were inspired to keep up the drive for change in this space.