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Treasurer – COTA Victoria Board of Directors

Council on the Ageing (COTA) Victoria is seeking a suitably skilled individual to work in a leading not-for-profit organisation representing the interests and rights of older people as their Treasurer. 

About the Organisation

COTA Victoria is the leading not-for-profit organisation representing the interests and rights of people aged over 50 in Victoria. For nearly 70 years in Victoria, we have led government, corporate and community thinking about the positive aspects of ageing.

COTA Victoria’s strategic and operational focus is on promoting older age as a time of opportunities for personal growth, contribution and self-expression. We believe there are obvious National, State, community, family and individual benefits from this approach.

COTA Victoria has an experienced Board; highly qualified, permanent staff located in a central Melbourne office location; and a broad State membership and volunteer base.

About the Role

This is an outstanding opportunity to work with a committed Board to build your pro-bono board experience as well as making a significant impact on the lives of older people.

Our organisation is governed by a progressive Board of Directors with a wide variety of skills and experiences which now seeks to add an enthusiastic Volunteer Board Director to fill the Treasurer role with CPA qualifications and experience in Finance and Accounting. 

Previous or current Board experience would be highly regarded. Applicants must be residents within Victoria.

Key Duties:

  • Carrying out the responsibilities of a member of the Board of Directors;
  • Understanding the organisation’s finances;
  • Liaising with the CEO on financial matters;
  • Ensuring the Board receives regular financial management reports and acts as financial interpreter for Board members;
  • Liaising, on behalf of the Board, with funding authorities, auditors and other external parties on financial matters where Board representation is deemed to be necessary;
  • In liaison with the CEO, overseeing the auditing annual financial records and to fulfil obligations in relation to the audited accounts; and
  • Providing informal support to the organisation in terms of development of financial and business policies, plans and practices.

We’re looking for someone with:

  • CPA qualifications with a current practising certificate issued by either CPA Australia, the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Australia or Institute of Public Accountants.
  • Sound finance technical knowledge.
  • An understanding of charities with experience in corporate governance in the context of a not for profit organisation ideally within the community sector.
  • The capacity to attend bi-monthly Board Meetings and willingness to service on two Board Committees (Executive and Audit & Risk) and participate actively in its work.
  • Contributing with passionate Directors and staff to support the organisations vision and objectives.
  • Has an interest in ageing and protecting the rights of older people as they age.

How to Apply:

This is an unpaid position. 

Please send a covering letter demonstrating what value/s you believe you will bring to this position including a copy of your current curriculum vitae to ceo@cotavic.org.au.

Applications close December 6 2019.

An awareness-raising project that’s close to home

Caption: Our picture shows: Gerard Mansour, Commissioner for Senior Victorians; Gary Ferguson, Community Education Coordinator, Seniors Rights Victoria; Beryl Garrow, Barbara Yeoman, Alwyn Couch (Social Support Group members Timboon and District Healthcare Service); and Becky Nevin Berger, elder abuse prevention worker.

Seniors Rights Victoria was proud to help launch Timboon and District Healthcare Service’s new elder abuse prevention project, Warm Safe Home. The project focuses on one of our most treasured places, our home, in order to raise awareness of elder abuse.

The Warm Safe Home Project uses art making to start conversations about elder abuse. People throughout south west Victoria are making little paper houses to spread the message that everyone has the right to live free from violence and fear.

Participants include kinder and school students, artists, seniors, and carer support groups. The 500 completed houses will be installed en masse in Warrnambool’s largest shopping centre, Gateway Plaza, for World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on June 15 2020.

Elder abuse prevention worker Rebecca Nevin Berger said that our home is the key to our sense of safety.

‘When elder abuse occurs, however, the home can become a place of danger,’ she said.

Participants are asked to write a message on their completed house in response to questions such as ‘What does a warm safe home mean to you?’, ‘What was it about your grandparent’s house that made you feel safe and loved?’, and ‘What do you wish people understood about older people?’.

Rebecca has also begun working with Men’s Sheds, whose members will make larger timber houses suitable for outdoor installation which will help to raise intrigue about the campaign.

Rebecca has also posted a couple of initial images on Instagram with the hashtags: #warmsafehomeproject #elderabuseprevention #elderabuseawareness.

Powers of Attorney: The legislation

Many people who are appointed as Attorneys are not aware of their obligations and responsibilities and may view the Attorney as all encompassing. The experience of SRV’s casework team is that this can sometimes mean that the Principal (the person who created the document) is excluded from the decision-making process and has decisions imposed upon them.

In September 2015, Victoria’s Power of Attorney Act VIC 2014 (the Act) came into operation. It sets out the obligations and duties of an Attorney in some detail. An Attorney is appointed to make decisions on behalf of someone else known as a Principal. An Attorney may be appointed to make financial and/or personal decisions.

The Act imposes responsibilities upon an Attorney including that they must:

  • act honestly and diligently
  • act with reasonable skill and care
  • not use their position for personal gain
  • avoid conflicts of interest
  • keep accurate records and accounts
  • not disclose confidential information.

Critically, from SRV’s point of view, the making of a Power of Attorney does not mean that the Principal can no longer make decisions for him/herself. In fact, if the Principal has capacity, the Act states that an Attorney must involve them in decision making and consider their wishes. If the Principal lacks decision-making capacity, an Attorney must act according to the Principal’s interests and consider their well-being. The Attorney must exercise their Attorney in the least restrictive way having regard to the Principal’s capabilities.

Under the Act, if there are concerns about the behaviour or actions of a financial Attorney, the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) may order an Attorney to provide details of how they have been managing the Principal’s finances. VCAT may also order an Attorney to pay compensation to a Principal in circumstances where the Attorney has misappropriated funds belonging to the Principal. This provision for an order of compensation by VCAT is a new aspect of the 2014 Act and only applies where money has been misappropriated or mismanaged post September 2015. The Act also provides that where VCAT considers the Attorney’s behaviour to be dishonest, it may refer the matter for criminal prosecution.

Powers of Attorney: A case study

Seniors Rights Victoria were very pleased to be able to help an older person living with elder abuse to get one of the first orders for compensation by VCAT under the Power of Attorney Act VIC 2014 (the Act).

Background

Christina migrated from Greece to Australia with her husband and three children in the 1960s. Christina’s husband died several years ago. Christina, 85, cannot read or write and speaks only Greek. She lived in the same neighbourhood, in inner Melbourne, since coming to Australia. She felt comfortable there as many of her neighbours were from a similar cultural background.

Nick, Christina’s youngest son, approached her for a loan to assist him with his business. Christina took out a reverse mortgage over her home. She has no other assets and relies on the aged pension. Nick failed to make repayments on the loan.

Christina’s other children, Christopher and Sophia, were concerned that the reverse mortgage was eating into the equity of their mother’s property and devaluing their inheritance. They convinced their mother to appoint them as her enduring Attorney of Attorneys (financial).

Christopher and Sophia told Christina that she must sell the house as the loan had swallowed up the equity and the bank was about to take possession. This was untrue. The terms of the loan ensure that the bank could never force her from the property. Nonetheless, using their Powers of Attorney, Christopher and Sophia forced the sale of Christina’s house. They told Christina they had bought her a new home in an outer suburb of Melbourne. They moved her there but she was very unhappy. She was isolated and felt lost without her old community. She can no longer do her shopping or access services independently.

Involvement of SRV

Christina contacted Senior Rights Victoria when she discovered that the new home is actually not in her name but in the name of Christopher and Sophia. In addition, Christopher and Sophia refuse to tell her what has happened to the balance of the money from the sale of her inner Melbourne property. She is aware that it sold for considerably more than the purchase price of the new house.

SRV wrote to Christopher and Sophia and asked them to provide accounts for the sale of Christina’s home. In the meantime, Sophia tried to organise care workers to assist Christina. The care workers are concerned about Christina’s relationship with her children and fear she is vulnerable to ongoing abuse.

A psychologist examines Christina. There are, however, difficulties with the assessment as:

  • Christina is not well on the day of the assessment
  • the interpreter engaged to communicate with Christina does not speak her dialect, and
  • her daughter, Sophia, is present during the assessment.

Involvement of VCAT

The psychologist recommends that an application be made to the Victorian and Civil Administration Tribunal (VCAT) for the appointment of an administrator to manage Christina’s financial and legal affairs. Christina does not want this to occur. SRV represented Christina at the hearing, arguing that the psychological assessment did not take into account Christina’s cultural and educational background. SRV sought a new assessment where Christina could communicate effectively and her cultural and educational background could be properly considered. On Christina’s behalf, SRV also seek financial details about the sale of the inner Melbourne home from the Attorneys under the Power of Attorney Act Vic 2014.

At the first hearing, Christopher and Sophia resign as Attorneys. No administrator is appointed and the Attorneys are ordered to provide detailed financial information about Christina’s finances with particular attention to the sale of Christina’s inner Melbourne home.

At a further hearing, SRV sought an order for compensation on behalf of Christina. The compensation sought includes the transfer of the house from Christopher and Sophia to Christina and the repayment of $120,000, the remaining proceeds of the sale. The matter is adjourned to enable discussions to take place between the parties. After the hearing, Christopher and Sophia agreed to transfer the property to Christina but refused to repay the remaining proceeds of sale. SRV brought the matter back to VCAT for a further and final hearing, at which VCAT ordered Christopher and Sophia to compensate Christina in the sum of $100,000.

Powers of Attorney: Law reform moves in the Power of Attorney arena

Dr Patterson is pictured, right front row seated, with roundtable participants and SRV staff.

There has been an increasing push in recent years towards a national harmonisation of Powers of Attorney across Australia, as well as the establishment of a national register for Powers of Attorney. This is something that Seniors Rights Victoria has supported for some time and included in its submission to the 2017 Australian Law Reform Commission’s report into Elder Abuse.

More recently, the Victorian Office of the Public Advocate, on behalf of the Australian Guardianship and Administration Council, produced an Options paper in December 2018 on this very issue.

There are two aspects to the call for change.

  1. The introduction of a national register for all Powers of Attorney (POA). A register system provides a reliable means for third parties to quickly and easily verify that a POA is current and valid. This is a significant step in preventing a POA being used as an instrument of financial abuse. The Australian Banking Association, amongst others, strongly support a national register.
  2. A single, uniform form across all Australian jurisdictions. The Law Institute of Victoria argue that this will facilitate increased familiarity and understanding among all parties (particularly third parties) of the nature and scope of POAs, allowing them to more easily identify who can do what, and when.

The call for change in this area has again been made, at the SRV’s Elder Abuse Roundtable. The Roundtable meetings are attended by organisations including the National Ageing Research Institute, Victoria Police, Eastern Community Legal Service, Pronia, Transgender Victoria, Office of the Public Advocate, No To Violence, Better Place Australia, and Elder Rights Advocacy.

At the August meeting, the Age Discrimination Commissioner, the Hon Dr Kay Patterson AO, was a guest. She told participants that greater harmonisation of state and territory government laws relating to Powers of Attorney would help prevent elder abuse. She also said that despite the difficulties in achieving harmonisation, implementation of harmonisation would also increase community awareness about elder abuse.

SRV continues its advocacy in this area, writing to the Victorian Attorney-General Jill Hennessy earlier this year, urging her to consider the evidence-based benefits of harmonising laws and practices in this area, and to support this challenging but important reform.

In addition, SRV, in its role as co-convenor of the Older Persons Legal Services Network, drafted a letter on behalf of the network to the Federal Attorney-General, Christian Porter. We noted the benefits of the proposed changes for older people who want support and safeguarding regarding financial decision-making and asked him to support the necessary reforms in this area. The Older Persons Legal Services Network is an informal network of community legal centres from around Australia that work in the areas of elder abuse and legal issues that have a particular impact on older people.

Powers of Attorney: Seniors Rights Victoria’s project with Dementia Australia

Thoughtfully prepared Powers of Attorney can reduce the risk of elder abuse for people living with dementia.

Late last year, Seniors Rights Victoria (SRV) partnered with Dementia Australia (DA) to develop a project which aimed to prevent elder abuse occurring for a particularly high risk group of older people – being those living with dementia. Upon receiving a grant of funding for the project, SRV then worked with DA to provide one-hour community legal information sessions to over 150 people across Victoria who were newly diagnosed with dementia, and their families and friends.

SRV advocate Mandy Walmsley and lawyers Melanie Perkins presented the sessions. They spoke about the benefits of having a Power of Attorney (POA). They said that POAs did not always have to be standardised, but could be tailored to an individual’s circumstances. As an added component of the program, SRV offered to prepare individualised POAs for participants in one-on-one appointments.

‘One critical thing we talk about in the sessions is, regardless of whether they have a POA or not, is how important it is for people to have conversations with their families and friends about what they want and don’t want,’ Mandy said.

‘If those conversations have occurred, it is much more likely that if a person loses capacity to make decisions for themselves, the decisions that are made for them are decisions that they would have chosen to make for themselves.

Melanie said that the legislation around Powers of Attorney provided additional protection.

‘If the worst does occur, and an Attorney makes bad financial decisions or there is misappropriation of money, having a POA means there is the possibility of compensation under the relevant legislation,’ she said. ‘This protection doesn’t exist if you just give someone access to internet banking to help you pay your bills.’

‘People who have been diagnosed with dementia understandably focus on their health.  These sessions help people living with dementia to also consider legal implications and to plan for the future.’

An advocate and lawyer from SRV and a counsellor from DA facilitated all the sessions.

‘This ensured the legal information given was based on therapeutic principles and an empowerment approach, including the provision of support for non-legal but associated issues facing the individual,’ Mandy said. ‘It also allowed for screening for elder abuse.’

The sessions were delivered between February and August in locations including Frankston, Rosebud, Ballarat and Geelong.

The partnership was funded by the Victorian Government’s Integrated Services Fund, through the Federation of Community Legal Centres Vic.

SRV were very pleased to be awarded a second year of funding for the 2020 year. While continuing our work with Dementia Australia, the aim is to extend the program to culturally and linguistically diverse people living with dementia, their carers, family and friends.

‘We aim to deliver a further 22 sessions in partnership with Dementia Australia later this year and early next year,’ Melanie says.

Central Highlands Elder Abuse Prevention Network based at Ballarat Community Health Services

Conversation seeds project

Caption: SRV Community Education Coordinator Gary Ferguson, standing back row, with the Central Highlands Elder Abuse Prevention Network based at Ballarat Community Health Services

The idea that from little things, big things grow is the foundation of a ‘conversation- seeding’ program tackling elder abuse. The program is working with older Victorians to help them increase community dialogue about ageing, and how ageism may lead to elder abuse.

SRV Community Education Coordinator Gary Ferguson said that there is little public discussion about these important issues.

In 2008, the Victorian Government identified that seniors could play a significant role in generating discussion, if they were skilled up. Those most likely to do this were highly able and willing to take action and were referred to as ‘ambassadors’.

‘By training seniors to generate discussion, we build capacity in the community to spread key messages,’ Gary said.

Six training programs have been delivered under the Conversation Seeds pilot. This includes one to a culturally and linguistically diverse group through Southern Migrant and Refugee Centre in Dandenong.

‘The most critical aspect of the training is to recruit key community informants, who are well connected and committed to having conversations within their networks, once they’ve completed the training,’ Gary said.

In September, training was delivered in collaboration with the Central Highlands Elder Abuse Prevention Network based at Ballarat Community Health Services. Those attending came from seniors’ groups as well as agencies and organisations from across the region. Some of those who attended will return for a follow-up training session in which they can demonstrate a conversation in front of a group and receive feedback. The Conversation Seeds Resource Guide is provided to each of those who complete the training and

Older women and intimate partner violence

Seniors Rights Victoria has been contracted by Our Watch to consult with a wide array of organisations on the issue of older women who experience intimate partner violence.

Our Watch is a national organisation that has been established to drive nation-wide community change to prevent violence against women and their children. This project, which has been funded by the Victorian Government, seeks to build knowledge around how gender inequality and ageism intersect to impact older women who experience intimate partner violence.

Many activities in the family violence sector are aimed at preventing violence against women and children as acknowledged groups of high need. It has also become increasingly apparent, however, that older women may need more focused or specialised support and prevention activities that properly consider their situation. This includes a consideration of how older women might be affected by age-related illnesses, restricted income if no longer working, and different generational understandings of family violence.

SRV will consult with key stakeholders and practitioners in the family violence, ageing, health and legal sectors to better understand the nuances of older women who experience intimate partner violence, whether in a long-term or recent relationship. The consultation will consider issues such as stereotypes related to ageing and/or to marriage and relationships, as well as seeking to better understand the experiences of older Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, women from a migrant background and women from the LGBTI communities.

The knowledge gained through the consultation process will be used by Our Watch to develop a workforce capability tool and to assist in the creation of effective primary prevention activities.

6th National Elder Abuse Conference

Seven delegates from Seniors Rights Victoria and other COTA Victoria programs 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, where she talked about research on Elder Abuse Prevention Networks in Victoria. For more information read the article on Research puts spotlight on community solutions.

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, 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.

Cover of Older Better Together report

Research puts spotlight on community solutions

Ten primary Elder Abuse Prevention Networks have been established in regional and metropolitan areas across Victoria. The networks aim to raise awareness and change attitudes towards elder abuse across the community. During 2018, Seniors Rights Victoria and consultants Think Impact conducted action research in conjunction with five of the networks. The research examined:

  • community perceptions of the drivers of elder abuse
  • how networks connect with their communities
  • activities they are conducting.

The research report, Older, Better, Together: A network approach to preventing elder abuse before it happens, is now available online. The summary booklet that includes recommendations for action can be downloaded or order a printed copy from Seniors Rights Victoria.

The report identifies community understanding of the drivers of elder abuse including:

  • perceived or real diminished capacity
  • isolation or lack of connection
  • the on-going parent-child dynamic
  • undervaluing of and lack of support for carer relationships.

Networks have operated in different ways to involve community groups and services – including schools, TAFE, police, health centres, sporting clubs and social groups for different CALD communities. They have conducted awareness raising and education for professionals and used Facebook and local media to connect with older people and present positive images of older people.

The report identifies some poorly understood areas including:

  • experience of LGBTI communities in relation to elder abuse
  • lack of acknowledgement and understanding of sexual abuse of older women
  • lack of services available for older people experiencing elder abuse in rural and regional areas
  • the need to involve local businesses that come into contact with older people.

The research highlights the importance of continuing to explore creative, multi-generational approaches to gain attention and achieve a whole of community approach to preventing elder abuse.