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.