Mark Dreyfus MP

Member for Isaacs
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7th National Elder Abuse Conference

14 February 2022

To be abused in any way at that time of life—whether it be physical or psychological or sexual or financial abuse, or even just plain neglect—is a shocking violation of what is owed to a generation of Australians who have lived and worked and contributed, and who continue to play a role in the life of the nation and the lives of those who love and care for them.

MARK DREYFUS
SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL
SHADOW MINISTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM
MEMBER FOR ISAACS

7TH NATIONAL ELDER ABUSE CONFERENCE

14 FEBRUARY 2022

It’s a privilege to address you at the National Elder Abuse Conference for 2022.

You’re meeting at the start of a third year of COVID, and perhaps more than anyone else in Australia those of you at the conference today understand the true cost of this disease.

It’s not just the thousands of deaths, many of whom were older Australians

And it’s not just the enormous economic and social cost.

It’s the fact that the many ways in which we as a society were failing our elderly before the pandemic have been made so much worse.

Health vulnerabilities have become more acute. Stresses on the aged care system have become more unsustainable. Isolation and loneliness have increased. Neglect within that system has grown worse. Indeed, ‘Neglect’ was the title of the three-volume interim report of the Royal Commission into Aged Care delivered to this Government in 2019.

And of course, the potential for elder abuse has increased too.

Elder Abuse Action Australia has rightly called this out, and Labor has tried to do the same.

I suppose if there’s anything positive to come out of this time, it’s that it has brought home in such a shocking fashion how we need to do so much better for our elderly.

But what does ‘doing better’ look like? That’s what you’re there today to discuss. But feeding into that discussion, I’m sure, will be the Australian Institute of Family Studies’ National Elder Abuse Prevalence Study, which was released just before Christmas.

We all know the headline figure: Almost one in six older Australians reported abuse in the past 12 months.

And by the way, the study doesn’t cover people in residential aged care settings—the aged care royal commission estimated that up to 40 per cent of them face some form of elder abuse.

And then there’s the fact that almost two thirds of those who were abused did not seek help.

That’s heartbreaking, when you think about it.

Perhaps they thought they couldn’t get help.

Perhaps the abuse was being perpetrated by family members, with all the complexities and conflicts that terrible situation can create.

Perhaps they thought they didn’t have a right to seek help.

And perhaps the deep ageism that permeates every part of our society helped to convince them they should suffer their abuse in silence.

It’s been said many times before but it bears repeating: Unless something goes wrong, we’re all going to get old one day.

And to be abused in any way at that time of life—whether it be physical or psychological or sexual or financial abuse, or even just plain neglect—is a shocking violation of what is owed to a generation of Australians who have lived and worked and contributed, and who continue to play a role in the life of the nation and the lives of those who love and care for them.

We in Labor were very disappointed that the Government took some 8 months to release the National Elder Abuse Prevalence Study—and that they snuck it out on Christmas Eve. (This Government certainly has form when it comes to ignoring reports it has no interest in responding to.)

We were disappointed, but not surprised, as they still hadn’t responded to a 2017 Australian Law Reform Commission report on elder abuse after four years.

I think we as a country can do better than that.

Labor is eager to evaluate the results so far of the 2019 National Plan to Respond to the Abuse of Older Australians. The Prevalence Study suggests the results are very far from what they should be.

And then we need to do more.

In his 2020 Respecting And Valuing Older Australians speech, Anthony Albanese committed to a Positive Ageing Strategy covering everything from retirement incomes to health care, age-friendly urban environments, housing accessibility and quality aged care for older Australians.

I can tell you that we’ll be putting responding to elder abuse right at the heart of that strategy.

We’ve had enough inquiries. It’s time for action. The theme of the National Elder Abuse Conference is Walk The Talk. That’s a good message for Government and for us in Opposition too.

So I hope your conversation today will translate into real action and real change for older Australians.

In fact, I hope that in the very near future a conference on this topic will no longer be necessary.

Thanks for the opportunity to speak to you today and I wish you all the best for the conference.

ENDS