Wednesday, 24 February 2016
Questions without Notice
Senator Ronaldson, Domestic and Family Violence
My question is to Leader of the Government in the Senate, the Attorney-General, Senator Brandis. This is a very serious issue, and I hope colleagues will resist the temptation to interject. Will the Attorney-General advise the Senate what the government is doing to address the problem of elder abuse and raise community awareness of this important issue?
Mr President, I wonder if I might beg indulgence of the chamber to make a couple of remarks—I know this is a little unusual—before I begin responding to Senator Ronaldson's important question. As honourable senators are aware, Senator Ronaldson announced his intention to resign from the Senate at the end of last year, and this will be his last week among us as a colleague. He has chosen not to give a valedictory speech; I think he has already given one valedictory speech in another place. It may be, I think in fact this is, the very last occasion on which we will have the joy of hearing his rich, deep, reverberant baritone resonate across the chamber. This will be very last occasion on which we will have the pleasure of being enlightened by his penetrating intelligence and wisdom.
Senator Ronaldson has been a very, very well liked senator. He has served with distinction as a minister of the Crown. He has been an important part of the life of this chamber. He has friends from all parties and in every corner of this chamber. He has had a long career—12 years in the House of Representatives and 10 years and eight months in this place—and he has seen more of politics than most do. He has been through the highs and lows. He has borne the lows with dignity and he has enjoyed the highs with grace. Ronno, you have been, if I may say so, a perfect gentleman and a perfect senator, and all of us wish you well in your retirement.
I thank the Senate. I associate the opposition with the remarks made by the Leader of the Government. We have had some ding-dong battles with Senator Ronaldson, but he does understand the difference between what happens inside the chamber and outside it. For that we thank him. I thank him, and we wish him well. He has served the public in many capacities over many years and we wish him all the best for the next stage of his life.
I thank the chamber for its indulgence on this special occasion. The government is taking significant steps to put the rights of older Australians on the national agenda. As part of that, we are recognising and seeking to raise public awareness of the problem of elder abuse, which is a human rights issue and a social problem which should resonate with all of us. Earlier today, in Melbourne, I opened the 4th National Elder Abuse Conference, and I took the opportunity to announce that I have asked the Australian Law Reform Commission to conduct a major inquiry into the laws and frameworks that safeguard older Australians from abuse. That was a reference I sent to the Australian Law Reform Commission yesterday. That inquiry will assist the government in identifying best practices for protecting older Australians, while promoting respect for their rights and choices. I have asked the ALRC to report by May 2017.
I am sure all honourable senators would join me in believing that all Australians have the right to make their own decisions, to live self-determined lives, to live free from indignity, exploitation, violence and abuse, and that those rights do not diminish with age. The abuse of older Australians—psychological abuse, physical abuse and even, on occasion, sexual and financial abuse—is a deep problem for Australian society. It is, as I said a moment ago, an insufficiently appreciated problem. It can be addressed partly through the legal system, but at a deeper level it needs to be addressed by a change of attitudes and a change of culture. That is what the government seeks to lead, and I am sure that in doing so we will have support across party lines.
Senator Ronaldson, today I also released a report by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, which I commissioned last year, which is a scoping study to define the nature and scope of the problem of elder abuse in Australia. The institute examined Australian and overseas research to develop a picture of the nature of the abuse of older people. This work identified elder abuse in financial, physical, sexual and psychological forms. That includes mistreatment and neglect. That report adds to another initiative that the government took, and that is the decision last year to ask the Hon. Susan Ryan AO, the Age Discrimination Commissioner, to conduct an inquiry into employment discrimination against older Australians. Ms Ryan's report is due in May.
Mr President, with your indulgence can I thank the Attorney-General and Senator Wong for their very generous comments. This is the last time I will rise. I did not think it was appropriate to have another valedictory; in fact, it would have been self-indulgent. I wish all colleagues long health, happiness and, certainly on this side, electoral success! Over the last 22 years it has been an extraordinary honour for me to serve my local community, the nation, the parliament—in both chambers—and my party. I thank colleagues most sincerely for your good wishes. And now I had better ask the supplementary question I suppose! Will the Attorney-General outline some of the additional steps the government is taking on the issue of elder abuse?
Senator Ronaldson, in addition to the measures I announced today, the government has of course already engaged in a range of initiatives to respond to this problem. We fund the MoneySmart website, which is maintained by the ACCC; the Aged Care Complaints Commissioner; and a range of community services, including legal services, which provide other avenues of assistance to older persons. These initiatives, together with the ALRC inquiry, the Human Rights Commission inquiry and the Australian Institute of Family Studies scoping study demonstrate the commitment of this government to dealing with and raising the profile of the problem of elder abuse and changing the attitudes and culture of the Australian people to older Australians. Older Australians have the opportunity to live rich and self-determined lives and we must support them in doing so.