BILL: Safeguarding South Australians from elder abuse

Mark today spoke in strong support of the Government's Bill to establish an adult safeguarding unit within the Office for the Ageing which will be responsible for responding to reports of abuse, neglect or mistreatment of vulnerable adults.


Office of the Ageing (Adult Safeguarding) Amendment Bill

The Greens are pleased to support the second reading of the bill, which implements a number of the recommendations from a parliamentary joint committee that reported back in October 2017. In particular, the bill gives effect to recommendation No. 4, which I will take a moment to read on to the record. Recommendation No. 4 of the report of the Joint Committee on Matters Relating to Elder Abuse states:

The Committee calls on the South Australian Government to introduce a Bill to develop a new South Australian Adult Protection Act, a key recommendation of the Closing the Gaps Report of 2011 and recommended in evidence to the Committee by Professor Wendy Lacey. The Bill to be developed in consultation with Professor Lacey; South Australia’s Public Advocate; the Public Trustee; the South Australian Legal Services Commission; and other stakeholders as invited by the South Australian Government.

We are pleased to see that the bill has, in fact, been prepared in consultation. We note that the government worked with Professor Wendy Lacey, who is one of the state's most authoritative experts on elder abuse and, more importantly, on legislative responses to elder abuse. The bill establishes an adult safeguarding unit within the Office for the Ageing in the Department of Health and Wellbeing. The unit has a range of powers and responsibilities for responding to reports of abuse, neglect or mistreatment of vulnerable adults. We note that the opposition has a number of amendments on file, which go to the independence of the unit, but we will have a look at those amendments and decide whether or not to support them when we get into committee. We do not have a view on them at this early stage.

The importance of the bill was reinforced as recently as Monday night, when the ABC's Four Corners program went to air. I understand it was the first of the two-part series. I expect we will see the second part next Monday night. What the Four Corners report showed was that South Australia is not the only jurisdiction to have had problems with its aged-care system. Certainly, words like 'Oakden' have become part of the common language of South Australia. When you say that word, everyone knows what you mean and that we are talking about some horrendous abuse in a state-run facility, but South Australia is not the only state. That does not excuse anything that has happened and it does not relieve us of our responsibility to fix the situation, but it just shows that this is in fact a national problem, and I commend the ABC for raising it to a national audience.

We also had the announcement on the weekend by the Prime Minister that there will be a royal commission into aged care in Australia. If previous royal commissions are anything to go by, there will no doubt be many more exposes and scandals as a result of that inquiry and that those incidents will shock and appal us and they will invite even more legislative intervention. That raises the issue of the bill before us, and I am pleased that the bill does have a review clause embedded in it. If there had not been one then there are a number of members of this chamber who regularly insert review clauses into legislation, but I know the act is to be reviewed in three years. My guess is that that timing might be just about right in terms of the royal commission.

When we think of how long it will take to establish, I understand the terms of reference are not even finalised, but it will take some time to establish. We are talking about a nationwide issue that affects millions of Australians, so I expect the evidence will take some time to hear. My expectation is that around the time that the parliament is reviewing this legislation we will probably also have available to us recommendations from the national royal commission into aged care. I expect that further reforms will be required then.

The fact of there being a national inquiry underway is no reason for us to delay action now, so the Greens are supportive of the bill. We look forward to the unit being established. We look forward to the speedy passage of the bill and we will deal with the amendments when we get into committee.