Monday 6 May 2019
Parliament House, 1 Salamanca Place, Hobart, Tasmania.
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COTA Tasmania for inviting me to join you all today. Sue Leitch, COTA Tasmania CEO, for the introduction and you all for taking the time to be here today.
Hon Elise Archer MP, Attorney General
Hon Jacquie Petrusma, Minister for Communities
Acknowledge the Traditional Owners of this land the Muwinina (mou wee nee nar) people and their elders past, present and emerging.
Like most nations around the world, Australia’s population is undergoing a significant shift. We are living much longer. We are also living more years of healthy life.
This is something to be celebrated, as we encourage older people to make the most of these extra years and continue to make important contributions to their families and communities.
But, unfortunately, age discrimination is a real problem in Australia.
Age discrimination can prevent people being able to participate fully in society. It happens in a range of contexts - most commonly workplaces, but also in health care, aged care and within families and local communities.
I have made it a priority to address three major manifestations of age discrimination during my term as Commissioner – elder abuse, older women at risk of homelessness and discrimination against older workers – which I will talk to you about today.
Frameworks preventing age discrimination
Before I turn to my three priority areas, I want to briefly mention the formal frameworks in Australia relevant to age discrimination.
In 2004 the national Age Discrimination Act was passed. That Act makes it unlawful to treat a person unfairly, because of their age, in different areas of public life.
The Australian Human Rights Commission Act allows the Commission to investigate individual complaints of discrimination, including age discrimination.
Some complaint statistics from last year - 8% of all complaints to the Commission related to age discrimination. Nearly 2 out of 3 age discrimination complaints (58%) related to employment, followed by 25% for goods, services and facilities.
My role as Age Discrimination Commissioner is a statutory appointment made under the Age Discrimination Act.
The first Age Discrimination Commissioner was appointed in 2011 and I am the second.
Why does age discrimination matter?
Australians enjoy one of the highest life expectancies in the world. Today, on average, men live to just over 80 years and women live to nearly 85 years, both up 35 years since the 1870s.
Currently there are more than 4,400 centenarians (people aged 100 and over) in Australia.
o In 36 years there will be around 40,000 centenarians. This is a dramatic increase, well over three hundred times the 122 centenarians we had in 1975.
o Australia has produced 23 verified super centenarians (aged 110 or older). The oldest Australian was Christina Cock, who died in 2002 aged 114 years, 148 days.
The physical health of older Australians is also improving and around three in four people aged 65 and over are positive about their health status.
In general older Australians are active and feel optimistic. Three in four of us rate our quality of life as good and we feel positive about what the future holds. But, nearly half feel less valued by society than when they were young.
As we live longer, we need to rethink the life course. As Lynda Gratton and Adam Scott say in their book, The 100-Year Life, we need to look carefully at our finances, our education, our career and our relationships to succeed in creating a fulfilling 100-year life.
As I mentioned earlier, I have made it a priority to address three major manifestations of age discrimination during my term as Commissioner.
One of those is elder abuse.
Elder abuse is any act that causes harm to an older person. It can happen to anyone, regardless of their background or lifestyle.
It may involve taking someone’s money or possessions, not providing necessary care, making threats or stopping an older person’s social contacts, taking their mail for example, as well as physical or sexual abuse.
There is a lack of precise data about the prevalence of elder abuse in Australia. Based on available evidence collated by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, it is likely that between 2% and 14% of older Australians experience elder abuse in any given year.
The actual figures are likely to be higher as, like family violence, elder abuse is hidden and underreported. Older people may also be scared to say something, or they might feel embarrassed – but they shouldn’t because it is not their fault.
Elder abuse takes many forms - psychological abuse, financial abuse, neglect, physical abuse, and sexual abuse.
Most common are psychological abuse, financial abuse.
Older women are more likely to be victims than older men and perpetrators are commonly close family members such as sons and daughters.
It’s not just family members, though. It can be perpetrated by anyone an older person knows and trusts.
o For example, an elderly man was living alone after the death of his wife, so his rear neighbours built a stile over the fence so they could help him – and help themselves to his stuff. Another neighbour saw a ‘for sale’ sign go up and became alarmed. She called the community police who found the man inside ill and emaciated. They got him to hospital but it was too late and he died 5 days later.
We know that risk factors for elder abuse include:
o the changing nature of family structures over time (such as who is caring for whom and expectations between generations)
o financial pressures on children such as rising housing costs leading to so-called ‘inheritance impatience’
o even a desire for ’payback’ by adult children where there has been perceived mistreatment by parents when the kids were younger.
What is happening at the momentElder abuse started to gain recognition as an issue in the 1990s, and has been slowly gaining momentum since then.
Over 50 years ago, when I was studying child development, one of my lecturers was severely criticised by her colleagues for showing us a US 16mm black and white film of children who had been abused. They told us that she was an alarmist and that those sorts of things happened in the US, but not in Australia.
We have since seen how wrong they were. Elder abuse is now at the stage in public awareness and political consciousness that child abuse was at many years ago, and family violence was until relatively recently.
I would say there is now increased interest from governments, rights organisations – such as Advocacy Tasmania - and the community.
So what action is being taken to address the issue of elder abuse?
On a national level, in 2017 the Australian Law Reform Commission released a report on their inquiry into Elder Abuse. There were 43 wide-ranging recommendations, including developing:
o a National Plan to bring together the extensive work of the Commonwealth, and state and territory governments – it was launched in mid March
o It includes a goal for the states and territories to work towards having one document for powers of attorney. This will make it easier to educate people about powers of attorney and to move across borders.
o a central Knowledge Hub for elder abuse information
I am committed to ensure that recommendations from the final report do not sit on the shelf (like so many other reports) but are acted on and implemented.
Other positive initiatives include:
o A new national hotline: 1800 ELDERHelp [1800 353 374]
o A national peak body to address elder abuse – EAAA
o One of the banks, I won’t mention which one!, has developed a booklet to assist older people to protect themselves from financial abuse and scams – Safe and Savvy – available on line and in bank branches now.
o The Australian Government has allocated funding for elder abuse prevention, totalling $37 million ($15 in 2017 Myefo and $18.3 in 2018 Budget). Initiatives include:
Specialist elder abuse lawyers in community legal centres
Health Justice Partnerships – putting lawyers in hospitals and medical settings
Mediation trials as an alternative to courts, such as Relationships Australia and FMC Mediation and Counselling
Elder Abuse Collaboratives and networks
I’d like to spend a little time now looking at ways we can protect ourselves and others from the risk of elder abuse.
Protecting rights & preventing elder abuse
Of course preventing elder abuse is an issue that requires more than just a government and organisational response.
Elder abuse in an ageing world is ‘everyone’s business’.
We should all be informed about elder abuse, take steps to protect ourselves and those around us by knowing how to recognise the risks, respond and take action to prevent it.
We should encourage everyone to make sure their financial affairs are in order and that they have a will that is valid and up-to-date. Around half Australians die without a will, which means they potentially leave a financial mess behind.
A general power of attorney allows you to appoint one or more people to make decisions about financial and property matters on your behalf, for example, so they can pay bills while you are travelling overseas. You can revoke or cancel it anytime you like.
A general power of attorney will only continue until you lose capacity to make your own decisions – for that circumstance, you need an Enduring Power of Attorney.
In Tasmania, your Enduring Power of Attorney has the power to deal with property and financial matters only. It does not give someone the right to make decisions about your lifestyle, medical treatment or welfare – these decisions are covered by Enduring Guardianship.
For help, the Legal Aid Tasmania website provides useful information and factsheets about wills, powers of attorney, and enduring guardianship.
o Call 1300 366 611 or visit the website at https://www.legalaid.tas.gov.au/factsheets/
Ways to protect others from abuse
Stay in touch with friends and family so they don’t feel isolated and you are aware of any concerns they have. Listen to their stories and ask questions if things aren’t clear to you.
Watch for warning signs such as:
o Changes in behaviour
o Stories about money disappearing
o A family member or carer not letting you be alone with the person
o Unusual decisions or changes in their life
There are lots of resources out there – don’t be afraid to ask for help – if you are concerned about yourself or someone else.
If you’re worried, call the Elder Abuse Helpline on 1800 ELDERHelp [1800 353 374].
I will now move on to discuss another of my priority areas – women at risk of homelessness.
The number of women aged 55 and over experiencing homelessness has been increasing.
o In just 5 years, the number of older homeless women has increased by 30% to nearly 7,000 in 2016.
o The number of older women who are couch surfing has risen by 83% in the last four years, and there has been a 75% increase in the number of older women sleeping in cars.
Women’s homelessness is often hidden. We do not tend to see large numbers of women sleeping rough. Women instead stay with friends or family, live in their car, in severely crowded dwellings, under the threat of violence in their home or are physically ‘hiding’.
In addition to these figures, there are women living in marginal housing or in housing stress, who are only an episode or two away from homelessness.
Why are older women at risk?
The older women who are at risk of homelessness have typically spent years caring for children and family, being in and out of work in order to do this. As a result, they are left with little or no super savings (especially the current group of older women for which super did not exist from the beginning of their working lives). Aggravated by the historic gender inequalities they have faced throughout their life course, such as the gender pay gap, older women can find themselves in very precarious housing situations following the death of a spouse, relationship breakdown or loss of job later in life.
“I had a relationship breakup. I lost my job not long after,” one woman in her late 50s explains, “I lost my house because we split up. Financially I could not cope … and I just did not have anywhere to go.”
Sadly, this story is not uncommon, and there are likely many other stories out there hidden and unheard.
There are a range of solutions—from group housing models, to ethical investment frameworks— and I am looking at as many as I can.
It is important for solutions to focus on sustaining long-term housing and financial security for older women, and prevent their savings and superannuation being exhausted through cost of living expenses.
• I am going to move into another priority of mine for my term as Commissioner – reducing ageism in employment and supporting older workers.
Age discrimination in the workplace
At the start of my talk I mentioned the increasing life expectancies of Australians. We are facing the reality of living a 100-year life – and that means having five generations in the workplace.
In my work I’m focusing on addressing the barriers that prevent people working for as long as they wish.
Age discrimination against older workers in Australia remains a significant barrier to employment.
The Australian Human Rights Commission conducted a national inquiry into employment discrimination against older Australians and Australians with disability, called Willing to Work.
The Willing to Work inquiry confirmed the results of our earlier national prevalence survey of age discrimination in the Australian workplace, which reported that one in four (27%) people over the age of 50 had recently experienced age discrimination at work.
I am making it a priority to implement the recommendations of the Willing to Work inquiry report, to educate older workers about their rights, and to educate employers about how to implement better practices and develop greater awareness about the valuable contributions older people can make in the workforce.
How does ageism play out in the workplace?
It’s easy to focus on the problems with so many reports of negative views held about older workers
The Australian Human Rights Commission’s 2013 report, titled Fact or Fiction: Stereotypes of Older Australians, showed widespread prejudiced views about older people as forgetful, short tempered, rigid and backwards looking. It found that many Australians see ageing as an inevitable process of decline, with the result that older people become a burden and a drain on resources.
What I am doing to reduce ageism at work
In 2018 I worked with the Australian Human Resources Institute (AHRI) to carry out a survey of over 900 human resources practitioners.
One of the disturbing things the survey found is a third of organisations are reluctant to hire older workers – for most of them that means workers aged 50 and over.
This year I am continuing to work with AHRI to develop compulsory age awareness training in university courses for young recruiters and HR managers as a requirement for their professional registration.
I have also developed training for managers about ways to leverage the strengths older workers bring to the workplace.
I am also on the steering committee for the EveryAGECounts campaign, which has been initiated by the Benevolent Society to tackle ageism faced by older Australians. Our first in-depth project is ageism in the workplace.
These projects will reduce ageism in employment and I hope will go a long way to eliminating it entirely so that older people can participate in employment and contribute to their families and communities through paid work for as long as they wish.
Conclusion - Recognising the valuable contribution of older people
• Older people make a valuable contribution to our society.
• Older Australians enjoy contributing to their communities and we should recognise their role in building strong and healthy communities. They make an enormous contribution through unpaid caring and voluntary work.
• One in ten people aged 65 and over provides unpaid care to a person with disability.
• One in three people aged 65-74 is a volunteer and rates of volunteering are continuing to rise compared to previous generations.
• The majority of older Australians live independently at home. Only one in four people aged 85 and over live in care accommodation.
• But many also experience financial pressure.
• Around 70 per cent of all Australians aged 65 and over rely on the Age Pension.
• One in five older Australians do not have enough money for leisure and social activities.
• Nearly one in three people retire with no superannuation. Women have on average about half the superannuation of men – just $230,097.
Many people will be faced with working longer, or returning to part-time work after they retire. This is not only for financial reasons, but also because they feel bored and want something challenging to do, or because an interesting opportunity came up.
Increasing paid employment of Australians aged 55 and over by three per cent would add $33 billion to the bottom line of our national economy every year.
That brings me to the end of my discussion of the issues I am focused on in my role as Age Discrimination Commissioner.
As you can see, there is a lot to be done. But since I have been in the role, I have been most encouraged by the tireless work I have seen of many people across the government, the business and community sectors, and the wider community, working to address age discrimination and advancing towards a society where people of all ages are valued and respected.
(Open floor to Q and A)