Responding to elder abuse

Budget Review 2018–19 Index

Kaushik Ramesh

More Choices for a Longer Life—protecting older Australians

The Budget contains a range of measures under the umbrella of the ‘More Choices for a Longer Life’ package aimed at ‘maximis[ing] the opportunities that a longer life brings’.[1] The package recognises:

Australians are now expected to live almost 10 years longer than they were 50 years ago, with our life expectancy now fifth highest in the OECD. This is a remarkable achievement. To make the most of the opportunities a longer life provides, Australians need to prepare early to be healthy, independent, connected and safe.[2]

As part of this suite of measures, the Government has committed $22.0 million over five years from 2017–18 to respond to elder abuse and protect the rights of older Australians. This element of the package comes within the responsibility of the Attorney-General’s portfolio.[3]

The total proposed expenditure on the measure is set out in Table 1.

Table 1: Expense measure: More choices for a Longer Life – protecting older Australians

Expense ($m) 2017–18 2018–19 2019–20 2020–21 2021–22
Administered - 2.5 5.2 5.3 5.3
Departmental –6.0 0.5 3.1 3.1 3.1
Total –6.0 3.0 8.2 8.3 8.4

Source: Australian Government, Portfolio budget statements 2018–19: budget related paper no. 1.2: Attorney-General’s Portfolio, p. 13.

Elder Abuse Report

The ‘More Choices for a Longer Life – protecting older Australians’ measure responds to the Australian Law Reform Commission’s (ALRC) report Elder Abuse – A National Legal Response (Elder Abuse Report).[4] The terms of reference for the inquiry provided by then Attorney-General Senator Brandis asked the ALRC to consider:

  • existing Commonwealth laws and legal frameworks which protect elder persons from abuse by carers, supporters and representatives, including regulation of financial institutions, superannuation, social security, health and living and care arrangements and
  • the interaction and relationship of relevant Commonwealth laws with state and territory laws.[5]

The Elder Abuse Report made 43 recommendations aimed at safeguarding ‘older people from abuse and support[ing] their choices and wishes’.[6] These recommendations included:

  • developing, in conjunction with the states and territories, a National Plan to combat elder abuse that will promote the autonomy of older people, address ageism, achieve national consistency and safeguard at-risk adults[7]
  • conducting a national prevalence study of elder abuse to build an evidence base ahead of formulating policy[8]
  • establishing a national online register of enduring documents, and court and tribunal appointments of guardians and financial administrators[9] and
  • developing national, best practice guidelines for legal practitioners in relation to the preparation and execution of wills to cover matters such as elder abuse.[10]

Policies under the ‘More Choices for a Longer Life – protecting older Australians’ measure

The $22.0 million funding provided to the Attorney-General’s Department will support:

  • expansion and evaluation of support service trials such as:
    • specialist elder abuse units in legal services
    • health-justice partnerships and
    • family counselling and mediation services
  • an Elder Abuse Knowledge Hub
  • a National Prevalence Research scoping study and
  • development of a National Plan to address elder abuse.[11]

The funding provided in the 2018–19 Budget builds on $15 million committed by the Government in the 2016–17 MYEFO in fulfilment of a 2016 election commitment.[12]

Elder Abuse Knowledge Hub and National Prevalence Research scoping study

The proposed Elder Abuse Knowledge Hub will be ‘an online gateway raising awareness and providing information and training materials for the public and professionals about preventing and responding to elder abuse’.[13] The National Prevalence Research scoping study, being conducted by the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS), seeks to ‘better understand the nature, scale and scope’ of elder abuse in Australia.[14]

National Plan to address elder abuse

On 20 February 2018, the Attorney-General, Christian Porter, announced that a National Plan would be developed in conjunction with state and territories Attorneys-General.[15] Mr Porter stated that, in line with the recommendations of the Elder Abuse Report, the National Plan will have five goals:

  • promoting the autonomy and agency of older people
  • addressing ageism and promoting community understanding of elder abuse
  • achieving national consistency
  • safeguarding at-risk older people and improving responses
  • building the evidence basis.[16]

Mr Porter also noted that the study conducted by the AIFS would provide the evidence base to ensure that the National Plan provides appropriate frameworks and strategies to respond to elder abuse.[17]

Support services

The Elder Abuse Report provides examples of the types of services that may be evaluated under the support service trials. These include health-justice partnerships where legal services are embedded in a health service, which can involve locating a lawyer at a health service or hospital, and training health professionals on legal issues.[18] Such partnerships are being trialled or developed in a number of places around Australia, including through Townsville Community Legal Services and Townsville Hospital, and in Caulfield and Footscray in Victoria.[19]

National Register for Enduring Powers of Attorney

The Budget papers advise that the Government ‘will work with the states and territories to develop a nationally consistent legal framework and establish a National Register of Enduring Powers of Attorney’.[20] The expenditure required for this process has been accounted for in the Budget, but has not been published as the outcome of negotiations with the states and territories is still pending.[21]

The commitment to create this register responds to the Elder Abuse Report’s recommendation.[22] The ALRC accepted that abuse of enduring documents was occurring and ‘the extent of the powers granted by enduring documents means that any abuse is often relatively serious in its financial impact’.[23] Accordingly, the ALRC recommended a register where only one enduring document of a particular type (financial or personal) could be registered at a time so that documents are properly revoked and revoked instruments cannot be used.[24]

Stakeholder reaction

The Law Council of Australia (LCA) welcomed the budget measure, commenting that it had ‘long urged’ the Government to develop a National Plan and a National Prevalence study on elder abuse.[25]

National Seniors Australia welcomed the ‘commitment to tackling the issue of elder abuse’, but stated that it ‘will be looking for ongoing funding from the Federal Government for specialist elder abuse support services beyond the trial period’.[26]

COTA Australia stated:

We welcome additional funds for elder abuse initiatives and the Federal Government taking leadership in the development of a national framework and approach, including a national register of enduring powers of attorney.[27]

[1].          Australian Government, Budget strategy and outlook: budget paper no. 1: 2018–19, p. 1-24.

[2].          Australian Government, More Choices for a Longer Life, Budget 2018 fact sheet, 2018.

[3].          Australian Government, Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2018–19, p. 76.  

[4].          Budget paper no. 1, op. cit., p. 1-26; Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC), Elder abuse - a national legal response: final report, 131, ALRC, Sydney, May 2017.

[5].          Ibid., p. 5.

[6].          Ibid., p. 28. 

[7].          Ibid., p. 9.

[8].          Ibid.

[9].          Ibid., p. 12.

[10].       Ibid., p. 14. 

[11].       Budget paper no. 2, op. cit., pp. 76-77.

[12].       Australian Government, Mid-year economic and fiscal outlook 2016–17, p. 136; Budget paper no. 2, op. cit., p. 77; Liberal Party of Australia, Election 2016: Protecting the rights of older Australians, Coalition policy document, Election 2016.

[13].       G Brandis (Attorney-General), International Day of Older Persons - supporting older Australians, media release, 1 October 2017; see also Liberal Party of Australia, Election 2016: Protecting the rights of older Australians, op. cit. 

[14].       Ibid.

[15].       C Porter (Attorney-General), National plan to address elder abuse, media release, 20 February 2018. 

[16].       Ibid.

[17].       Ibid.

[18].       ALRC, Elder abuse, op. cit., p. 337. 

[19].       Ibid., p. 339.

[20].       Budget paper no. 2, op. cit., p. 77.

[21].       Ibid.

[22].       ALRC, Elder abuse, op. cit., p. 12.

[23].       Ibid., pp 181-182.

[24].       Ibid., p. 182.

[25].       Law Council of Australia, Budget boost to counter elder abuse welcome, but greater funding required to end justice crisis, media release, 8 May 2018.

[26].       National Seniors Australia (NSA), ‘The highs and lows of the "Baby Boomer budget"’, NSA website.

[27].       COTA Australia, Federal Budget 2018 – welcome commitment to better planning for an ageing population and aged care, media release, 8 May 2018.


All online articles accessed May 2018.

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