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Amendment offers elder abuse safeguard for vulnerable South Australians

South Australia is working to right its wrongs when it comes to elder abuse following a horrific 12 months in the spotlight, with the introduction of landmark legislation through State Parliament.

South Australia may soon have an Adult Safeguarding Unit if the Office for the Ageing (Adult Safeguarding) Amendment Bill 2018 is passed (Source: Shutterstock)
South Australia may soon have an Adult Safeguarding Unit if the Office for the Ageing (Adult Safeguarding) Amendment Bill 2018 is passed (Source: Shutterstock)

The Office for the Ageing (Adult Safeguarding) Amendment Bill 2018, which was put forward for consideration on 20 June, is the first of its kind in Australia, offering protection to adults who are vulnerable to abuse and neglect, with the introduction of an Adult Safeguarding Unit.

State Minister for Health and Wellbeing, Stephen Wade, says the legislation introduced by the State Government is in direct response to issues identified in the Oakden Older Persons Mental Health Service, and will provide much needed safeguards for vulnerable adults.

“The South Australian Government has followed through on its commitment to develop legislation to uphold the rights of vulnerable adults,” Minister Wade explains.

“For the first time, an Adult Safeguarding Unit will be established to make it easier for the community to report suspected or actual cases of abuse or neglect of vulnerable adults.

“Additionally, the Unit will be empowered to investigate issues and to request information from Government and non-Government organisations.

“Working closely with South Australian Police, its key focus will be to minimise harm through early intervention, multiagency coordination and information-sharing.”

He adds that the new Adult Safeguarding Unit will “simplify escalation processes” and benefit the wider community.

“In the past in South Australia, we have seen some of the worst cases of abuse in vulnerable people, and we never want to see that repeated,” Minister Wade says.

“We understand that vulnerable adults may feel uncomfortable contacting the police regarding matters that involve their family or friends.

“The legislation will ensure people with decision making capacity have the clear right to refuse support and assistance, which will protect privacy and guard against unwanted intrusion.”

Peak advocacy body for older South Australians, Council on the Ageing South Australia (COTA SA), has welcomed the Amendment Bill, with Chief Executive Jane Mussared applauding Minister Wade for his urgency in introducing the Bill within 100 days and, in doing so, leading Australia in addressing the gaps in the safeguarding of vulnerable adults.

“We are pleased to see such urgent, concrete and significant steps taken to protect vulnerable adults through this Bill, addressing existing shortcomings in the system to combat elder abuse,” Ms Mussared says.

“We like the principles and particularly support the emphasis on safeguarding being offered within the overriding right of all adults to make their own decisions.

“Everyone has the right to feel safe and be protected from abuse - be it financial, emotional or physical - and recent events, including those experienced at Oakden, have shown that there have been shortcomings in upholding this basic human right to older South Australians.

“We must act urgently to change this.”

The legislation, which was developed after broad consultation and based on the recommendations of national and state inquiries, will be supported by the development of new regulations and Code of Practice, in further consultation with vulnerable adults, carers, families and stakeholder organisations.

The Amendment Bill also includes the change of name of the Office for the Ageing to the Office for Ageing Well, with the legislation set to commence in 2019 following its passage through Parliament.

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