Protection key to aged care serious incident reporting

Adjournment speech

October 28, 2021

Tania MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (22:07):

My adjournment is to Minister for Disability, Ageing and Carers (Hon. James Merlino MP), and the action I seek is for the minister to detail how training and practice are being strengthened in state-managed aged-care homes in response to the sexual assault and abuse of residents.

I recognise that responsibility for aged care sits largely with the federal government, but I am very concerned by how reports of the abuse of residents by staff who commit sexual assault could possibly be classified as non-urgent.

The serious incident response scheme was brought forward by the federal government because of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety. Every resident in aged-care services must have in place an effective incident management system for eight types of reportable incidents, including the use of unreasonable force, unlawful or inappropriate sexual contact and psychological or emotional abuse.

The scheme requires priority 1 incidents likely to cause psychological or physical injury to be reported to the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission within 24 hours, with priority 2 incidents to be reported within 30 days. What concerns me is that the regulator asks staff to determine the impact on the victim and whether there are reasonable grounds to report an incident to police.

In 2019 a KPMG study found that almost 60 per cent of aged-care staff considered a sexual survivor had experienced no physical or psychological impact after being raped or sexually assaulted. In one-third of cases incidents were resolved without formal intervention. Now, the serious incident response scheme should cover this because sexual assault is a reportable offence, but if staff deem it to have no impact it might not be reported for 30 days or reported to police at all.

The royal commission found that:

Australia’s aged care system is understaffed and the workforce underpaid and undertrained.

It recommended regular training in trauma-informed service delivery for all workers.

I raise this to the state minister because the Victorian public health system is the nation’s largest provider of public sector residential aged care, and more than 89 per cent of these care facilities are in regional and rural areas.

Training is important not only for staff to understand their obligations under this scheme but to improve protective measures so that the incidence of sexual assault and abuse are reduced, not swept under the carpet.

I raise these concerns to actually honour and support Maria Berry, who does an enormous amount of work in regional Victoria for those in aged care. I would like to give her an enormous shout-out, because she has advocated tirelessly for this work and for those in the aged-care sector.

Cover image: Office of Women’s Health