Older person abuse demands swift, robust response

November 4, 2021

Tania Maxwell MP has asked Ageing Minister James Merlino MP to detail how staff training and practice in state-managed aged care homes is being strengthened to protect residents from sexual assault and abuse by staff.

The Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party Member for Northern Victoria last week used an adjournment speech in Parliament to raise concerns about a ‘non-urgent’ classification that can be used to define the sexual assault of residents by staff.

“While aged care remains a federal responsibility, Victoria operates Australia’s largest public sector residential aged care service and almost 88 per cent of its facilities are in our regional and rural areas,” Ms Maxwell said.

“The federal government brought forward the Serious Incident Response Scheme (SIRS) because of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety tabled in federal parliament on March 1, this year.

“Since April 1, every aged care service has been required to 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, while priority 2 incidents are 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.”

Ms Maxwell said a study by KPMG in 2019 found that almost 60 per cent of aged care staff considered that a survivor had not experienced any physical or psychological impact after being raped or sexually assaulted.

“In one-third of cases, incidents were resolved without formal intervention,” she said.

“Now, the SIRS 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.

Ms Maxwell said 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 for all workers,” she said.

“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 also raise these concerns to honour and support Maria Berry, who contributes to national change on rural aged care issues in her role as a consumer adviser to the Older Persons Advocacy Network, who does an enormous amount of work in regional Victoria for those in aged care.

“She advocates tirelessly for people living in aged care.”