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Protecting elders from abuse in care

Adjournment

Tania MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (18:55): (1987)

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

On October 28 last year I raised an important adjournment matter concerning reports that abuse of residents by staff who commit a sexual assault could possibly be classified as non-urgent. This adjournment is still to be answered.

On June 14 — the day before World Elder Abuse Awareness Day — the campaign called #ReadyToListen was launched for 2022.

#Ready to Listen is aimed at building the skills and capacity of residential aged-care service providers so they can better respond to, and prevent, sexual assault in residential aged-care settings. Maria Berry, from the Older Persons Advocacy Network, is a loud and proud advocate for the rights and needs of older people in our communities. OPAN is one of the leaders of the #Ready to Listen project in partnership with Celebrate Ageing and the Older Women’s Network in New South Wales.

The statistic that 50 sexual assaults occur in residential aged care in Australia every week is horrifying. The fact that little has improved since the royal commission into aged care quality and safety (in 2021) continues the assessment of this issue as a source of national shame—and I am ashamed of this statistic for our older people. I am angry, and I fear for those who are vulnerable in settings where they deserve nothing but compassion, respect and safety.

When I raised this issue in October last year I noted a KPMG 2019 study found that almost 60 per cent of aged care staff considered a sexual assault survivor had experienced no physical or psychological impact after being raped or sexually assaulted. In one-third of cases incidents were resolved without any formal intervention.

The serious incident response scheme came into effect in April 2021 and requires every residential aged care service to have in place an effective incident management system for eight types of reportable incidents. This includes the use of unreasonable force, unlawful or inappropriate sexual contact and psychological or emotional abuse. It concerns me that the regulator asks staff to determine the impact on the victim and whether there are reasonable grounds to report an incident to police. This could mean that if staff deemed it to have no impact sexual assault might not be reported for 30 days or reported to police at all.

Victoria’s public health system is the largest provider of public sector residential aged care in the nation, and nearly 90 per cent of these homes are in regional and areas. As a leading provider the state government should be a model provider in leading the way and providing quality care that ensures the safety of residents. That includes ensuring that protective measures are in place to minimise the risk of sexual abuse and ensuring appropriate trauma-informed responses are there when required.

Hold everyone in Parliament to the same standard

Notice of motion

March 22, 2022

Tania MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (12:39):

Mr President, on the next day of sitting, I will move:

That this House —

(1) acknowledges the unacceptable history of bullying and harassment in workplaces;

(2) understands the important role the Victorian Parliament can play as an exemplar of best practice in the prevention and response to bullying, sexual harassment and sexual assault in workplaces;

(3) recognises that the Victorian Parliament is a workplace for Members of Parliament, electorate officers, parliamentary advisers, ministerial staff, parliamentary officers and precinct employees and contractors;

(4) directs the Presiding Officers to jointly write to the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commissioner requesting that the Commission inquire into and report to the Presiding Officers on —

(a) the adequacy of existing laws, policies, structures and complaint mechanisms relating to bullying and harassment in the Victorian Parliament;

(b) improvements that may be made to existing laws, policies, structures and complaint mechanisms relating to bullying and harassment in the Victorian Parliament;

(c) whether an independent complaints body should be established to provide a mechanism to manage and respond to complaints about bullying and harassment within the Victorian Parliament, in the context of a confidential and supportive environment;

(5) requires the Commissioner to commence such an inquiry by consulting with the following employers affected by these terms of reference —

(a) Presiding Officers;

(b) Clerk of the Legislative Assembly;

(c) Clerk of the Legislative Council;

(d) Secretary of the Department of Parliamentary Services;

(e) Parliamentary Budget Officer;

(f) Executive Government;

(g) any other relevant employers identified by the Commissioner;

(6) requires the Presiding Officers to table the report in both Houses of Parliament;

and requests the agreement of the Legislative Assembly to the terms of this resolution.

Tania Maxwell moves to make Parliament a safer workplace

Media statement

March 22, 2022

Tania Maxwell MP wants major party and cross bench support for a Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission inquiry into workplace safety in Victoria’s Parliament.

The Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party Member for Northern Victoria will put a motion to the Legislative Council tomorrow that would direct Parliament’s presiding officers, with the agreement of both houses, to ask the commission to establish the review.

“The Victorian Parliament has an important role to play as an exemplar of best practice in the prevention of, and response to, bullying, sexual harassment and sexual assault in workplaces,” Ms Maxwell said.

“But we’re out of step with the community’s rightful expectations in 2022.

“Victoria’s code of conduct for ministers is dead-silent on these issues.

“And so is the Members of Parliament (Standards) Act 1978 which sets out MP responsibilities, and Parliament’s standing orders, which apply only to MPs when they’re inside either of the chambers.

“On the other hand, the codes of conduct for Victorian parliamentary officers and for electorate officers are clear – these staff must follow the spirit and letter of discrimination, harassment, bullying and victimisation laws.

“Yet Parliament is a workplace for MPs, electorate officers, parliamentary advisers, ministerial staff, parliamentary officers, parliamentary precinct employees and contractors.

“There is not a single mechanism for all who work here that ensures we can be held to the same standards of behaviour, that we can be safe, and that an independent workplace standards body is available to deal with complaints free from political interference.

“That’s why I’m moving for the VEOHRC to examine the adequacy of existing laws, policies, structures and complaint mechanisms relating to bullying and harassment in the Victorian Parliament.

“My motion also asks the commission to advise on improvements and the establishment of an independent complaints body to manage and respond to complaints about bullying and harassment within the Parliament in the context of a confidential and supportive environment.”

Ms Maxwell said a proposal flowing from consultation with MPs in 2020 and 2021 to establish a ‘Workplace Standards Commissioner’ appeared to have gone nowhere.

“But such a standards commissioner would have dealt only with complaints about MP behaviour, according to what we were told at the time,” she said.

Motion

That this House —

(1) acknowledges the unacceptable history of bullying and harassment in workplaces;

(2) understands the important role the Victorian Parliament can play as an exemplar of best practice in the prevention and response to bullying, sexual harassment and sexual assault in workplaces;

(3) recognises that the Victorian Parliament is a workplace for Members of Parliament, electorate officers, parliamentary advisers, ministerial staff, parliamentary officers and precinct employees and contractors;

(4) directs the Presiding Officers to jointly write to the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commissioner requesting that the Commission inquire into and report to the Presiding Officers on —

(a) the adequacy of existing laws, policies, structures and complaint mechanisms relating to bullying and harassment in the Victorian Parliament;

(b) improvements that may be made to existing laws, policies, structures and complaint mechanisms relating to bullying and harassment in the Victorian Parliament;

(c) whether an independent complaints body should be established to provide a mechanism to manage and respond to complaints about bullying and harassment within the Victorian Parliament, in the context of a confidential and supportive environment;

(5) requires the Commissioner to commence such an inquiry by consulting with the following employers affected by these terms of reference —

(a) Presiding Officers;

(b) Clerk of the Legislative Assembly;

(c) Clerk of the Legislative Council;

(d) Secretary of the Department of Parliamentary Services;

(e) Parliamentary Budget Officer;

(f) Executive Government;

(g) any other relevant employers identified by the Commissioner;

(6) requires the Presiding Officers to table the report in both Houses of Parliament;

and requests the agreement of the Legislative Assembly to the terms of this Resolution.

This statement was first posted on March 22, 2022, and updated when the Clerk of the Legislative Council recommended changes to the motion ahead of its tabling in the chamber.

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.”

Sexual assault in universities

Ms MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) May 26, 2021: (12:00)

Universities are a hot topic today.

My question is to the Minister for Higher Education, Ms Tierney. It follows journalist Richard Ferguson’s front-page story in the Weekend Australian on 21 May highlighting multiple very serious failures in the University of Queensland’s responses to complaints from students about incidents of stalking and sexual assault committed by someone employed by the university.

Minister, in the wake of these very disturbing revelations, have you asked or would you ask for any form of audit or even an updated assessment of the robustness of the current structures and processes for the reporting and investigation of stalking and sexual misconduct allegations within Victorian universities?

Ms TIERNEY (Western Victoria—Minister for Training and Skills, Minister for Higher Education) (12:01): 

Obviously universities do have their own processes. Of course that does not stop anyone from also reporting incidents to police. There are also support services on campuses to provide counselling and other support mechanisms to victims.

It does not matter whether you are male, female or whatever, the fact of the matter is that there are supports there. But, Ms Maxwell, I do thank you for this question, because it has raised a discussion particularly in my office about whether there is suitable regulation.

I can inform you that the University of Melbourne is undertaking a study at the moment and has written to all staff and students asking for their input. It is my intention once I receive that report to then have a discussion with the vice-chancellors at the vice-chancellors forum about what else might need to be done in this area, so it is a very active topic. It is active in the media, but it is very active in terms of the discussions that are happening with key stakeholders in the sector.

Ms MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (12:03):

Thank you, Minister.

Minister, there has been a considerable amount of anger about the University of Melbourne’s response to recent incidents of sexual assault and harassment. These include its handling of the allegations of serious sexual misconduct upheld in 2019 against its former dean of science Peter Rathjen, who I have mentioned previously in this place. Information about Rathjen’s offending was allegedly not even passed on to the University of Adelaide, where he was vice-chancellor before later leaving the position in disgrace following further sexual misconduct.

So I ask: during this term of Parliament has the Victorian government asked the University of Melbourne to improve its handling of sexual misconduct complaints, including by directing it to comprehensively and publicly respond to the allegations that it failed to disclose the findings against Rathjen to the University of Adelaide?

Ms TIERNEY (Western Victoria—Minister for Training and Skills, Minister for Higher Education) (12:03):

Obviously the safety of students is absolutely paramount, whether they be on university councils, in schools, at TAFEs, wherever—absolutely.

I do have a great personal interest in this area, Ms Maxwell, as you might know, but the fact of the matter is that in terms of my powers, they do not go to operational matters as such. But that is why I am taking a particularly keen interest in the work that the University of Melbourne is undertaking at the moment, and as I said, I look forward to having a wider discussion with the university community about what else can be done and what things might be able to be tightened so that the things that have happened in Queensland and elsewhere cannot happen again.