Recruitment of powerful abuse commissioner underway

The NSW government has begun the process of selecting the state’s first Ageing and Disability Commissioner with wide powers to investigate and seize evidence of abuse of vulnerable adults.

The successful candidate will take up office from July.

Gladys Berejiklian
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian

Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced last December that the state government would create a  “powerful and independent” commissioner to stamp out abuse of older people and adults with disability”.

The commissioner will be supported by specialist elder abuse officers in each NSW Police command.

He or she would be able to initiate investigations independently or upon receving a complaint or a referral, and will have power to execute search warrants and seize evidence, the Premier said in December.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Premier and Cabinet told Australian Ageing Agenda on Wednesday applications for the position closed on April 29 and a “merit-based” process to recruit the new commissioner is now underway.

“The new commissioner will start operations from 1 July 2019 to help protect older people and adults with disability in home and community settings,” the spokeswoman said.

“An announcement will be made once a candidate with the right skills, experience, and knowledge has been selected.”

Questions remain

However a parliamentary brief says key questions remain about the new position.

The parliamentary research service report says state and national reviews had identified the limitations of existing agencies in investigating abuse of vulnerable adults.

But the documents notes that important questions remain about the proposed NSW Commissioner, including whether his or her jurisdiction will extend to all “at risk” adult; whether mandatory reporting will apply to specific agencies or individuals and whether the consent of the person involved will be needed for an investigation.

The powers of the commissioner would also need to be considered in the context of so-called adult safeguarding laws where the need to protect a person against harm has to be weighed up against their right to make decisions about their own lives.

Welcomed by consumer advocacy groups

Craig Gear

Craig Gear, CEO of the Older Persons Advocacy Network said OPAN members from South Australia, where the state government has established an Adult Safeguarding Unit, were going through safeguarding provisions with the government.

“Getting it right is very important,” he told Community Care Review. “Getting it to align with the work of the (Aged Care) Quality and Safety Commission is really important and also not to infantalise older people. The powers have to be responsive but carefully considered.”

The Premier’s December 15 announcement came after a number of reviews found evidence of abuse and neglect of vulnerable adults, including older Australians and those with disabilities.

It also followed a recommendation by a parliamentary committee in December to establish a public advocate for people with disability.

Russell Westacott, CEO of the NSW Seniors Rights Service, said the appointment of a commissioner would be a major step forward for the protection of older Australians.

“Seniors Rights service welcomes that fact that we’re going to have a commissioner and we look forward to working with them on various issues in the future,” he said.

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