12 March 2024

Ms JODIE HARRISON (Charlestown—Minister for Women, Minister for Seniors, and Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault) (16:56): I contribute to the debate on the Ageing and Disability Commissioner Amendment Bill 2023. I contribute both as the member for Charlestown and the Minister for Seniors. The Government values the work of the Ageing and Disability Commission. It is a sad fact of life that seniors and people with disability in our community are particularly vulnerable to suffering abuse, neglect and exploitation. When perpetrators take advantage of older Australians and people with disability, they do so with the knowledge that their victim has limited to no capacity to defend themselves. The Ageing and Disability Commission is there as an advocate for those vulnerable cohorts and is doing outstanding work to protect their interests.

The commission is responsible for a range of functions including responding to reports of abuse; neglect and exploitation of adults with disability and seniors; inquiring into and reporting on systemic issues relating to the rights of adults with disability and seniors; taking action to protect adults with disability and seniors including by making application to the court in respect of the adult; consulting with the Ageing and Disability Advisory Board on matters relating to abuse, neglect and exploitation of adults with disability and seniors; raising awareness about abuse, neglect and exploitation of adults with disability and seniors; coordinating the Official Community Visitor scheme in settings where adults with disability and seniors are in full-time care of service providers; and monitoring, assessing and reporting on the implementation of Australia's disability strategy in New South Wales. As Minister for Seniors I want to see the Ageing and Disability Commission empowered to safeguard older adults and adults with disability to the best of its ability. I am proud to be part of this New South Wales Labor Government, working to strengthen the institution in the future. I congratulate the Minister for Disability Inclusion on the work that she is leading in this space.

As the House is aware, Alan Cameron, AO, led a review into the Ageing and Disability Commissioner Act. The review was tabled in Parliament on 25 May 2023. The review was conducted in line with section 36 of the Act to ensure policy objectives of the Act remain valid and the terms of the Act remain appropriate. The process included consultation with a broad range of stakeholders adding their input to the review including people with lived experience of ageing and disability and their families and carers, agencies representing seniors and people with disability, agencies representing vulnerable and disadvantaged ageing and disability population groups—for example, Aboriginal, CALD, regional, rural and remote and LGBTQI+ people, ageing and disability community service providers and the general public. Submissions were considered by organisations, including Carers NSW, Law Society of New South Wales, Disability Council NSW, Council for Intellectual Disability, Combined Pensioners and Superannuants Association, and more. The review considered 17 submissions from individuals and organisations in response to the discussion paper issued as part of the public consultation. It also considered five submissions to an online survey and three reports from focus groups conducted with people with lived experience of ageing and disability.

Having outlined a broader level of consultation, I now touch on some of the findings to flow from the review. A key issue was whether the commissioner should remain mandated to refer reports of abuse, neglect and exploitation to other agencies, like police. It is about mandating that referral. The review noted that New South Wales was the only jurisdiction to have mandatory referral requirements while other jurisdictions do not specify this in legislation or the legislation says they may refer to other bodies. While there were some mixed views on this, the mandated requirement has led to some cases being reported to police against the wishes of the adult. Accordingly, the review recommended that the commissioner should instead exercise discretion as to whether to refer reports to other agencies. This will bring New South Wales into line with other jurisdictions and ensure that the commissioner can have confidence that they are acting in line with the wishes of the adult.