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15 Jun 18 – Interview with Sabra Lane, ABC AM Program

15 June 2018

TRANSCRIPT 15 June 2018


SABRA LANE: Today has been designated World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, to shine a light on the problem of physical, emotional, and financial abuse of elders, as well as their neglect. There aren't accurate figures on how common it is here, but the Council on the Ageing says it is an epidemic. The Federal Government's just committed half-a-million-dollars to a new alliance formed to tackle this problem, and to help come up with solutions in a national plan.

The Australian Banking Association wants governments – plural – to do more, and its chief executive is Anna Bligh. She joins us now. Good morning, and welcome back to the problem, how do you quantify this problem?

ANNA BLIGH: Well, good morning, Sabra. As you said in your opening, elder abuse can take many forms. But it's financial abuse of older Australians that concerns Australian banks, and particularly the staff of those banks, who unfortunately all too often see people who are their customers being pressured to give access to their accounts, all too often see their accounts being drained by family members, by friends that they trust and care about. So, this is a really difficult, complex problem, but there are things that can be done about it.

Australian banks, along with other seniors groups, are calling on the Federal Government to take a number of actions. Firstly, to put in place a national register of powers of attorney, so that bank staff and other organisations can easily determine whether someone who says they have authority to operate your accounts actually has that authority. Secondly, to standardise laws across Australia around powers of attorney. Every state and territory has these laws, but they are different in significant ways, and that makes for a pretty complex system to navigate for staff. But also, the introduction of the appropriate powers to what we call reporting agencies, whether their adult guardians or similar, so that staff who suspect these sorts of things might be happening have got an agency that is able to look at and investigate. The police do have powers in these cases, but I don't think it's hard to understand why an older person who may be at risk from their adult children don't want to take the matter to the police.

SABRA LANE:Let's break some of that down. The Federal Government and state governments are promising action on setting up a national register of enduring powers. But you've, as you just mentioned, you wants authorities set up to investigate abuses. One body or one in each state? And you know, that point that you just referred to – aren't police really the appropriate authority to investigate these sorts of things?

ANNA BLIGH: The police do have the powers in certain cases where there's criminal activities, such as fraud or forgery of signatures, but the police can only take action where the victim themselves is willing to give evidence and be part of that case. And police do take some of these cases and that's a very important part of law enforcement. But these are about very complex family issues and where an older person does not want to take action against a member of their family – particularly their older children – we believe that there are existing agencies in each state where we could be looking at improving the powers of investigation that they have. So as I said, whether it's an adult guardian agency or similar- so this is something that isn't straightforward, but it does need the attention of state and federal attorneys-general. We were very pleased to see this on the agenda last week, when those people met through the COAG process. But there is more to be done and we want to make sure this stays on the agenda because older Australians deserve this kind of protection.

SABRA LANE:Right. If abused elders aren't going to go to police with these problems, what is going to make them go to a state authority on these sorts of problems? It's the same thing, isn't it, really?

ANNA BLIGH: Well, we know that there are some places, Queensland for example, where the adult guardian has some powers that can assist and can help mediate family situations, and in some cases can work with the older person to encourage them and support them to take the action that might be needed through the police and support them to do that. So, these are not easy matters. There's no simple solution, but we believe that as a nation our legal attorneys-general do have the ability to work through these issues and come up with a better system. 
Australian Banking Association, PO Box H218, Australia Square NSW 1215 | +61 2 8298 0417 | ausbanking.org.au 2

SABRA LANE:The Federal Government sounds like it's getting on with this- tackling this problem. Is the Banking Association just trying to piggy back onto this in order to win back public trust, given some of the horrid revelations that we've been hearing about at the Royal Commission?

ANNA BLIGH: Sabra, there is always going to be cynics about these sorts of things, but while the Royal Commission goes on and does it's work, the business of banking has to continue, and all too often the daily reality for some of the staff of Australian banks is that they see their customers, who they've known in many cases of years, at risk or actually being exploited in some shocking ways. Bank staff report case studies that I think would horrify many Australians, where elderly parents have had their family home signed away. Where people have had massive amounts of money taken out of their accounts from gambling by their adult children or for luxurious overseas trips that they don't even know about. And that's- they're important things and bank staff are the ones who often are at the frontline of this issues and on a day like today – Elder Abuse Awareness Day – it's important that the voice of bank staff are heard.

SABRA LANE:Okay. Just on the Royal Commission. How chastened are the banks by the revelations and the public reaction to the evidence that we've been hearing and the clear cultural problems?

ANNA BLIGH: I think it's fair to say that the Hayne Royal Commission is doing an incredibly thorough job and is bringing to light matters which Australian banks understand need to be better addressed [indistinct].

SABRA LANE:[Interrupts] Do they get it?

ANNA BLIGH: Absolutely. Banks get it in the same way as the Australian public have got it in the last couple of years and now through the inquiry. Banks are under no illusions that they've got a long, long road ahead of them to rebuild trust with the Australian community. Some of the things that need to be done are already underway and I have every confidence that the Royal Commission is going to provide further ideas and reforms that will improve banking for every Australian.

SABRA LANE:Anna Bligh, from the Australian Banking Association, thank you very much for joining AM this morning.

ANNA BLIGH: Thank you very much, Sabra.

Contact: Rory Grant 0475 741 007

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