The Office of the Public Advocate’s recommendations, outlined below, together form a comprehensive strategy to prevent and respond to the abuse, neglect and exploitation of at-risk adults.
It is recommended that the Victorian Government should:
Introduce legislation (adult safeguarding legislation) to establish a new, specialist adult safeguarding function, preferably within an existing agency such as the Office of the Public Advocate. The legislation should:
- enable the agency to receive and assess reports of abuse, neglect and exploitation of at-risk adults via a well-resourced and publicised helpline; undertake investigations; and make and coordinate referrals to other agencies
- be underpinned by human rights principles, including the principles of supported decision-making and informed consent to safeguarding actions, wherever possible
- provide that the functions and powers of the new adult safeguarding agency apply to a specific cohort of at-risk adults who are unable to protect themselves from abuse, neglect and exploitation because of their care and support needs
- provide a broad definition of abuse that captures the type of controlling behaviours commonly exhibited by perpetrators of abuse of at-risk
Amend the Family Violence Protection Act 2008 (Vic) to provide effective protection for at-risk adults. The legislation should:
- specify that residents cohabitating in Supported Disability Accommodation are in ‘family-like relationships’ for the purposes of the Act
- explicitly include behaviours common in cases of violence against at-risk adults, such as making the person dependent on the abuser, isolating the at-risk person from friends and family, and limiting the at-risk adult’s access to services, as forms of family violence and provide examples in the legislation
- ensure that, before making a Family Violence Intervention Order, the court is required to consider whether the respondent can understand the nature and effect of the order and is able to comply with its conditions.
The Victorian Government should negotiate with the Australian Government in relation to the prescription of Australian Government entities as Information Sharing Entities and in respect of the Multi Agency Risk Assessment and Management Framework. Relevant Australian Government entities include the National Disability Insurance Agency, the National Disability Insurance Scheme Quality and Safeguards Commission, and the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission.
Ensure that robust information-sharing arrangements are in place in relation to violence against at-risk adults that are not instances of family violence. This will require, among other actions, amending the Privacy and Data Protection Act 2014 (Vic) and the Health Records Act 2001 (Vic) to (a) clarify that a serious threat to an individual’s life, health, safety or welfare includes a serious threat to the individual’s financial safety or welfare and (b) prescribe development of an education campaign for service providers and financial institutions on appropriate information-sharing.
Make additional legislative reforms to enable a more comprehensive range of responses to at-risk adults, including:
- increasing the age jurisdiction of the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005 (Vic) to under 18 years, to ensure that appropriate safeguarding mechanisms apply to young people aged 17 years old
- granting the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal the power to make a wider range of orders in relation to at-risk adults, as alternatives to guardianship orders, such as:
- entry and assessment orders
- removal and placement orders
- service provision orders
- banning orders
- extending the jurisdiction of the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal under Part IV of the Property Law Act 1958 (Vic) to cover disputes over claims of interests in land that arise in the context of assets for care This would ensure that accessible dispute resolution options are available for older people claiming an interest other than a proprietary interest in the land that is the subject of the dispute (for example, a dispute over a right to reside in the property for the rest of the person claiming the interest’s life)
- in relation to at-risk adults with a decision-making disability, amending the Public Advocate’s existing functions under the Guardianship and Administration Act 2019 (Vic) to:
- give the Public Advocate the function of receiving complaints in relation to the abuse, neglect or exploitation of people with impaired decision-making ability due to a disability, and the misuse of powers by private individuals or organisations appointed to substitute decision-making and supportive decision-making roles
- provide that where the Public Advocate believes that an investigation of these complaints is warranted, she should be able to investigate on her own motion
- enable the Public Advocate, when conducting an investigation, to serve a written notice to a person requiring them to attend a conference and/or provide specified documents, written responses to questions, or other materials relevant to the investigation
- make it an offence for a person to refuse or fail to provide information, or to attend a conference, when directed by the Public Advocate to do so
- permit the Public Advocate to apply to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal or to the Magistrates Court of Victoria for a warrant authorising entry to any premises where she believes that a person with impaired decision-making ability due to a disability is being abused, exploited or neglected.
Develop and implement a statewide strategy and action plan for the prevention of abuse, neglect and exploitation of at-risk adults, building on its Free from Violence and Dignity, Respect and Safer Services abuse prevention strategies.
Ensure that data about the incidence and nature of abuse of at-risk adults is collected and publicly reported.
Build the capacity of mainstream services to identify and respond to the abuse of at-risk adults.
Other options to improve the adult safeguarding system in Victoria are within the remit of the Australian Government and are noted in Chapter 5.