Under the new laws, perpetrators can be jailed for a maximum of three years
Maurice Blackburn has welcomed the recent implementation of the Crimes (Offences Against Vulnerable People) Legislation Amendment Act by the ACT government, which sees the state cracking down on the abuse of the elderly and vulnerable.
Those who commit financial elder abuse could now face up to three years’ imprisonment. Where the abusive conduct results in harm that endangers or is likely to endanger human life, jail time increases to five years.
Andrew Simpson, a principal lawyer with the firm, said in a press release that the new laws were an “Australian first,” and that the threat of jail time under the new bill would deter potential offenders – most often adult sons in relation to their ageing mothers.
“The ACT government is to be commended for these new laws that mean perpetrators will no longer be able to get away with pressuring their elderly mum into signing over her life savings or changing her will for their benefit – something we sadly see too often,” he said. “The ACT’s initiative in introducing a specific crime of elder abuse gives victims and anyone with concerns about possible abuse the confidence to report it to police for investigation.”
Maurice Blackburn reported that elder abuse incidents, particularly of financial and psychological abuse, are increasing due to the ageing population – affecting an estimated 2%-14% of older Australians each year.
“People are living longer, while deaths from dementia are increasing. This means significant wealth can be tied up for longer in the hands of increasingly vulnerable people,” Simpson said. “Meanwhile, inheritance impatience is sadly on the rise in many cases, as the next generation is forced to wait longer to access their parents’ assets.”
The Crimes (Offences Against Vulnerable People) Legislation Amendment Act criminalises the abuse of a vulnerable person resulting in their harm or a financial benefit, the failure to protect a vulnerable person against the risk of a serious offence and the neglect of a vulnerable person by their carer. It defines a vulnerable person as “someone over 60 years of age who has a vulnerability, as well as a person who has a disability within the meaning of the Disability Services Act 1991.”
Immediate past ACT Attorney-General Gordon Ramsay MLA said that the purpose of the act, which was passed by the ACT Parliament last year, was to “capture abuse and neglect of vulnerable people, regardless of the setting and relationship within which it occurs,” serving as a reminder that family members are often the perpetrators of elderly abuse.
Simpson emphasised the importance of ensuring that resources are made available to the police and the courts to facilitate the proper implementation of the new laws. He also urged other states and territories to follow the ACT’s example in criminalising elder abuse.