The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety begins

“Recognising the contribution of older Australians to society and that older Australians deserve high quality care in a safe environment that protects their wellbeing and dignity.”

These are some of the first words uttered in the Letters Patent establishing the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety.

In a recent Macpherson Kelley hot topic, we examined financial elder abuse. Whilst financial elder abuse is rife, we must not forget that physical and mental elder abuse is also a massive cause for concern, especially within our aged care system.

The Royal Commission seeks to  uncover the extent to which such abuse is taking place within the Australian aged care system, the alleged failings of the system, and what can be done to not only stop this abuse, but to ensure quality aged care service for all.

Examples of what the Royal Commission is hoping to achieve include (but are not limited to):

  • Understanding how the aged care system works, what is wrong with it and what works well;
  • Understanding the changes that need to be made to the aged care system to ensure the best quality care in the future;
  • Considering the position of elderly people in society, what they want and how they are perceived;
  • Giving the elderly a voice;
  • Engaging the community to help build a better aged care system.

The Royal Commission officially began on 18 January 2019 in Adelaide, with the preliminary hearing at which Commissioners the Honourable Richard Tracey QC and Lynelle Briggs AO gave opening addresses, and senior legal counsel explained how the Royal Commission will unfold.

The first public hearing is due to commence on 11 February 2019, and will be the first of many to be held in each capital city around the country as well as some regional cities, over the coming year.

We are likely to hear many sobering details of the state of our aged care system, and the treatment of our elderly, who are deserving of our utmost respect and dignified treatment, and yet are not always receiving this.

If you have loved ones in aged care, or work in, or have been otherwise been involved in, the Australian aged care system, and feel you may have something valuable to bring to the attention of the Royal Commission, you can make a written submission here.

People should feel free to make such submissions, which will be key to the success of the Royal Commission. Aged care operators and government bodies who attempt to prevent staff or others from speaking to the Royal Commission on threat of punishment, or who take punitive action against such persons for speaking out, may be committing unlawful conduct.

The Royal Commission is due to hand down an interim report to the Governor General by 31 October 2019, and then a final report, including its recommendations, by 30 April 2020.

The importance of this Royal Commission is perhaps best summed up by Commissioner Tracey, who said:

“The Royal Commission is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to come together as a nation to consider how we can create a better system of care for elderly Australians that better aligns with the expectations of the Australian people. The hallmark of a civilized society is how it treats its most vulnerable people, and our elderly are often amongst our most physically, emotionally and financially vulnerable. Frail and elderly members of our community deserve to and should be looked after in the best possible way, and we intend to do our best to see that it happens.”

Whilst few of us like to think about growing old and losing the ability to take care of ourselves and make our own decisions, particularly regarding our own living arrangements, it is something we must all be mindful of, and why it is important to plan for this while we still can.

In Victoria, the best way you can currently do that, is to make an Enduring Power of Attorney appointing someone (whom you trust completely) to be your attorney for personal matters. Personal matters include a person’s living arrangements (where they are to live and with whom). Your attorney may one day be faced with the prospect of considering aged care for you, and will hopefully, when that time comes, be facing a vastly improved aged care system as a result of this Royal Commission.

Our experienced Private Clients team are ready and eager to assist you with any queries you may have regarding Powers of Attorney and your estate planning more broadly.

This article was written by Todd Terzioski, Lawyer – Private Clients (Wills and Estates).