August 29, 2016  |  

Powers of Attorney Amendment Bill 2016

Mr CARROLL (Niddrie) — It is my pleasure to rise and speak on the Powers of Attorney Amendment Bill 2016. Since we came to office we have had a proud history in this area of reform. If you go back to September last year, the Attorney‑General made some important reforms in this area following the groundbreaking report that had been done in the previous Parliament, which I managed to have a bit of a read of today. I actually might go to the heart of this report because when it comes to enduring powers of attorney and the legislation before us, and if you have a look at the demographics and the societal changes that are happening in society constantly, you will see that this area of public policy is certainly going to have more demand on it.

All of us as members of Parliament on a regular basis have people coming to us to discuss powers of attorney, to discuss capacity and to discuss issues or even elder abuse. Often it is an area of public policy that is incredibly misunderstood but an area of public policy that I know the Department of Justice and Regulation are committed to educating the public on as much as possible and doing as much advertising and dissemination of information on as possible.

If you do go to the report that was undertaken by the previous Parliament, I notice Mr Johan Scheffer might have been the Law Reform Committee chair at the time, and I want to congratulate him and all the committee members for their work on the Law Reform Committee in doing this incredibly groundbreaking report. One thing I did read in this report was about the length and breadth of the state the committee went to to consult members of many seniors forums and also forums with cultural and linguistically diverse communities to try to get the balance right on reform that was needed, which led to the current Attorney‑General basically consolidating the Powers of Attorney Act 2014, trying to make it simpler and more transparent and making other reforms — as simple as downloading forms off the internet — to try to ensure that we have legislation that is very much suited to the 21st century.

I do just want to highlight on page 4 of the report the heading ‘The context for this inquiry’. It says:

Australia’s population is ageing, with both the number and proportion of older Australians increasing rapidly, as a consequence of low fertility rates and increased longevity. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 13.2 per cent of the Australian population was aged 65 years and over in 2008 and this will increase to 20.8 per cent by 2036 and to 22.9 per cent by 2056. In the same period, there will be a significant increase in the proportion of the so‑called ‘old old’ in the population. In 2008, 1.7 per cent of all Australians were aged 85 years and older and it is projected that this will rise to 4.9 per cent in 2056. There are similar demographic trends in Victoria.

An ageing population is associated with a high prevalence of severe disability and dementia. It is estimated that 40.6 per cent of Australians aged 65 to 69 years and 92.1 per cent of those aged 90 and over have a disability. The incidence of dementia is projected to increase from 1 per cent of the Victorian population in 2005 to 2.8 per cent in 2050.

I have got to pull out statistics from Alzheimer’s Australia. They do great packs for members of Parliament, giving you a grassroots, bird’s eye look at dementia happening in your own electorate. I just had a look at the stats for Niddrie, and at the moment the number of persons in 2016 living with dementia in my electorate is 1268. By 2050 that is forecast to grow to 3759, a growth of 196.4 per cent and an annual growth rate of 3.2 per cent. So there you have it.

A lot of carers are needed. I know that the member for Essendon and I share many aged‑care facilities across our electorate. I regularly go to them; I attend them. I even had an email from a constituent the other day asking if I would go to visit his dad who I helped out on another matter; he would just like me to go down and say hello. But I know he is getting the best of care in our aged‑care facilities in Victoria.

I did want to say that the bill before us does tighten up some of the issues that were presented following the Attorney‑General’s major reforms last year, and I think we do need to highlight that back in September 2015 we made one enduring power of attorney to allow a person to manage both their financial and personal affairs, ensuring the laws are simple and protect people. This was a legislative first for Victoria and Australia.

The new laws created the appointment of supportive attorneys who can support people to make and give effect to their own decisions. The new laws provided improved protections and safeguards against abuse, including creating new offences such as dishonestly obtaining or using an enduring power of attorney or supportive attorney appointment, which is punishable by up to five years in prison. These new laws recognise the person’s right to make their own decisions wherever possible in relation to enduring powers of attorney. They also provide better guidance for assessing a person’s capacity to make decisions, and as part of these changes the new and improved forms to simplify the process for making a power of attorney were available, as we all know, from the public advocate website.

So really the consolidation of the previous laws to make it easier for Victorians to appoint a power of attorney really does meet the new requirements, but following the implementation of that major legislative reform in 2015 a period of consultation did lead to further reform being required. Here we are today making further reforms, and we are going to improve protections against abuse of enduring powers of attorney, create a new role of supportive attorney, provide better guidance when assessing a person’s decision‑making capacity and also consolidate enduring powers of attorney for financial matters under the Instruments Act 1958.

Today I had the pleasure of joining other colleagues from the Parliament and the Minister for Health as she launched the Dreamers exhibition in Queen’s Hall. I encourage all members to go out there and read the stories of people who are near death and their experiences. I could not help but, while I was reading those stories, think about this piece of legislation that was coming on for debate today, because often it is our older Victorians that are the most vulnerable. We all have an obligation to ensure that their lives are made as simple, easy and supported as possible.

When you read the materials about powers of attorney and when the principal nominates the representative decision‑maker, you see the job and the authority that that decision‑maker is then being given is to basically make that person’s life that little bit better. Whether it be banking, whether it be fixing up insurance, often it can be a difficult task. It can be family members, and sadly one thing that did come out of that report was the abuse, often in financial situations, where you are seeing older Victorians more often than not — this came out of the report — who own their home, are quite well off financially and then you see, as it was reported, different cases of abuse, financial abuse more than anything else.

It is so important that through the Office of the Public Advocate and through our roles as legislators we make sure that the legislation is up to date and that we also make sure that we respect the principle surrounding powers of attorney and acknowledge the difficult task of the representative in dealing on behalf of the principal in making sure that their lives are enjoyable, as they can be in often very difficult circumstances.

I want to congratulate the Attorney‑General on this legislation and the further reform that is very important. I think it will go a long way to ensuring that trust arrangements dealing with the principals and the representatives are enhanced and that there are other avenues should there be any concerns, and I commend the bill to the house.