NSW laws pave way for Australia-first disability and ageing watchdog

The introduction of legislation establishing a powerful independent Ageing and Discrimination Commissioner in NSW is a historic occasion for Australia, Premier Gladys Berejiklian says.

The introduction of legislation establishing a powerful independent Ageing and Discrimination Commissioner in NSW is a historic occasion for Australia, Premier Gladys Berejiklian says.

Gladys Berejiklian
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian

The bill, one of the first pieces of legislation to be introduced since the re-election of the Berejiklian government, was introduced on Wednesday.

It comes as the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety continues hearings in Sydney and after the announcement on April 5 of a Royal Commission into into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability.

“New commissioner will ensure that all people who are ageing, all people with a disability are protected in every sense here in NSW,” Ms Berejiklian told reporters.

“We want to put everybody in the community on notice that … if you intend intentionally wanting to take advantage of someone vulnerable you won’t get away with it.”

The commissioner could be directed by parliament to enquire into systemic abuses and would also be relying on members of the public to report any incidents they might see, she said.

Independence and teeth

Minister for Families, Community and Disability Services Gareth Ward said the new commissioner would have “independence and teeth” with powers to, seize evidence, investigate abuse and refer matters to other bodies including police, the Healthcare Complaints Commission and NDIS Quality and Safeguards commission.

“We are committed to stamping out abuse, neglect and exploitation where we see it when it comes to vulnerable people in our state,” he told a media conference.

“What this commissioner will be able to do is get real outcomes for people who are vulnerable. We are giving this commissioner stronger powers than any other jurisdiction. In many ways this is a national first.”

The legislation will also create a board so the commissioner can share and seek advice across the sector.

Cutting through other services

Chairwoman of the Ministerial Advisory Council on Ageing Kathryn Greiner, who is on the panel which will select the new Commissioner, said there was a need for a position to “cut through” the plethora of other services that already existed.

“Our seniors need to be able to age at home, in a retirement village or an ageing facility but they need to be able to do it safely,” she said.

“This legislation is landmark, it’s the first one in Australia.”

Deputy Chair of the Disability Council of NSW Professor Eileen Baldry said the a commissioner would have wide ranging powers to do something about abuse and neglect involving the majority of people with a disability in NSW not covered by the NDIS Quality and Safeguards watchdog.

“We’re going through the interview process at the moment so the person will be appointed ahead of 1 July,” Ms Berejiklian said.

“We understand we’ve had outstanding people put themselves forward and we’re looking forward to making that announcement in due course.”

Read more: Selection begins of Ageing and Disability Commissioner

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1 thought on “NSW laws pave way for Australia-first disability and ageing watchdog

  1. Ms Berejiklian and Greiner are perpetuating the prejudice that is infused in our social fabric. Old people are not necessarily disabled (although some of them are) and disabled people are not necessarily old (although some of them are). I am 70, about to graduate with Masters of Business Law, am highly experienced and am fit to work but cannot get work because of this age/disability prejudice. I expect to work for another 20 years, not stay at home, not go to a retirement village and am happy to take risks. The Age Discrimination Act is focused on conciliation and presents serious impediments to litigation (including individual complaints based process, bias towards other discriminations in reporting (eg female aged person will be steered towards sex discrimination rather than age discrimination because settlements are usually greater and less hurdles in the Sex Discrimination Act), exceptions and exemptions water down the bill, proof is often problematic, age discrimination needs to be the dominant reason rather one of the reasons and inherent requirements of the job need to be disentangled). Giving the watchdog some teeth is a good start but you must have a look at the Acts and remove the hurdles, which discourage victims of prejudice from taking action. I suggest age and disability be uncoupled to prevent slipping into unconscious prejudice. Age does not make people vulnerable – it is only when they become disabled in some way that they become vulnerable.

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