Public advocates

155       All states and territories, other than the Northern Territory, have a body that provides support services to, speaks for, and promotes the interests of people with impaired decision-making abilities. This body is sometimes called a ‘public advocate’. In most states this body also functions as the guardian of last resort. While public advocates are often vested with investigatory powers, these tend to be exercised only where it is considered that a guardianship or administration order might be appropriate.

156       Some commentators have suggested that public advocates should be given broader powers to enable them to investigate and respond to the abuse, neglect or exploitation of people with impaired decision-making ability, whether or not a guardianship or administration order might be appropriate. For instance, the Victorian Law Reform Commission (VLRC) recommended that the Office of the Public Advocate (Vic) should be able to investigate the abuse, neglect or exploitation of persons with impaired decision-making abilities, or the misuse of powers by those in a substitute or supported decision-making role. It recommended that these powers be exercisable either upon receipt of a complaint, or by the Public Advocate’s own motion. Under the VLRC model, these investigative powers would extend to the ability to require the production of documents, the provision of evidence and entry onto premises. Further, the Public Advocate would be permitted to share the findings of any investigation and any evidence gathered with the police.[27]

157       A number of jurisdictions overseas have adopted ‘adult protection’ legislation, which applies more broadly to vulnerable adults. These statutes can provide for investigatory powers, requirements to report suspected abuse, and the power for a court or tribunal to make a wide range of orders to respond to elder abuse (such as service provision orders or removal and placement orders).

158       Adult protection models are often characterised by a single entry point for those wishing to raise concerns or report elder abuse, the coordination of a variety of disciplines to discuss and respond to elder abuse, and a focus on providing support services to assist in circumstances of suspected or actual abuse.

Question 33         What role should public advocates play in investigating and responding to elder abuse?

Question 34         Should adult protection legislation be introduced to assist in identifying and responding to elder abuse?