Tasmania’s Public Guardian wants broader investigative powers to better protect people with disability from abuse, neglect and exploitation.
In the annual report to Parliament, Public Guardian Kim Barker also calls for more staff because of the growing workload.
She said the Guardianship and Administration Act should be strengthened “to compel the provision of information.”
“In addition to filling some of the current gaps in adult safeguarding in Tasmania, such additional powers would provide opportunities for dispute resolution, advocacy, early referrals to services, and the provision of support and education to other support/substitute decision-makers – all of which can obviate the need for the appointment of guardians and administrators,” Ms Barker wrote.
She said the Office of the Public Guardian had made a submission to the Tasmanian Law Reform Institute as part of the Institute’s review of the Act.
“Our view is that our investigation powers should be broadened in scope – to include the ability to investigate allegations of abuse, neglect and exploitation of adults with a disability who are not represented persons,” Ms Barker said.
“The OPG has again had an extremely busy and demanding year, with huge pressures and challenges in managing our principle function: acting as the guardian of Tasmanians with disabilities who are unable to make important life decisions for themselves.”
The caseload increased by 21 per cent in the 2017-18 financial year after a 27 per cent increase in 2016-17. At June 30 there were 259 Tasmanians with disabilities under guardianship compared with 169 the previous year.
“Human resource increases have not kept up, meaning that the case-loads of guardianship staff have increased substantially, to the point they are not sustainable,” Ms Barker said.
She said the NDIS was “one of the most important social reforms in Australia’s history” but the model had some challenges for people with disabilities when it came to them expressing their wishes and making “reasonable decisions.”
Ms Barker also singled out elder abuse prevention as a priority for the office in policy reform and awareness raising.
“Elder abuse prevention is firmly on the agendas of commonwealth and state governments, with increasing community awareness of this devastating social and public health problem across the country,” she said.
“Tasmania’s rapidly aging population elevates this to a critical problem requiring urgent attention to better understand prevalence and risk factors, to develop strategies for the prevention of abuse, and to establish clear and effective responses to elder abuse when it does occur.”