Institutions and individuals who abuse, fail to protect, or neglect vulnerable people in their care will be committing an offence under new laws in the Crimes Act 1900 (ACT), which come into effect today.
Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury said three new offences have been introduced to better protect vulnerable Canberrans, which includes people with a disability, people aged over 60, people living with a physical or mental impairment, or people who are socially isolated.
The new offences criminalise abuse of a vulnerable person, failure to protect a vulnerable person from a criminal offence, and neglect of a vulnerable person.
“Many community members rely on family members or paid carers to help them with shopping, cleaning, bathing and other essential tasks. This assistance is invaluable to vulnerable people but comes with the responsibility of treating all people with the dignity and respect they deserve,” Attorney-General Rattenbury said.
“While most individuals and institutions are doing the right thing, unfortunately there are some cases where vulnerable people suffer abuse and neglect at the hands of paid and unpaid carers who should be looking out for their welfare.
“Under these new laws, those who abuse or neglect vulnerable people while in their care either at home or in an institutional setting, could face criminal charges. A person in authority in an institution who fails to protect the vulnerable person from a serious criminal offence, could also face criminal charges.
“After community consultation in 2019, it was clear that the ACT Government should specifically define offences relating to elder abuse and vulnerable people abuse. While much of the conduct captured by these offences was already criminal, these laws serve an important purpose in ensuring the community is aware that there are laws protecting people who are in circumstances of particular disadvantage.
“As public awareness of this issue has been increasing in recent years, it is important that the ACT Government, police and the courts recognises abuse of vulnerable people as a special class of abuse needing specific attention.
“The ACT Government is working to ensure all of our community members feel safe, and these laws are intended to deter abusive treatment of those in the greatest need of help and protection.”
As stated by Emma Davidson, Minister for Disability and Assistant Minister for Seniors, Veterans, Families and Community Services:
“These laws will better support people who are at greater risk of crime, particularly older Canberrans and people with disability.
“The ACT Government is committed to strengthening our community by removing barriers, so people with disability and older Canberrans have equal access to justice.
“In addition to introducing this legislation today, the ACT Government is pleased to have delivered on a number of items under the Disability Justice Strategy and Age Friendly City Plan. Under the Disability Justice Strategy, we have developed a community of practice with disability liaison officers who support our agencies and organisations to work better with people with disability and navigate the system.
“Through the Age Friendly City Plan, the ACT Government has delivered five workshops to promote the home safety program for older Canberrans. This is part of our commitment to ensure older Canberrans are safe, secure and free from abuse.”