Home' Greymouth Star : February 28th 2015 Contents Greymouth Star
silent and shameful
epidemic is rolling on
across Australia, behind
closed doors and drawn
Just as domestic violence
was once an unrecognised scourge so,
too, is the abuse of elderly Australians,
typically in private homes at the hands of
their adult children.
That is the view of campaigners who say
the nation has not woken up to the fact
it has got a disturbing problem, one that
will only escalate as Australia’s population
“This is the next wave of a vulnerable
group of people being neglected or
abused on a very wide scale,” professor
Wendy Lacey, the Dean of Law at the
University of South Australia, says.
“And society hasn’t accepted that yet.”
The abuse of the elderly can take various
forms, ranging from physical and sexual
assault, to neglect, psychological and
financial mistreatment. But so far, there
has been no national study to determine
just how prevalent it is.
The best snapshot available is based on
the work of state and territory help lines
set up to deal with the problem. In the
2013/14 financial year they assisted a
staggering 5407 victims of elder abuse.
What we also know from their work is
something of what elder abuse looks like
from the inside.
Most commonly it involves often frail
and ailing Australians being robbed of
their income and assets by their own
families, while also being subjected to
psychological abuse, including threats of
In the worst of those cases, victims find
themselves homeless and penniless in the
last years of their lives, and their familial
Far less typical, but not unheard of, are
incidents of physical abuse and neglect.
Some might recall the tragic death
of 89-year-old Cynthia Thoresen in a
Brisbane hospital in 2009. A coroner
found the Alzheimers sufferer had
endured the pain of a broken leg for up
to three months before she was taken
to hospital from the home where her
daughter cared for her.
When the elderly woman arrived
she was covered in faeces and urine,
with pressure sores on her body and
was in a state of moderate to severe
While the coroner found she ultimately
died from other health problems, and
not from the abuse, he said there was
no doubt Ms Thoresen’s daughter had
been “neglectful to the point of cruelty
in a distressed, demented and totally
dependent patient ”.
In the end, the daughter faced
no criminal charges because police
considered there was insufficient evidence
to support a successful prosecution.
The Abbott government has made
tackling family violence a priority in
2015, with a particular focus on women
and children who fall victim to it.
But Prof Lacey says elderly victims of
home-based abuse, in all its forms, are
nowhere to be seen or heard in the public
She has called on the government to
acknowledge the nation has a hidden
class of victims.
And she’s urging the Australian Human
Rights Commission to convene a national
inquiry so elderly people can tell their
“The research we do have suggests that
two to five per cent of all people aged
over 65 have experienced some form of
abuse. We also know it’s likely to be very
much under reported,” she says.
But the issue only ever breaks the
surface when the media brings tragic
cases like that of Cynthia Thoresen to
light, she observes.
“That Australia’s legal and policy
frameworks for dealing with elder abuse
are so weak is a national disgrace.”
Greg Mahney is the chief executive
officer of Advocare, an independent,
community-based organisation that
works to protect the rights of older West
His organisation deals with about 500
cases of elder abuse each year, and he
believes that ’s just the tip of the iceberg.
“It can take people years to first of all
accept that their loved ones — the son or
daughter they have raised, with all their
values — is actually doing them harm.
And it can take years for people to then
come forward and want to do something
about it, or even tell anyone else about it,”
In the years he’s spent dealing with such
cases, Mr Mahney has developed an acute
sense of the fears that so often trap older
Australians in abusive situations.
“A daughter who is the only person who
brings her bedridden mother meals and
cleans up after her when she defecates in
the bed may also be the perpetrator of the
abuse,” he says.
“If mum reports the daughter, and she’s
taken away from mum, then there’s no
one to look after her then, and thinks
she’s either going to die or going to have
to go into a nursing home, which she
doesn’t want to do.”
Mr Mahney says that in his experience
physical violence is not common, but the
threat of violence is.
“They are threatened with harm, or
there’s an implied threat — the son
smashing up furniture which makes mum
think ‘Oh, he could be doing that to me’,”
“And we do see a small but disturbing
one, where people threaten or hurt the
pets of the older person, and that ’s an
extremely powerful threat for a socially
Prof Lacey says the nation can no
longer afford to ignore the problem.
She says the veil must be lifted and laws
must be reformed to better enshrine the
rights of older Australians, and deal with
cases of elder abuse when they do occur.
A key part of that must be educating
police, and coroners, about the problem
so there’s a greater prospect of successful
prosecutions in the worst of cases, she
“At the end of the day, more than 25%
of our population will be over 65 by 2045.
We’ve got to deal with this issue, and
we’ve all got a vested interest in sorting it
out,” she said.
What is known about elder abuse:
Elder abuse takes many forms
including physical, sexual, financial,
psychological, and neglect
Elder abuse typically occurs in private
homes, beyond the sight of agencies that
could intervene and stop it
Perpetrators are usually close relatives
of the victims, most commonly they are
the victims’ own children
Financial and psychological abuse
typically go hand and in hand, and are
the most common forms of elder abuse
Women are twice as likely to be
victims of elder abuse
Data is scant, but available research
suggests between two and five per cent
of Australians aged 65 and over have
experienced some form of elder abuse
There has been no national study to
determine the prevalence of the problem
Campaigners believe the problem is
vastly under reported because victims are
too scared or incapable of acting, or fear
the consequences for the relatives who
are abusing them. — A AP
4 - Saturday, February 28, 2015
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uLetters to the editor
1948 - The last British troops leave India.
1967 - Death of Henry Luce, American
publisher and co-founder of Time magazine.
1970 - Nine Australians are killed and 29
wounded in incidents at Long Hai
hills during Vietnam war.
1975 - In the worst underground
train crash to date in Britain, 42
people die when a train crashes into
the buffers at Moorgate station,
1986 - Sweden’s prime minister
Olof Palme is assassinated on a street in
1991 - In the Gulf War, US and allied forces
officially ceasefire at 8am Kuwait time.
1993 - Four federal agents and six members
of a Christian sect are killed when authorities
raid the sect headquarters in Waco, Texas. A
51-day standoff ensues, ending with the deaths
of about 80 sect members in a fire.
1994 - US jets down four Serb warplanes in
Bosnia, Nato’s first air attack in the war.
1996 - Britain’s Princess Diana agrees to
divorce her estranged husband Prince Charles.
uWest Coast yesteryear
uToday in history
Raphael, Italian artist (1483-1520); George
Seferis (Giorgos Seferiadis), Greek
poet and diplomat, winner of Nobel
Prize for Literature in 1963 (1900-
1971); Vincente Minnelli, US film
director (1913-1986); Svetlana
Alliluyeva, daughter of Russian leader
Josef Stalin (1926-2011); Tommy
Tune, US actor-entertainer (1939-);
Mario Andretti, Italian racing car
driver (1940-); Bernadette Peters, US actress-
singer (1948-); John Turturro, US actor (1957-);
Cindy Wilson, US singer of B52s fame (1957-).
“Judge a man by his questions rather than
by his answers.” — Voltaire, French author-
“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay
down his life for his friends.” — ( John 15:13).
“I was in bed sound
asleep. I smelled
smoke, jumped out of
bed and all I saw was
a sheet of flame. I was off out the front door
with practically nothing on — just my pants
This was 40-year-old Strongman miner
Norman Pattinson’s graphic description this
morning of how he escaped the blaze last night
that completely destroyed his home in Argyle
Street, D unollie. Mr Pattinson, who lives alone
in the house where he was born and brought
up, lost virtually everyting in the blaze.
“I wouldn’t have minded quite so much about
the house,” he told a Greymouth Evening Star
reporter this morning, “but I lost everything
inside it including my washing machine, all the
furniture and £90 worth of clothes I had just
bought the other day. ”
Today, Mr Pattinson, stocky and still smiling
in spite of his loss, ruefully looked down at his
clothes — a jersey and a pair of khaki trousers.
“These are not mine,” he said. “I got them from
Gordon Ross, a railway ganger who lives near
me. And the shoes — well someone came good
and fixed me up. ”
Mrs Mary Alice Malone, a well-known
resident of South Beach, died at Greymouth
yesterday. Mrs Malone was born at South
Beach 81 years ago and had lived there all her
life. Her parents, the late Mr and Mrs Patrick
Power were pioneer settlers of the district.
Predeceased by her husband John Joseph
Malone 10 years ago, she is sur vived by
four sons, Pat, Mick, Phil and Tom, all of
The funeral will take place on Monday
morning following Requiem Mass at St
uFood for thought
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The first round of the
battle for the euro is over,
and Germany has won.
The whole European
Union won, really, but the
Germans set the strategy.
just kicked the can down
the road four months by
extending the existing
bail-out arrangements for
Greece, but what was really revealed in the
past week is that the Greeks can not win.
Not now, not later.
The left-wing Syriza Party stormed to
power in Greece last month promising to
ditch the austerity that has plunged a third
of the population below the poverty line
and to renegotiate the country’s massive
$270 billion bail-out with the EU and the
International Monetary Fund. Exhausted
Greek voters just wanted an end to six
years of pain and privation, and Syriza
offered them hope. But it has been in
retreat ever since.
In the election campaign, Syriza
promised 300,000 new jobs and a big
boost in the monthly minimum wage
(from $658 to $853). After last week’s
talks with the EU and the IMF, all that
is left is a promise to expand an existing
programme that provides temporary work
for the unemployed, and an ‘ambition’ to
raise the minimum wage ‘over time’.
Its promise to provide free electricity
and subsidised food for families without
incomes remains in place, but Prime
Minister Alexis Tsipras’s government has
promised the EU and the IMF that its
“fight against the humanitarian crisis (will
have) no negative fiscal effect.” In other
words, it will not spend extra money on
these projects unless it makes equal cuts
Above all, its promise not to extend the
bail-out programme had to be dropped.
Instead, it got a four-month ‘bridging
loan’ that came with effectively the same
harsh restrictions on Greek government
spending (although Syriza was allowed to
rewrite them in its own words). That loan
will expire at the end of June, just before
Greece has to redeem $7 billion in bonds.
So there will be four months of
attritional warfare and then another crisis
— which Greece will once again lose. It
will lose partly because it has not actually
got a very good case for special treatment,
and partly because the European Union
does not really believe it will pull out of
the euro common currency.
Greece’s debt burden is staggering —
about $30,000 per capita. It can never be
repaid, and some of it will eventually have
to be cancelled or ‘rescheduled’ into the
indefinite future. But not now, when other
Euro members like Spain, Portugal and
Ireland are struggling with some success
to pay down their heavy but smaller debts.
If Greece got such a sweet deal, everybody
else would demand debt relief too.
The cause of the debt was the same in
every case: the Euro was a stable, low-
interest currency that banks were happy
to lend in, even to relatively low-income
European countries that were in the midst
of clearly unsustainable, debt-fuelled
booms. So all the southern European EU
members (and Ireland) piled in — but
nobody else did it on the same scale as the
The boom lasted for the best part of a
decade after the Euro currency launched
in 1999. Ordinary Greeks happily bought
imported German cars, French wines,
Italian luxury goods and much else, while
the rich and politically well connected
raked off far larger sums and paid as little
tax as possible. Greek governments ended
up lying about the size of the country’s
No less an authority than Syriza’s finance
minister, Yanis Varoufakis, described the
atmosphere of the time like this: “ The
average Greek had convinced herself
that Greece was superb. A cut above the
rest. Due to our exceptional ‘cunning’,
Greece was managing to combine fun,
sun, xenychti (late nights) and the highest
GDP growth in Europe. ”
Then the roof fell in after the 2008
crash, and “self-immolation followed self-
congratulation, but left self-importance in
the driving seat,” as Varoufakis put it.
That is why the sympathy for Greece’s
plight in other EU members is limited.
Moreover, the EU, and especially the
Germans, have managed to convince
themselves that ‘grexit ’ (Greek exit from
the euro) would not be a limitless disaster.
The other PIGS (Portugal, Ireland
and Spain) are in much better shape
financially, and Brussels no longer fears
that the Greek “contagion” will spread
irresistibly to them as well. Neither does
it think that a Greek departure from the
Euro would bring the whole edifice of the
single currency tumbling down. It also
knows that the vast majority of Greeks do
not want to leave either the Euro or the
EU — so it is playing hardball.
When the interim deal was made public
on Tuesday, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras
put the best possible face on it, saying
that Greece had “won a battle, but not the
war”. In fact he lost the first battle, as he
was bound to. It will take him longer to
lose the whole war, but that will probably
Gwynne Dyer is an independent
journalist whose articles are published in
Greece loses, European Union wins
Greek Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras.
WORLD IN FOCUS
with Gwynne Dyer
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