The Victorian Law Reform Commission has recommended introducing a new Guardianship Act that is simple and accessible to better meet the needs of our changing population.
In the Guardianship – Final Report tabled in parliament today, the Commission said the state’s guardianship laws need to be modernised because they are overly complex and have not kept up with the range of people who use the system.
“Guardianship laws were originally intended mainly for people with intellectual disabilities. But now older people, people with acquired brain injuries and people with mental illness are also very large users of the guardianship system. We have to develop a system that can respond to more diverse needs. A one-size-fits-all approach is simply not appropriate anymore,” Acting Chairperson of the Commission, His Honour David Jones, AM, said.
Mr Jones said that there were nearly 80,000 people with significant cognitive impairment in Victoria in 2010. This number is projected to grow to nearly 100,000 in 2020 and to almost 125,000 by 2030.
Research shows that the rate of disability increases with age and that dementia is now the leading cause of disability in Australians. The ageing population will also result in an increasing case load for the Office of the Public Advocate in Victoria who dealt with over 1700 guardianship cases in 2011. This caseload is projected to increase over the next two decades, to almost 2500 in 2030.
Mr Jones said that the reforms also aim to fundamentally transform the way the law responds to people who have impaired decision-making ability.
“The law of the future must graduate from a system that is just about protecting people to one that is also about empowering them.”
“To do that, the law has to be better at responding to people’s needs as individuals. Decision-making incapacity is different for everyone. Some people have good days and bad days; some people might just need support rather than someone make decisions for them; some people recover over time and some people will never have the capacity to make decisions. Everyone is unique. If the law can’t accommodate this, people will often end up getting either too much interference or not enough help,” he said.
Mr Jones also stressed that the abuse and exploitation of people with disabilities who are unable to make their own decisions continues to be a major concern.
Mr Jones said that the reforms recommended by the Commission would strengthen the powers of the Public Advocate and would ensure more serious consequences for those who abuse, exploit or neglect people with disabilities.
The final report presents 440 recommendations for reform of the Guardianship laws. The recommendations are a result of a two and a half year review that has involved significant consultation including the release of two papers for community discussion.
The Commission’s final report was tabled in Parliament on 18 April. It is available on the Commission’s web site or by post through contacting the Commission.