United Nations Working Group on Ageing (5th Session), New York.

Ms Kim Boettcher, The Aged Rights Service Inc.

Australia

Thank you Mr Chairman for giving me the floor.  I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet and I pay my respects to their elders past and present.

My name is Kim Boettcher and I am a delegate of The Aged-care Rights Service Incorporated, an independent legal centre in Sydney, Australia which specialises in advising and representing older people. We thank the Member States for their attendance and concern about the rights of older people.

The Australian delegates who are here today stand in the legacy of an Australian lawyer and politician, Dr HV Evatt, elected the President of the first meeting of the United Nations General Assembly that met here in New York in 1948.  He was known as ‘the Champion of the Small Nations.’

I am here representing people from one of the small nations, my older clients who are not seen and not heard in society.  It is often said that a society is judged by how it treats its disadvantaged and its minorities.  That treatment is better for recognising that basic human rights apply to all people rich and poor alike.

There is a storm brewing on the edge of Sydney Harbour, Australia, which epitomizes the problem we face with no international legal instrument for older people in place. In the shadow of the Sydney harbour bridge, the inner city known as “the Rocks” and Millers Point is being redeveloped.  A casino is being built on the old wharves by one company, residential and office blocks by another company, and surrounding properties are being sold off by government.  Over 600 public housing tenants are being forcibly displaced from an area where there has been public housing for over 100 years. Sixty per cent are older people and sixty percent are women.  These families have often lived there for generations- they worked at the wharves during times when there were no worker’s rights and they went home covered in flour and coal dust because there were no showers; they lived through a Great Depression, wars and worked hard to make my nation what it is today.  They are part of the fabric of society and a living heritage at the heart of the city.  Over the past year, they have been door knocked and interviewed by the authorities with no legal representation, no attorney, no guardian or even a support person in the room, telephoned, texted and inundated with letters about moving out. One older person was told that her home was being renovated.  She put up with the renovations for 8 months only to find she is being moved out.  As the wharves are being knocked down for the casino to be built, hoards of rats are moving up the hill and to the area where these people live.  Nothing is being done about the rats.  If repairs and maintenance need to be done, they are told “if it’s not a big repair job, we will do minor repairs.” Meanwhile down the street, millions of dollars are being spent on the empty houses being prepared for sale at large profits.  It is clear that we need infrastructure, businesses and healthy national economies but not by breaching the human rights of older people.

The residents are being asked to sign consent forms over a cup of tea and an informal chat, which would result in the handing over of all of their most personal medical, legal and family information.  They are asked to complete online surveys (which include identifying themselves) for the chance to win an IPad, which has the same evidential effect as the consent forms in disclosing private  information.  It is left to attorneys and advocates to raise the alarm.

Breaches of the right to privacy for older people by governments, corporations and individuals, is a precursor to elder abuse.  Privacy over health and medical records, legal and financial records, physical privacy and privacy over personal information should all be part of a Convention.  This would build on Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights so that there is accountability for violations against older people.

It so easy to move people on once you know all about them and you can find an excuse to put them in an aged care home, under the care of the state guardian, in a mental health facility, or simply to move them to somewhere deemed more suited to them, but which isolates from their lifelong friends and community.

Back in Sydney, stakeholders with vested interests are courting the media, and the Australian public is being courted with a fiction that these people are dole-bludgers, or unable to care for themselves, derelict and worthless.  Public opinion has fallen for the myth that these older people have had their million dollar harbour views and it’s time to move on.  The truth is that most of them don’t even have harbour views and they have basic, modest accommodation.  They are wonderful, interesting, independent people when you bother to speak to them. One of the elderly residents told me last week that to relocate them away from their community, is “one step short of putting you up against a wall and shooting you because it’s saying you are of no value to society.  You are worthless.”

What is occurring is the dissolution of a community.  In fact, this is an opportunity for government and industry to follow the lead of entrepreneurs such as the Yunis microcredit projects to support the housing of older people, to engage in social business.  If only they would seize such a life-changing opportunity.

Let us not forget that the most displaced peoples are in conflict zones in many countries.  Older people often suffer the most if they are frail and vulnerable and have health problems. Along with women and children, they are the first victims of physical and sexual violence, torture and often death.  Older people in conflict zones don’t usually start the journey to my country by refugee boat, or by plane. If they miraculously make the journey, they would not be allowed in, because they are too old to be a young, skilled migrant.  I respectfully request that Member States think of these forgotten people who need the protection of the proposed Convention the most.

My organisation is a Member of the Global Alliance of the Rights of Older People Australia- GAROP Australia- rightsofolderpeople.org.au.  Our alliance of leading Australian organisations advocating for and representing older people was formed as a result of last year’s working group.  We are proud to declare that our regional alliance is flourishing with the support of prominent politicians championing our cause.

Finally, I am also a Member of the International Commission of Jurists Australian Section. Today, I bring a message from the ICJ Australia to this Session:

“ICJ Australia supports the work of GAROP Australia in strengthening the rights and voices of older people in our region. ICJ Australia supports the need for an international legal instrument to protect older people’s human rights in Australia and across the globe and to allow them to live free from discrimination.”

In conclusion, a convention is inevitable, but only if we all continue to work diligently to achieve it.  My organisation supports and commends the intervention by the IFA Delegate today in calling for a Chair’s summary on the main elements of a new legal instrument. I respectfully recommend that the Chair considers documents that have been drafted such as the Chicago Declaration of July 2014, and the 2014 Declaration of Rights for Older People in Wales. To my Welsh colleagues I say congratulations- iechyd da a diolch yn fawr!

 

Thank you

SELECT QUOTES FROM SELECT COMMITTEE

SELECT QUOTES FROM SELECT COMMITTEE

There is currently underway an inquiry into social, public and affordable housing n New South Wales conducted by the Legislative Council inquiry conducted by the Social, public and affordable housing Committee of the NSW Legislative Council.  The inquiry has attracted over 200 submissions.  Below are some extracts from those submissions.

“Our poor should not be unfairly exiled from the city to make room for the Wealthy..”:

The Factory Community Centre, South Sydney. Submission 43

I ask you to think carefully before allowing these people with dollar signs in their eyes to destroy the very fabric of the Public Housing system in this State. How many people will end up on the streets if this breaking down of the Public Housing systems is allowed to continue? Thisinsistence that elderly people need to live in high rise buildings with lifts is a fallacy. “Vertical Villages” did not work in the UK and will not work here either. Tenants will become isolated and scared.

Ms Marie Sillars, of the Ivanhoe Estate, Ryde.  Submission 37

….When we are forced out will be nothing so I please ask of you all to let the Govt know that it isn’t a good idea to destroy or maybe this Govt thinks of it as gentle genocide (not really destroying whole communities as has been done before in other countries but just removing us to where everthat may be.

Mrs Terry Tooker, Millers Point, Submission 28.

The Community here is so important, especially if you’re older and especially if you’re on your own. The community is what you’ve got. The thought of having to move form her …it’s terrifying. It really is.

“Jill” Millers Point. Submission 243

Millers Point has a proud working class history; this should not be sacrificed to the highest bidder.

Allana Walton, Millers Point.  Submission 243

 I cannot imagine living anywhere else as this community has always been like an extended family. We were taught respect and to look out for and help each other.

Glenda Cox, Millers Point.  Submission 243

I have witnessed many changes in the area, but the one thing that has stayed solid is the closeness, support and friendliness of this unique community.

Wendy Ford. Millers Point.  Submission 243

Private home owners attract 6 times more public money than public housing gets through first home owner grants, negative hearing, capital gains tax exemptions and other tax concessions…. the way forward is massive investment in public housing.

Hands Off Glebe, Submission 51.

As a signatory to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights 1966 the Australian Government is obliged ot respect, protect and fulfil the rightto adequate housing…. The right to adequate housing … is a right to live in peace, security and dignity.  … The Committee respectfully submits that the Government should be seeking to create a legally enforceable right to adequate housing.

Human Rights Committee,

The Law Society of NSW.  Submission 40.

The plan for those suburbs, and my premise however is that following rebuilding and reconstitution on state housing land blocks, some 70% of the rebuilt units will be sold or disposed of in the property market to private purchases or occupied by private renters in the private rental market (non-public housing tenants).  Only some 30% of current public housing premises will return as public housing dedicated premises under the guise of a new social mix.

Larry Billington, Redfern-Waterloo. Submission 166

As a resident in the west ryde/north ryde area, I am concerned for the wellbeing of the 500 people who would find themselves without accomodation if this plan is to go ahead. To kick these people out with the intent of making a profit from the new real estate is just plain wrong. Please do not allow this construction to go ahead.

Submission 185

We are very privleged to live in this country; a country where we have the ability and resources to help the poor and the needy. Let us use our advantages for all and not only for those who can “afford it.” 

Submission 194

 And from “Precinct News”, July 2014:

  “First they came in and refurbished the units, with new carpet and flyscreens. And then they started to install lifts and intercom for safety, and I thought, ‘wow!’ It was really terrific,” she says. “And then we hear that they’re going to demolish it. It was such a shock! I just thought ‘If it’s not broken, why fix it?’ They were in good condition.”

Barbara says residents and community groups tried everything to stop the demolition. “I was the last one to leave,” she says. “They wanted me to go to a new place in Lilyfield, but I didn’t want to leave Glebe, my friends and the community.Now it’s been a big hole in the ground for three years.”

Barbara Roberts-Simson was a resident of the former Cowper Street estate for 42 years before its demolition.