We start the year by celebrating one of our greatly respected and committed members, Rodney Lewis, who has been honoured with a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for significant service to the law, to business, and to the community.
The tireless campaigner to end elder abuse says he is proud, humbled, and very honoured to be recognised for something he’s been doing for many decades. A lawyer for the past 50 years, Rodney is the Senior Solicitor for Elderlaw Legal Services in Sydney, and the Foundation Co-Director, Centre for Elder Law.
Rodney says he was motivated to fight for the rights of older people after discovering there were four thousand plus attorneys in the United States with a speciality in elder law but that it was almost unknown here. He approached the University of Western Sydney, and the Dean immediately offered him a job lecturing. Rodney went on to develop Australia's first elder law undergraduate course.
“I want to be sure that the law doesn't fracture relationships, which are already fragile, and empowers older people and also aged-care residents.”
Rodney has spent several decades working in human rights in Australia and internationally and was among the first to call for a Royal Commission into aged care.
“Unfortunately, successive federal governments have been unable to get on top of the real problems. They haven't been listening to some of the other possibilities in providing recourse to aged-care residents who are harmed or injured, which is one of my missions.”
He wrote the first textbook in Australia on elder law called Elder Law in Australia (published by Lexis and Nexis), which is now in its third edition. Rodney has spent a long time in human rights and realised that there were lots of problems with aging and not many solutions, and that lawyers could make a contribution to improving outcomes for older people and their families.
For the past seven years Rodney has been working on a new elder abuse law: “I've written a paper on this that will allow for criminal and civil proceedings. It will allow for a court in the very early stages to require people to attend a family conference.”
According to Rodney this new law is designed to try to avoid the relationship breakdowns and sees compulsory mediation as part of the solution.
The abuse and neglect of older people is part of domestic and family violence, coercion is common, and intergenerational conflict can often lead to adult children overbearing the will of their parents.
“There are a lot of problems Elder Law addresses. As we get older, we also get more accommodating to the people around us. I have seen many, many clients who have succumbed to the coercion that is brought to bear on them, and it is usually about money.”
Rodney has spoken to two state Attorneys General about his proposed law. It has the backing of the International Commission of Jurists, and now he is hoping state and territory governments will take it seriously.
Mary Patetsos has been awarded a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for significant service to multicultural affairs, and to aged care. Mary has been the Chair of the Federation of Ethnic Communities Council of Australia since 2017.
Ms Patetsos’ contribution to multicultural Australia spans over 30 years of dedication and service and for her tireless advocacy to make us a richer and more inclusive multicultural nation.
Professor Susan Kurrle has been appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) for distinguished service to medicine as a geriatrician, and to research into dementia and cognitive function.
The Director of the Cognitive Decline Partnership Centre at the University of Sydney, Professor Kurrle has been the Clinical Director, Aged Care and Rehabilitation Network, Northern Sydney Local Health District, since 2011. She was also an expert advisor to the Royal Commission into Aged Care and to the ABC documentary series Old People’s Home for 4-Year-Olds and Old People’s Home for Teenagers.
Professor Kurrle told Australian Ageing Agenda the work she is most proud of is bringing public attention to elder abuse. “We just kept pushing. It’s taken a long time to get it up there, but people are now talking about it all the time when it comes to aged care.”
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