Monday, August 4, 2014

Millers Point and the United Nations

Our colleague Kim Boettcher, solicitor for The Aged-care Rights Service (TARS), has addressed the United Nations' Open-Ended Working Group on Ageing (5th session), and drawn attention to the plight of tenants of social housing at Millers Point and The Rocks, and of other older persons. The text of her address follows.



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.


2 comments:

  1. Surely the United Nations deserves better facts than utter nonsense:
    "As the wharves are being knocked down for the casino to be built, hoards [sic] of rats are moving up the hill and to the area where these people live."

    The 'wharves of barangaroo' were torn down firstly in the 1920s and lastly in the 1960s. What's left of them has been covered in concrete more than a foot thick. If it has taken 55 years for rats to move 'up the hill' then they must be pretty slow moving rats.

    Oh and if no one noticed, there's rats in every part of inner sydney.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I think you're missing the point, Anon.

    ReplyDelete

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