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