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Celebrating Families - 18 May 2006

Celebrating Families
Judith Collins Family and Welfare Spokesperson
18 May 2006
Working Hard for Families

The Minister for Senior Citizens, Ruth Dyson, has previously given speeches condemning Elder Abuse. So, many of us have been wondering "Why is the Minister silent about Elder Abuse if it is undertaken by a union?" A photo essay in the latest issue of Kai Tiaki Nursing, the journal of the Nurses Organisation (union), has caused much controversy. The essay shows caregivers working with elderly people in resthomes and some of the elderly people have been photographed naked or only partly clothed. Photos included residents being toileted and showered.

When elderly people are infirm and dependent on others to help with the most basic of needs, they should not be put in the situation of saying " yes" or "no" to photos being taken of themselves in positions that would seriously affect their dignity. It is not fair to ask someone so utterly dependent to be so compromised. For the Nurses union to have taken these photos in the first place and then to wait a number of years before inflicting them on anyone who sees its newsletter is an absolute abuse of vulnerable senior citizens.

Unfortunately the Minister for Senior Citizens, Ruth Dyson a former trade unionist, has refused to condemn the callous and self-serving behaviour.

Yesterday, the Minister for Women’s Affairs standing in for Ruth Dyson, Lianne Dalziel, refused to admonish her union supporters for their abuse.

To have argued, as they have, that there was consent ignores the need for informed consent and ignores the need to understand the position of helplessness those elderly people were in. Caregivers of our elderly do a wonderful job and many of us have wondered why they are often paid so little. Two wrongs, however, do not make a right and in this case, the union has completely overstepped the mark, putting its desire to provide shock value above the needs of those in residential care. I cannot believe for one minute that those who actually care for the elderly would support the disgraceful display put on by their union.

Shame on the union and shame on Ministers Dyson and Dalziel.

One of the good things that has happened in the care of the disabled is deinstitutionalisation. Those with disabilities are part of our communities but will often need extra help and different solutions. This means that families, in particular, should not just be left to their own devices if they need help with a family member. Some people with very severe disabilities live in circumstances where the inadequacy of training and working conditions of staff has resulted in neglect. As an electorate MP, I have heard complaints along those lines and was therefore very pleased to be able to support the call of my colleague, Dr Paul Hutchison, (National's Disabilities Spokesman) for an Inquiry into the neglect and abuse of people with disabilities.

The Inquiry will be held by the Social Services Select Committee, of which I am the Deputy Chairwoman. Paul has prepared draft terms of reference for the inquiry but these have not yet been agreed and may be amended.
The fact that this inquiry will take place is even more important because, Health Minister, Pete Hodgson, has steadfastly maintained that there is nothing particularly wrong in the sector and that no inquiry is needed.

I recall how strongly the then Minister for Veterans' Affairs, George Hawkins, maintained that we didn't need an Inquiry into Agent Orange. When National, Act, Greens and United Future worked together to force through that Inquiry, suddenly, it became clear what had been hidden and denied for years. This new Inquiry will be an opportunity for families to speak up for their own.

I will keep you informed as to the terms of reference and the dates for submissions.


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