This week, Attwood Marshall Lawyers Family Law Special Counsel Michael Twohill, Estate Litigation Special Counsel Lucy McPherson and Wills & Estates Senior Associate Debbie Sage took part in a roundtable discussion with NSW Attorney General Mark Speakman, sharing their views and brainstorming solutions for local issues close to their hearts.
Meeting with the Attorney General
Held at the office of Tweed MP Geoff Provest, the one-on-one discussion proved a great opportunity for our lawyers to share their expert knowledge with the Attorney General and inform him of key problems facing some of the most vulnerable people in our community that are most in need of government attention and legislation change.
The conversation spanned several important topics, including initiatives for domestic violence prevention, the opaque fees of the NSW Trustee and Guardian, delays at the NSW Probate Registry, and alarming statistics on elder abuse.
Domestic Violence and Youth Crime
During the session, Michael Twohill raised the need for a forum of stakeholders to be set up in the Tweed-Byron District, aimed specifically at domestic violence prevention. Domestic violence prevention has been one of Michael’s passions throughout his 40-year career.
He has appeared on local television and radio programs calling for a dedicated Domestic Violence Police Station to be set up in the Tweed-Byron area, similar to those being established by the Queensland Government. Michael took the opportunity to discuss this issue in detail with the Attorney General, making it known that he intends to keep pursuing the government authorities so that they understand why such police stations are needed in the district.
Although Michael is about to retire from active practice this week, he will continue to play a role in pushing for change in this area, such is his commitment.
Lucy McPherson also talked about youth crime and the lack of a manned police station in Kingscliff, which is a major concern given the rise in youth crime rates in the area and the planned opening of the new Tweed Hospital nearby.
NSW Trustee & Guardian
Lucy and Debbie raised concerns over the way the NSW Trustee & Guardian handles its fees for estate administration, explaining that there is currently a lack of disclosure for testators when their wills are being prepared.
Citing some of the horror stories they have heard, and seen firsthand, of exorbitant fees and mismanagement of estates, Lucy and Debbie suggested that a duty of disclosure should be introduced that would require the NSWTAG to explain its fees and charges whenever it is appointed executor of a will, similar to the way solicitors are under a duty to disclose their fees.
NSW Probate Registry
Lucy and Debbie shared their experience with the extensive delays of the NSW Probate Registry. Applying for grants has been very inconsistent, with applications filed in January taking on average two weeks, while applications filed in 2022 are still delayed by at least ten weeks. Lucy and Debbie raised the issue in light of the knock-on effects being felt by estates and beneficiaries who are forced to endure a very long and unforgiving court process.
Debbie drew the Attorney General’s attention to elder abuse, given recent statistics that signal more legislative changes are necessary.
Debbie focussed on Legal Aid NSW’s three-year pilot program for a specialist Elder Abuse Service which was funded by the Commonwealth for the Central Coast/Lower Hunter region. The pilot program, which has been extremely successful, is set to finish in September this year. The program managed to recover almost $1.9 million in clients’ funds, and, given how successful the program has been, Debbie urged the Attorney General to consider rolling it out across the whole state.
Debbie also asked the Attorney General whether he thinks the existing laws in NSW are a strong enough deterrent against elder abuse and whether specific laws should be in place like those that have been implemented by the ACT, which criminalise abusive conduct towards a vulnerable person and make it an offence for those that care for a vulnerable person to fail to protect them.
The Attorney General reserved his judgement and stated that he wants to see how recommendations from the Royal Commission have been rolled out and enforced, however the elder abuse specialist unit with Legal Aid NSW piqued his interest. Debbie explained that the elder abuse service have reported a 20 percent increase in self-referrals between 2021 to 2022, while the Elder Abuse Prevalence Study in 2021 found that 1 in 6 older Australians have reported experiencing abuse in the 12 months leading up to being surveyed for the study.
Debbie’s focus on elder abuse in NSW follows her fierce campaign in Queensland to introduce new laws that specifically criminalise elder abuse. In 2022, Debbie presented at the Liberal National Party 2022 Annual Convention to address hundreds of LNP Members and their Members of Parliament to bring attention to the inefficiency of our current laws in protecting the elderly from abuse.
Debbie is a passionate advocate of the safety and wellbeing of the elderly community and will continue to push for change and raise awareness about how to better protect the interests of the elderly.