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What you need to know about the new Federal HomeBuilder grant

June 16th, 2020

Federal HomeBuilder grant 2020

The Australian Government has recently announced a new “HomeBuilder grant” to boost the Australian economy, particularly the construction industry, in light of the Coronavirus pandemic.

The new HomeBuilder grant provides eligible homeowners and first home buyers with a grant of $25,000.00 to build a new home or significantly renovate an existing home.

HomeBuilder requirements

The following eligibility requirements apply:

  1. you must be an Australian citizen (not resident);
  2. you must have an annual income of $125,000.00 or less or, for couples, your combined income in the last financial year must be $200,000.00 or less;
  3. the building or renovation contract must be entered into and signed between 4 June 2020 and 31 December 2020 and work must commence within three months from the contract date (current projects do not qualify);
  4. for new buildings, the value of the home (including land) must not exceed $750,000.00; and
  5. for renovations:
    • the renovation must be valued between $150,000.00 to $750,00.00;
    • the pre-renovation value of the home must not exceed $1.5 million dollars excluding fixtures such as sheds and granny flats; and
    • some renovations are not covered such as adding a pool or detached garage.

HomeBuilder eligibility

Eligible homeowners will be able to apply for the HomeBuilder grant when their relevant State or Territory Government implements the grant.

The HomeBuilder grant is a temporary scheme which applies alongside existing first-home and home‑owner grants.  You can register your interest to receive updates when more information is available on the Australian Government Treasury website.

The existing Queensland First Home Owners’ Grant provides $15,000.00 towards purchasing or building a new house or apartment where the value of the home (including the land) is less than $750,000.00.  These grants have their own eligibility criteria.

First homeowners

First homeowners may also qualify for stamp duty concessions, and the federal government’s first-home loan deposit scheme and first-home super saver scheme.

If you are considering purchasing, building or renovating property and have any questions concerning the grants that may be available to you, please do not hesitate to contact our team of experienced property lawyers on (07) 4036 9700 or enquiries@millerharris.com.au.

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Businesses beware! Business name renewal invoice scams

May 21st, 2020

Many business owners carry on business using a registered business name.  Registered names need to be renewed from time to time.  Private company service providers now have access to the business names register information, and some offer “renewal services”.  Unfortunately, some of these service providers are sending business owners “renewal notices” which look very much like official renewal notices or invoices from the registry, and call for payment more than double the fee to renew directly with ASIC.  No doubt they hope that businesses will simply put the “renewal notice” into their payment systems without question.

You do not have to pay for renewal through these service providers.

It is cheaper and just as easy to renew through ASIC.

Renewing your business name through ASIC is cheap, easy and quick.  You can visit their website at asic.gov.au.

ASIC sends a business name renewal notice at least 30 days before your renewal is due.  We recommend that you bin all other renewal notices received from anyone other than the ASIC.

ASIC provides the option of renewing your business name for either:

  1. one year, which costs $36.00; or
  2. three years, which costs $85.00.

Other service providers charge more than double the amount required by ASIC.  Please contact us if you are uncertain whether an invoice from a service provider is legitimate or not.

Do you need a business name?

You are required to register a business name if you are trading under a name that is different from your own name or your company’s name.

It is important to have a business name which is currently registered.  Carrying on business under a name which is not your own name, and not registered as a business name, is an offence.  It is also possible that someone else might register the name which you are using, leading to confusion and disputes.

If you have any questions concerning the operation of your business, please do not hesitate to contact our experienced team on 07 4036 9700.

Wishing you all the success for your business!

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Commercial Landlords and Tenants: impacts of pandemic lockdowns

April 9th, 2020

The Commonwealth Government yesterday announced the mandatory code of conduct for commercial leasing.

The code is intended to alleviate the impact of government implemented measures to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

To be eligible for the code to apply, an individual, business or company must show:

  1. a 30% reduction in revenue compared to a similar time last year; and
  2. an annual turnover of less than $50 million.

Businesses eligible for the JobKeeper program are automatically eligible for the code of conduct.

The code encourages tenants and landlords to adhere to, and apply as soon as practicable, good faith leasing principles for the duration of the code, which will remain in place as long as the JobKeeper program remains in place.

Among those principles are:

  1. landlords must not terminate leases due to non-payment of rent during the period of the COVID‑19 pandemic and a reasonable subsequent recovery period;
  2. tenants must remain committed to the terms of their lease, and a failure to abide to the terms of the lease may forfeit any protection by the code;
  3. landlords must offer tenants a reduction in rent proportionate to the downturn in the tenant’s business, this is likely to be between 30% and 100% of the rent;
  4. at least half of the reduction must be a waiver of rent, with the remainder able to be a deferral, where the tenant pays it to the landlord over the remaining term of the lease (or a minimum of 24 months);
  5. landlords should also pass on where practicable the effects of any financial assistance received, including alleviation of loan repayments;
  6. landlords should where appropriate seek to waive recovery of other expenses and outgoings against tenants, and can choose to reduce services provided to the tenants;
  7. landlords must not draw on a tenant’s security for the non-payment of rent during the period of the code;
  8. the tenant should be provided with the option to extend the lease for the same period as it was non-trading; and
  9. landlords must freeze rent increases (except for those based on turnover rent) for the period of the pandemic.

If agreement cannot be reached between the landlord and the tenant as to the above arrangements (including as to the amount of any waiver), the matter must be referred to mediation.

The measures prescribed above, and others in the code, seek to ensure that businesses are able to survive and continue trading when the pandemic reaches its end.

The code has an effective date as of 3 April 2020, but will not apply in Queensland until such time as it is enacted by parliament.  There is no prescribed time for this, but it is expected to be as soon as possible.

The code will only cease to apply when the JobKeeper program no longer applies and the pandemic is deemed to be over.

While this announcement will bring welcome relief for tenants, its implications in the long run may be uncertain. If you have any questions or concerns regarding your rights and obligations under the Code, you should contact our experienced commercial and property law team as soon as possible.

 

Checklist for Commercial Tenants

  • Get your business records in order so that you can demonstrate the impact of the COVID-19 measures on your business;
  • Speak to your accountant about the financial impact, and what can be done to minimise it and allow you to recover;
  • If applicable, register for the Jobkeeper Program;
  • Consider what you are realistically going to be able to do financially over the next six months or so, and come up with a proposal regarding the lease. Make sure it is fair, and is able to be justified based on your business records.  It may be useful to involve your accountants and lawyers in this process;
  • Start negotiations with your landlord to try to find an acceptable solution for both of you to get through this difficult period. Bother parties need to be honest and negotiate in good faith.
  • Do not just stop paying rent or expect your landlord to stop charging rent and outgoings. Doing so will mean that you lose the protection the government is offering.
  • Ensure that any agreed outcome is recorded in writing, and that changes to the leases are reflected in formal, enforceable documentation. Your lawyers should be engaged to do this.

 

Checklist for Commercial Landlords

  • Be pro-active. Contact your tenants and see how they are impacted.  Starting early might make the situation more manageable rather than waiting until there are few options left.
  • Speak with your bank about what your options are if the tenants are unable to pay the full rent. Can the bank help with repayment holidays or converting to interest only, or other measures?
  • Consider your outgoings and other holding costs – are there savings or deferrals which may be available?
  • If your tenants are adversely impacted, ask them to show you some financial information to show what that impact is, and what sort or relief they may be looking for;
  • Engage in negotiations with the tenant. Remember that you will both have an obligation to negotiate honestly and in good faith, and that is it likely to be better to have a viable tenant at the end of pandemic period, than be looking for a new tenant in what is likely to still be a difficult market.
  • Ensure that any agreed outcome is recorded in writing, and that changes to the leases are reflected in formal, enforceable documentation.  Your lawyers should be engaged to do this.
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The truth about why you need an enduring power of attorney

February 25th, 2020

The importance of an enduring power of attorney is often overlooked because people believe that their spouse or next of kin will be able to look after their affairs if they were to lose capacity. The truth is, it would be very difficult for your loved ones to deal with your affairs if they are not appointed as your attorney.

Let’s use the example of Jane and Tom:
• Jane and Tom are in their mid 50’s.
• Tom works full-time and Jane works part-time.
• Jane and Tom own their family home jointly.  There is a mortgage over their property.
• Tom is involved in a car accident and suffers serious brain injuries. As a result, Tom is unable to make decisions for himself and requires care on a full time basis.
• Jane is unable to care for Tom on a full-time basis and cover the mortgage repayments.  Jane decides to sell the family home and move Tom into a care facility.
• Jane contacts a real estate agent to list the property, however the sale comes to a standstill when Jane encounters a problem; Jane and Tom do not have enduring powers of attorneys.
• As Jane is not appointed as Tom’s attorney, she is unable to sign the contract for sale or transfer documents on Tom’s behalf to effect the sale of the property.

The consequence of not having an enduring power of attorney in place means that an interested party (i.e. family member or friend) would need to make an application to the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (“QCAT”) to be appointed as the administrator for financial matters and/or guardian for personal and health matters. So in the scenario above, Jane would need to make this application to have the power to sell their property. This process is stressful and can be costly.

If no one is willing to take on this responsibility then the Public Trustee and the Public Guardian may be appointed to take control of your affairs. There is also the risk of these statutory offices being appointed if there is a dispute between family members about who is the most appropriate person(s) to act.

The reality is, any person can unforeseeably lose their capacity at any time during their life. Wouldn’t you prefer to appoint someone who you trust to look after your affairs if this situation were to arise?

If you would like to avoid this problem for relatively little time and money, please do not hesitate to contact us to set up your enduring power of attorney.

Get your affairs sorted today.  Contact our Mareeba wills and estate lawyers on 07 4092 3555.

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Building covenants and solar panels – are there restrictions on maximising energy efficiency?

January 17th, 2020

Building covenants are common features of contracts for the purchase of properties in new residential estates.  Property developers use them to ensure that houses, fences and other improvements to be constructed by the buyer conform with the landscaping and design of the estate.  The intention is that by doing so, the developer maintains control of the product which it is selling, and buyers can buy with confidence that the other houses in the neighbourhood will be of a similar standard.

The content of building covenants varies dramatically from estate to estate.  Some are very basic and some are highly detailed and prescriptive.  Many of them control the design of houses, materials used, colour schemes and the location of solar panels and solar hot water systems.  Generally building covenants are legally binding, however, the Building Act 1975 (the “Act”) contains provisions which were introduced to encourage developers and homeowners to implement sustainable buildings and designs.  Covenants which restrict the use of energy efficient design features, such as solar hot water systems or light coloured roofs, in favour of unsustainable aesthetic designs can be unenforceable under the Act.

The  Court of Appeal recently considered the enforceability of a building covenant relating to solar panels in the case of Bettson Properties Ptd Ltd & Anor v Tyler.

The facts

In Bettson a building covenant required the buyer to obtain the seller’s consent before installing solar panels.  The purpose of this condition was to prevent the installation of visually unpleasing solar panels.

Without the seller’s prior consent, the buyer installed the solar panels on a highly visible portion of the roof.  The seller’s request to relocate the solar panels to a more discrete location was rejected by the buyer, as the alternative location would render the solar panels 20 per cent less efficient.

The seller consequently sought to enforce the building covenant in the court.

Section 246S(2) of the Act provides that where a building covenant requires a person to obtain consent before installing solar panels on a building, consent cannot be withheld if doing so would prevent the person installing the solar panels.

The question in this case was whether the seller’s restriction on the location of the solar panels prevented the buyer from installing the solar panels within the meaning of section 246S.  This question relied heavily upon the meaning of “prevent”.

At first, the buyer succeeded, with the lower court deciding that “prevent” meant ‘hinder’ or ‘impedes’ and consequently the seller’s requirement to relocate the solar panels to a less energy efficient location prevented the buyer from installing the panels.

However the Court of Appeal did not agree with the lower court and held that ‘prevent’ has the traditional meaning of ‘to stop from happening’.  Section 246S was held to only apply where withholding consent makes it ‘impossible’ or ‘impractical’ to install the solar panels, which was not the case here.

Consequently, the buyer was ordered to relocate the solar panels as required by the seller.

Implications

The decision of the Court of Appeal means that developers can impose building covenants which prevent a buyer from installing solar panels in the most efficient location on the roof.  Arguably, this is not consistent with the policy behind the housing sustainability measures in the Act, which generally prefer energy efficiency over aesthetics.  It may be that the government will change the Act in this regard.

If you are considering buying a property in a new residential estate, it is wise to ask the seller for a copy of any building covenants before you make a decision to commit to the purchase.  You should consult with your building designer or builder about the building covenant requirements to ensure that they can be met in a way which you are happy with.  Failure to consider the building covenants before you sign a contact can mean that you will be unable to build the house the you want, with the features you want after you have bought the land.

Please feel free to contact our property law department on 07 4036 9700 if you have any queries in relation to building covenants.

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A Strategic Alliance

August 31st, 2018

We are pleased to announce an exciting new strategic alliance between Miller Harris Lawyers of Cairns, and the Brisbane Family Law Centre.

As you know we, at Miller Harris Lawyers, have worked with North Queensland businesses and individuals for over 25 years in a range of legal service areas including commercial, business and property law, insolvency, employment law, environment law, native title and cultural heritage law, tax law, wills and estate matters, conveyancing and retirement living.

Our partnership team consists of senior lawyers with decades of experience in their chosen fields, including Accredited Specialists in Business Law and Property Law.

It is in the area of family law that our firm has recognised an opportunity to form a strategic alliance.

Brisbane Family Law Centre (BFLC)  is a boutique family law firm practising only in family law matters.  The firm focuses on providing their clients with a holistic approach through collaborative law, mediation and out of Court dispute resolution.  It is a multi-disciplinary practice offering clients access to counselling and financial professionals in addition to legal services, ensuring holistic solutions during relationship breakdowns.

Although located in Brisbane, the firm has been servicing clients nationally for quite some time and BFLC’s Director, Clarissa Rayward, welcomed the opportunity to increase their service offering by creating an alliance with us.

As a firm, we are always looking for improvements and better ways to conduct our practice, particularly in the context of sensitive areas involving families.  To increase the depth of legal expertise available to our clients, we have formed a strategic alliance with a speciality family law practice in Brisbane.

We see this alliance is in keeping with the spirit of change that is being embraced by pockets of the legal profession.  Both Miller Harris Lawyers and BFLC are breaking down traditional professional boundaries, sharing knowledge and collaborating for the benefit of their customers and teams.

We have seen significant shifts in the way lawyers and law firms offer solutions to their clients.  The future of law will require us to focus carefully on the needs of our clients in a holistic way and by necessity ‘think outside of the traditional law box’.  In the current business environment, it does not matter whether you are a firm in Brisbane or Cairns, what matters is the ability to provide seamless, tailored solutions to our clients wherever they are.

This alliance is just that- a sharing of knowledge and resources between two firms that might be separated by distance but are aligned through their core values and a desire to offer meaningful legal solutions to their clients, wherever they are located.

 

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Family and domestic violence leave entitlements

August 16th, 2018

On 1 August 2018, the FairWork Commission introduced unpaid domestic and family violence leave into all Modern Awards.

The move is seen as a significant step forward in addressing the prevalence of domestic violence in society, and providing assistance for those who need it most.

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, one woman is killed each week, and one man each month by a partner or former partner.

The determination by the FairWork Commission, which modifies the Modern Awards, was made on 1 August 2018. The changes therefore take effect with the start of the first full pay period that starts on or after that date.

The changes introduce an entitlement to 5 days’ unpaid leave to deal with family and domestic violence.

What is family or domestic violence?

Family and domestic violence is defined as violent, threatening or other abusive behaviour by a family member of an employee that seeks to coerce or control the employee, and that causes them harm or to be fearful.

Family member is given a broad meaning and includes:

  1. a spouse, de facto partner, child, parent, grandparent, grandchild or sibling of the employee; or
  2. a child, parent, grandparent, grandchild or sibling of a spouse or de facto partner of the employee.

Note:  A reference to a spouse or de facto partner also includes a former spouse or de facto partner.

Entitlement to leave

There are a number of important points to note about the leave entitlement:

  1. the leave is available to all employees, including those employed on a casual basis;
  2. the whole of the leave (5 days) is accrued at the start of a twelve month period.  That is to say, the entirety of the leave is available to an employee on their first day of work; and
  3. the leave does not accumulate from year to year. At the start of each 12 month period the amount of leave resets to 5 days.

Taking leave

The circumstances in which the leave may be taken are as follows:

  1. the employee is experiencing family and domestic violence; and
  2. the employee needs to do something to deal with the impact of the family and domestic violence and it is impractical for the employee to do that thing outside their ordinary hours of work.

By way of explanation, the FairWork Commission added that the reasons for which an employee may take unpaid leave include:

  1. making arrangements for their safety, or the safety of a family member;
  2. attending urgent court hearings; or
  3. accessing police services.

These are however only guidelines and do not represent the full extent of circumstances in which the leave may be taken.

In addition to meeting the requirements above, under the changes employees are also required to provide sufficient evidence to their employer that the leave was taken for the correct reasons.

Depending on the circumstances, such evidence may include a document issued by the police, a court, or even a statutory declaration.

Employees will also need to provide notice to their employers as soon as is practicable of the leave and advise of the expected period of leave.

The determination by the FairWork Commission states notice may be provided after the leave has begun where it is appropriate in the circumstances.

Final thoughts

These changes to the Modern Awards represent progress in addressing some domestic violence issues.  The largest point of debate so far has been whether the measures go far enough.  That is not for us to decide.

It is important however, to remember that currently these changes only apply to the Modern Awards, so only employees and employers using those awards are affected.

Will this change?  No one can be certain.  Both the current government and the Labor party have identified that they would like changes made to the Fair Work Act which would see all employees able to access the family and domestic violence leave.  Until the legislation is finalised however, we wouldn’t count on anything.

In the meantime, those employers and employees who are bound by the Modern Awards should make sure they are aware of their rights and obligations after the changes, and identify the pay period and date when they come into effect.

Finally, domestic violence affects not only those who are victims, but also those who are exposed to it.

If you feel you need to contact someone, 1800RESPECT is a national service that provides confidential information, counselling and support services on a 24-hour basis. They are available to everyone.  Not only victims but also those exposed to, or at risk of family and domestic violence. (Phone: 1800 737 732)

Please remember, if you or someone you know is in imminent danger you should contact the police immediately on 000.

If you have any questions about this article, or other enquiries related to employment matters, please do not hesitate to contact us.

AJ

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The new GST withholding obligations for buyers

June 28th, 2018

From 1 July 2018, purchasers of new residential property across Australia will need to withhold the GST component of the purchase price of their property and remit it directly to the ATO as part of the settlement process.

The changes introduce fairly onerous obligations on buyers of new property and new residential land to ensure that even if they are not notified, if there is GST payable on a purchase, they provide it to the ATO.

There are also very large penalties for failure to comply.

The changes have been introduced to capture GST payments from property developers directly as part of the sale process.

What do sellers need to do?

Sellers of all residential property will be required to provide a notice to prospective buyers telling them whether they will be purchasing new residential property, and whether or not they will need to withhold an amount for GST at settlement.  This means that not only property developers will be affected by the changes, but all sellers of residential property.

A failure to provide this notice can attract a penalty for the seller of up to $21,000.00 per occurrence, and failing to provide an accurate notice can attract the same penalty.

There are some obvious flow on effects for sellers that will have their GST withheld at settlement.  Cash flow will be impacted and where a mortgagee is involved, they will have to take less than the full purchase price at settlement.

What do buyers need to do?

What is onerous for buyers is that their obligation to withhold GST is not in any way effected if the seller fails to give a notice about the GST withholding obligation.

This means that if a notice is not given by the seller, buyers will need to make their own determination about whether the property is new residential property, and whether withholding is required.  A failure to withhold could result in a penalty of an amount equal to what the buyer was required to withhold (10% of the purchase price).

If a notice from the seller is provided about GST withholding, the buyer is entitled to rely on that notice, provided it is reasonable to do so (i.e. the buyer is not aware of any circumstances that might indicate they are required to withhold when the seller has told them they do not have to).

It also may not be easy to determine whether residential property is new or not: what if it has been rented for a number of years?  Is it an independent living unit in a retirement village?

New standard contracts will be issued prior to the changes coming into effect, so Real Estate Agents and sellers should be very aware of the new changes when entered into or negotiating contracts closer to 1 July.

Make sure you don’t get caught out!

If you have any questions about the changes, or would like assistance with your conveyance please contact Lauren Doktor at Miller Harris Lawyers.

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The Restructure of the Family Courts

June 21st, 2018

The government last week announced a proposal to restructure the family court system.  The proposal is one of most significant changes to Australian family law in many years.

The proposed changes have been met with widespread media attention and scrutiny.  Several of our clients and referrers have asked us what the proposed amendments involve.

The current system

Currently, the Family Court system across Australia comprises of two courts:

  1. the Federal Circuit Court of Australia – which deals with the vast majority of general family law matters; and
  2. the Family Court of Australia – which deals with complex, lengthy and involved parenting and property disputes.

The Family Court of Australia is the higher court.  Its judges bear the title of “Justice” while the Federal Circuit Court judges are titled “Judges”.  Often judges in the Federal Circuit Court will transfer a matter to the Family Court if they consider it complex enough to warrant the transfer.  Examples of matters dealt with by the Family Court include high nett worth and complex property disputes, international relocation applications and parenting matters containing serious and significant allegations of abuse against children.

The proposed changes

The government’s proposed changes can be summarised into three main points:

  1. A merger of the courts

The Family Court and Federal Circuit Court will be merged to create a new court called, the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia.

There will be a single entry point to the court.  All family law disputes, regardless of how complex and involved, will be commenced and dealt with by the new court.

Initially, there will be two divisions of the new court.  Division 2 will essentially be the Federal Circuit Court as we know it. Division 1 will essentially be the current Family Court.

  1. One set of rules and forms

Currently, the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court have an individual set of rules and forms.  Under the new court, there will be a single set of rules and forms.

  1. The eventual extinction of the Family Court and its judicial officers

Division 1 (the new Family Court) will eventually cease to exist under the proposed changes.  Judges are required to retire upon turning 70 years of age.  The government will not appoint any further Family Court judges.  Upon the retirement of the current Family Court judges, the Family Court, or the new division 1 will become extinct.

The scrutiny

There has been significant media attention and debate following the government’s recently announced changes.

A lot of scrutiny appears to be regarding the lack of prior consultation that the government had with relevant family law bodies and the current Family Court themselves, about the proposal.

Much attention has also been focused on the failure of the government to propose further funding for the Family Court system or appoint new judges, in a court system which is considered by many to be suffering from lack of funding and lengthy delays.

On the other hand, the government has received praise for its attempts to simplify and cut unnecessary delays and costs from the courts.

Where to from here

While it may be one of the most significant changes to Australian family law in some time, we are likely to see many more changes in the next three years.  In late 2017, the government appointed a commission to conduct a review of family law in Australia.  The review is separate from the government’s proposed changes to the court system and is likely to bring with it significant change to family law in Australia as we know it.

For more information please contact our family law team on 07 4036 9700.

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World Elder Abuse Awareness Day – 15 June

June 15th, 2018

Today is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.

Elder abuse is a global issue which affects the well-being and human rights of our older generations.  It is an issue that deserves worldwide attention.

Elder abuse is any act that that causes harm or distress to an older person by someone they know and trust.  Elder abuse can take various forms such as physical, psychological, financial, emotional or sexual abuse. It can also be the result of intentional or unintentional neglect.

Elder abuse is not always easy and obvious to detect.  Behaviours a person may exhibit when experiencing elder abuse include:

  • withdrawing from normal activities;
  • making roundabout statements or excuses, for example “My son does not like me going out on my own”;
  • being unable to talk on the phone or only being able to talk on the phone when someone is present;
  • suddenly moving away;
  • avoiding eye contact; or
  • becoming irritable or easily upset.

Elder abuse is everyone’s business and I strongly believe that community awareness is the key to reducing elder abuse.  I urge you to engage in discussion with your family and friends and continue the dialogue.  Look out for the elderly members of our community and don’t be afraid speak up if you suspect abuse is occurring.

If you or someone you know is experiencing elder abuse, please contact the Elder Abuse Prevention Helpline on 1300 651 192.

For more information on elder abuse, please contact our Associate, Bianca Stafford on 4036 9732.

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