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Welcome to our 2019–2020 Annual Report.

At Elder Rights Advocacy, the complexity of our work continues to shift amidst a changing sector and variable working conditions. The Royal Commission into aged care and COVID-19 pandemic may have created a challenging backdrop for the 2019–2020 financial year, yet it didn’t stop us doing what we do best: empowering and supporting older Victorians to stay in control, stay connected, make informed decisions, plan ahead and – most importantly – uphold their rights.

This report highlights our activities during the 2019–2020 financial year. Our knowledge, skills and services have grown, and continue to grow. We are proud of what we have achieved and look to the future with confidence.

Elder Rights Advocacy staff and volunteer team, 2019–2020 financial year:

Leadership team

Michael Gourlay, CEO
(until January 2020)
Philippa Campbell, Acting CEO
(from February 2020), Elder Abuse
Prevention and Response
(until January 2020)
Debra Nicholl, Advocacy Manager
David White, Operations Manager

Business administration

Karen Fraser, Business Manager
Tanya Wasylewski, Communications and
Business Administration
(From October 2019)
Freda Ousalkopoulos, Reception /
Administration Assistant
(From February 2020)
Nanette Austin, Accreditation Project
Officer (From January 2020)
Mecca Galam, Administrative Assistant
(September 2019 – March 2020)
Christine Lai, Administrative Assistant
(November 2019 – February 2020)
Kirsty Edwards, Administrative Assistant
(July – September 2019)
Chadani Karki, Social Work Student
Placement (December 2019 – April 2020)

Aged Care Navigator

Cassie Browne, Advocate –
Aged Care Navigator

Community Visitors Scheme

Megan Collisson, Coordinator
Community Visitor Scheme
Mairead McGowan, CVS Project Officer
(From April 2020)
Lucinda Miranda, CVS Project Officer
(January – April 2020)

Advocacy team

Kaylene Cahill, Advocate
Kate Dalton, Advocate
Christine Hopwood, Regional Advocate
Anthea Katsaros, Regional Advocate
Pauline Meaney, Advocate
Sue Petrini, Regional Advocate
Ruth Wein, Community Educator
(From August 2019)


It has been challenging for everyone during this pandemic, one way or another. We have been building the airplane while we are flying it, but for the next world health emergency we will have a better idea of what to expect.

Christine Hopwood, Advocate

Meet the board:

Mary Anne Hunt | President

Joining the ERA Board in 2012, Mary Anne became Chair in 2014. With significant experience of leadership in a range of communities and organisations, including health, family, disability, aged services and vocational education, she has a passion for the rights of older people to the highest quality of care. Since 2018, Mary Anne has also served as Chair of OPAN.

Elisabeth Grove | Secretary

A Board member since 2013, Lis has worked as a teacher, researcher, editor, and language consultant to community organisations. Direct experience of the aged care system through family members has shaped her concern for the human rights of the elderly, in particular, the need for better information, advocacy and support

Naresh Raja | Treasurer

A qualified accountant, Naresh has served as ERA’s Treasurer for several years. With a focus on implementing sound financial management and reporting systems both in Australia and abroad, he is currently Chief Financial Officer for six companies. He is also Treasurer of the Springvale-based charitable organisation, Friends of Refugees.

Georgie Landau | Director

The Board’s longest-serving member and President until 2014, Georgie has worked as a lawyer and urban planner. Experienced in advocating for the elderly and marginalised, her recent work for moveU has included helping older people decide on suitable housing and life transitions. She is also a member of the Association of Age Service Professionals.

Jim Brown | Director

Jim joined the ERA Board in 2015, motivated by the challenges facing older Australians, especially the transition to aged care. He brings to the Board valuable expertise in strategic management consulting, transforming organisations to make them more customersensitive. Prior to his consulting work, he was a senior executive in IBM.

Caroline Carroll OAM | Director

Caroline is Community Education Coordinator at Open Place, the Victorian service for Forgotten Australians, and Chair of the national peak body, the Alliance for Forgotten Australians. A regular conference speaker and participant in national reference groups, including the National Apology to Victims and Survivors of Institutional Child Sexual Abuse, Caroline joined the Board in 2019 with a particular concern for Forgotten People in aged care.

Melissa Griffiths | Director

Melissa is a consultant, speaker and transgender authority, who also has professional experience in audit. Her media appearances and public advocacy for the LGBTIQA+ community over several years have been recognised by an Australia Day Achievement Award. She joined the ERA Board in 2019, motivated by a desire to improve the situation of older LGBTIQA+ people in aged care


For me it’s been a time of reflection on the importance of human interaction and kindness.

Kate Dalton, Advocate

President's report

Mary Anne Hunt, President

To our team, on behalf of the Board, I thank every one of you for your contribution to Elder Rights Advocacy this year. Your professionalism, care, courage, kindness and willingness to walk beside older Victorians have enabled their voices to be heard and their human rights upheld during very difficult and challenging times.

To our OPAN partners, thank you for the challenges, opportunities for learning and influencing, and for our shared successes as a Network. To my Board colleagues, our CEO and the Leadership Team, thank you for your diligence and tireless efforts.

Elder Rights Advocacy began 2019/2020 with a clear agenda for the year ahead, or so we thought. To complete our first three-year contract with the Older Persons Advocacy Network (OPAN) and re-tender for the continuation of our contract; to respond to the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety; to implement our Diversity project; to review our strategic plan; to achieve external accreditation and the consolidation of our services across regional and metropolitan Victoria. Little did we know what lay ahead.

The first significant event was the release of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety’s Interim Report, Aged Care in Australia: A Shocking Tale of Neglect, in October 2019. By early 2020, we had experienced the disasters of fire and flood, and in March, the COVID-19 pandemic changed every aspect of our existence.

While the pandemic has impacted everyone, older Australians have suffered the most, especially those in residential aged care facilities and those living alone. The impact of COVID-19 on residential care has been devastating, resulting in neglect, abuse and the loss of 655 lives. These deaths were a direct result of the inadequacies of the current aged care system, the very system that was intended to protect, support and nurture older Australians.

For over 20 years, the Australian government and the broader community have ignored the views of older Australians on how they wish to be supported as they age. Instead, we have continued to institutionalise our elders while deinstitutionalising services for other groups in society. In fact, since 1997, the institutionalisation of older Australians has increased: we currently lead the world in the proportion of older people in residential care.

Why? Our society does not value older people. We hide our bias in order to maintain a view of the world by which our elders are considered useless and dispensable. This societal attitude has a name: “ageism”. Ageism results in unfair attitudes towards older people, their experiences, and their capabilities.

Elder Rights Advocacy has been well aware for 30 years that the aged care system has suppressed the voices of older Australians. Our organisation exists to support older people’s right to quality care, to ensure that they have the opportunity to access and exercise greater choice and control of the services they utilise. Yet injustices persist and Australia’s aged care system is widely recognised as broken. So it is not enough to reform the system. We must demand the “transformative change” of our social services in aged and community care. They must be based on enshrining the human rights of older people.

For this transformation to occur, as Albert Einstein put it, our thinking must change. “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them”. We must all commit to challenging the old ways of thinking and create an environment of respect, kindness and compassion which enables the voices of older Australians to be heard, embraced and acted upon.

Mary Anne Hunt
On behalf of the Board

2019-2020 by the numbers

Calls direct to ERA

10000 +

calls in 2019/2020

Additional enquiries to OPAN and SDOs

10000 +

TOTAL calls

10000 +

calls for Royal Commission/ Charter of Rights 1800 237 981

10000 +

calls to OPAN Covid-19 1800 237 981


COVID has come to have different meanings for different people, ranging from Confinement, to Isolation and Devastation.

For others it has meant:
Compassion – finding creative ways to support resident and family needs for engagement and contact.

Originality – using the opportunity to trial new programs.

Versatility – identifying other expertise among our staff and utilising it to respond to residents’ needs e.g. hairdressing and technology skills enabling connection with families.

Innovative – responding to needs in new ways, e.g. Container Pod rooms installed for visitation; shower curtains re-worked to be used as hugging coats; hiring pinball and other games for residents’ one-on-one use.

Daring – choosing to be different, e.g. organising coffee cart visits to bring the outside world into a facility within social-distancing rules.

Pauline Meaney, Advocate

CEO's report

Philippa Campbell, Acting CEO

I would like to begin by thanking the staff at Elder Rights Advocacy for their commitment and support as I transition from Acting CEO to take up the role of CEO, commencing in July 2020. And to the Board of Management for their trust in me to lead the organisation into the future. A special thank you to Mary Anne Hunt, President, for her support while I move into the role.

A month after taking on the position of Acting CEO, I found myself leading the development of a pandemic plan for the organisation, which included a rapid shift to all staff working from home. For everyone, it has been a very challenging time. However, working from home has not stopped us from doing what we do best.

Through the Older Persons Advocacy Network (OPAN), our National Aged Care Advocacy Program (NACAP) has been extended for another two years commencing on 1 July 2020 and – as you will see within this report – we play an important role in advocating for the rights of older Victorians. This has become especially evident through COVID-19.

Our Aged Care Navigator trial program will be extended for another 12 months commencing in July 2020 and our regional Community Visitors Scheme (CVS) is strengthening; however, we see a huge need for further growth due to the ongoing issue of isolation and loneliness for older people – certainly becoming more evident through the pandemic. A huge thank you to all our wonderful CVS volunteers who continue to pivot and shift within the COVID restrictions, meaning a transition to electronic communication and “snail mail”. Oh the art of letter writing!

While our work has greatly increased in complexity over the year,
our knowledge and skills have also grown. Kept informed by older people, our highly competent staff deliver a quality service in all areas, and we are truly making a difference. We have a very solid foundation to draw upon when advocating for our clients, building community capacity to respond to issues, and contributing to government reforms. We are currently working through the final draft of our submission to the Royal Commission into Aged Care, eagerly awaiting its final recommendations and the government’s plan to improve the sector.

Thank you to all who have contributed to our work in the past year, including our funders, the Older Persons Advocacy Network (OPAN), our very active Board, our many CVS volunteers and our suppliers. We are strong.

A big thank you to our staff, who have been working within a rapidly changing sector and under the difficult circumstances of working from home and COVID-19 restrictions. We are making a difference.

Thank you to all the older people and/or their representatives who have made contact with us for information, advocacy support, education, or to seek friendship and social connectedness though our community visitors scheme. We are with you.

This has been a very challenging year amidst the long and drawn- out Royal Commission into aged care and the COVID-19 pandemic. However, we will continue to empower older Victorians to stay in control, stay connected, make informed decisions, plan ahead and – most importantly – uphold their rights. We now look forward to this next year – a time of possibility, opportunity and influence. Change is afoot, and we are determined to see it through!

Go well.
Philippa Campbell, CEO

Embracing diversity

The Kitchen Table Project

We are committed to making sure our services are inclusive of all older people, particularly older people who are marginalised and those who face barriers to accessing aged care services.

The Kinfolk Project

The Kinfolk Project is an initiative of Alice’s Garage that aims to improve older Trans and Gender Diverse people’s choice and control over gender identity and expression by educating service providers.

Brochures in other languages

Towards the end of 2019 we translated our brochure into 18 languages, reflecting our commitment to ensuring that older people from CALD backgrounds are aware of our services.

National Aged Care Advocacy Program (NACAP)

10000 +

Information Cases May was our highest month with 344 info cases

10000 +

Advocacy Cases April was our highest month with 183 active cases

10000 +

of advocacy cases were with people identified as special needs under the Aged Care Act

10000 +

hours of work in NACAP needs under the Aged Care Act

Advocacy and information service

During the past year, the advocacy team at ERA has continued to provide information and support to help older Victorians and their representatives address aged care concerns. Advocates assisted in the resolution of issues directly with aged care providers, and through the provision of information on consumer rights, empowered older people and their representatives to advocate on their own behalf. By listening to the voice of the older person and representing their perceived interests, we worked to provide a service that was relevant, flexible and effective.

The Victorian community is diverse and the needs of individuals are specific, so it is important that our advocacy practice reflects this. We have provided advocacy support to consumers of residential aged care (RAC), community home support (CHSP), and those receiving home care packages (HCP) and flexible care. We have provided advocacy assistance to older people who identify as members of special needs groups, including people living in rural and regional Victoria, where choice can be limited and distances prohibitive. We advocate strongly for providers to take these special needs into consideration and to deliver care and services that are flexible, enabling as much choice as possible for the consumer.

Our advocacy team is located across Victoria, from Gippsland to Echuca, Melbourne, Geelong and the Central Goldfields. We understand local issues and, for most of this year, have been able to support our clients by offering face-to-face visits and support at care planning, case meetings and assessments on request. We could not have imagined that the year would end with all of us working from home, unable to travel due to a worldwide pandemic.

Our challenge during the pandemic is to continue to enable the voice of the older person to be heard, to reach out through the use of technology and provide the support that is requested of us. We are very concerned that the right of older Victorians to safe, quality care and services that meet aged care quality standards is not currently a reality for all, in particular, for those living in residential aged care facilities. During the first wave of the virus, ERA advocates assisted colleagues in NSW to provide advocacy support to residents at Newmarch House, a facility that was significantly affected by the pandemic. Many residents lost their lives and endured hardships that should never be repeated. A key learning from the government review of what happened at Newmarch was that access to advocacy services should be a priority during any outbreak. This was in recognition of the ability of advocates to help resolve issues expeditiously, which can only be of benefit to the older person and their representatives.

Debra Nicholl, Advocacy Manager


COVID-19 has heightened the need for social contact and the role of our Community Visitors is as essential as ever.

It’s been difficult knowing that our advocates are dealing with a lot of challenging conversations during COVID, but I’ve been impressed with the way ERA has adapted to the changes COVID has brought.

Mairead McGowan, CVS Project Officer

Top issues of advocacy


Hydration / Nutrition




Access to specialised services


Assessment / Care Planning (NACAP)


Fees / Charges


Choice / Decision Making

Community education

Our advocates have been on the road, travelling throughout regional Victoria to meet with older people in residential aged care facilities, social clubs, activity groups, retirement villages and so on, providing information on aged care services and the rights of consumers who receive those services.

The Charter of Aged Care Rights and the Aged Care Quality Standards are our guide and the empowerment of older Victorians is our aim. Advocates participate in networks and groups across Victoria, including primary health networks in the Gippsland area and the Loddon Mallee / Hume Aboriginal network. It is through these and other networks that we also share information and continue to promote the rights of older Victorians to receive safe, quality care that meets their individual needs. Advocates have provided education on consumer rights to nursing and aged care support students as well as to residential aged care and home care staff. The value of these education sessions has been recognised through continued requests for this service from the same providers over many years.

Abuse of older Australians (elder abuse)

ERA advocates work with older people, their representatives and providers of aged care services to raise awareness of elder abuse and the many forms that it can take.

We have advocated for the rights of residents living in aged care facilities to have their care needs responded to in a timely manner, so that they do not suffer the effects of neglect. We advocate for all consumers to be treated as individuals so that their emotional, social and psychological needs are met and they do not suffer any form of mistreatment. We have provided elder abuse-specific education to aged care staff so that they are better able to recognise the signs of elder abuse and respond appropriately, in particular, regarding the compulsory reporting of sexual and physical abuse in residential aged care facilities.

ERA advocates have been participating in the Victoria Police Financial Elder Abuse Trial, which has involved working with community organisations in two regional areas to identify and respond to the financial exploitation of older people. We have made referrals to the police which have resulted in support for the older person to take action and take back control.Elder Abuse can take many forms and we have identified that the older person’s right to make informed decisions about living the life they choose is under threat more than ever. ERA advocates will continue to support the older person’s right to dignity and choice (Aged Care Quality Standard 1).

Debra Nicholl, Advocacy Manager

Elder abuse advocacy

10000 +

ElderHelp app launched

10000 +

Elder Abuse information Cases

10000 +

Elder Abuse Advocacy cases

Aged Care Navigator

At the start of the 2019–2020 year, the current Navigator had only recently started with ERA and we were busy making connections and promoting the trial. While most support was delivered by phone, it was our ability to offer face-to-face support to vulnerable older Victorians who were having trouble connecting through the phone-based My Aged Care system that caught the interest of consumers and referrers.

Fast forward to March and the unprecedented lockdown left many older Victorians at home alone – more than ever in need of support, but often unsure how to access it. Callers were focused on immediate needs, and we found ourselves answering many new and unusual questions, using the opportunity to educate callers about future aged care options. As COVID became the new normal, people started planning ahead and enquiries about aged care increased again. With many of our callers lacking internet access, we squeezed more out of phone and postal communication to bridge the gap and increased collaboration with informal supports and providers. The Advocates as Agents trial was another innovation that allowed us to better support consumers remotely.

In June it was announced that the Navigator trial had been re-funded for 12 months. We are thrilled to be able to continue demystifying the system and connecting people with aged care support. With a new communications plan to promote the trial, and group sessions added to our scope for the coming year, we hope to reach even more Victorians.

Cassie Browne, Advocate – Aged Care Navigator

The Community Visitor Scheme (CVS)

Megan Collisson, Coordinator CVS

It has been an exciting year for ERA with the launch and roll-out of the CVS program throughout regional Victoria. The CVS program is a federally-funded initiative, whereby volunteers are recruited and matched with socially-isolated older people who may be lonely and would benefit from having a friendly visitor. The program is a new pathway for ERA and enables us to provide additional support and connections for our older community.

As the CVS Coordinator for the program, my focus over the past year has been to develop strong connections with agencies to build the profile of the program and organisation, whilst also building a strong, vibrant and committed volunteer team who are there supporting our community every day.

The year 2020 has presented many challenges for all of us in Victoria. Bushfires, a pandemic and restrictions to daily life have certainly impacted how we do things, requiring us to be agile in service delivery and flexible in our approach to an ever-changing landscape.

COVID-19 has forced us to redevelop our program to ensure we continue to support individuals throughout these uncertain times. During the first wave of the pandemic, the CVS team redeveloped the program to a virtual model, known as The Connect & Share Project. Connect & Share allows volunteers to interact with individuals by phone, online, letters and video chats. Extensive work was done with aged care facilities and home care providers to ensure that our existing recipients were able to remain connected, as well as continuing to reach out to individuals who, without these changes, might not have been able to access the service.

COVID-19 has highlighted the significant impact social isolation has on individuals, and the benefit of social connection for an individual’s wellbeing. The silver lining to the troubling times we currently find ourselves in is our amazing volunteers. I am extremely honoured to be working with our rapidly growing team of 60+ volunteers, who are making over 200 connections with isolated older people each month.

Every day our volunteers are calling, video chatting, writing letters, and keeping connected with our most vulnerable community members. Often, our volunteers express their delight in connecting and sharing and learning from our elders. Without this commitment, many individuals would go for days without speaking or seeing a single person.

Our focus over the next 12 months is to expand and continue to grow the CVS program throughout regional Victoria.

I would like to acknowledge the work and commitment of our volunteers. It has been an absolute pleasure working with our team and I am excited as to where the next 12 months will take us.

Megan Collisson, Coordinator Community Visitor Scheme (CVS) Victoria

Community Visitors Scheme (CVS)

10000 +

hours of training and support for our volunteers.

10000 +

contacts a month for older people

Active with home visits across 5 regional areas:

10000 +

Grampians, Loddon Mallee, Gippsland, Barwon, Hume


As our calls include lots of laughs, catching up on news and current affairs, including football, and also an opportunity for older people to express any anxieties and concerns about the state of the world, or their health etc. I particularly enjoy when clients reminisce on their past life experiences and travels.

A valuable service and much appreciated by all of us.

Michelle Russell, CVS Volunteer

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