New legislation which comes into effect today will provide thousands of Western Australians who are limited in their ability to look after their own interests with a cheaper, more flexible way to protect their financial and personal interests.
Attorney General Joe Berinson said the phased introduction of the Guardianship and Administration Act was now complete, with the office of the Public Guardian and a Guardianship and Administration Board fully operational.
This ensured an easily accessible means of protecting the interests of people unable to make decisions for themselves.
He stressed that establishment of the Public Guardian and the Guardianship Board was not intended to detract from the role of the great majority of caregivers who cared for, and made responsible decisions on behalf of, incapacitated family members and loved ones.
"Unfortunately, however, people whose ability to make decisions for themselves through causes such as Alzheimers disease, brain damage, mental illness or intellectual disability are particularly vulnerable to abuse and exploitation," he said.
"Particularly where money is involved, some unscrupulous people may be tempted to manipulate or influence the person to their own advantage."
In some cases, family members or other carers may also disagree as to what decisions were in the person's best interests, and in the past, such disputes had to be resolved through more costly and sometimes prolonged court proceedings.
Under the new legislation, the Guardianship and Administration Board could appoint a responsible person to act on behalf of someone unable to manage their affairs in relation to work, living arrangements, medical treatment or financial management.
The board could only make an appointment if the needs of the person could not be met by other means less restrictive of the person's freedom of decision and action.
People who were concerned about their ongoing ability to manage their own affairs would also now be able to appoint a person in advance to act on their behalf if necessary in the future.
Mr Berinson said the emphasis of the legislation was on people's ability to manage their own lives wherever possible.
An estimated 10,000 Western Australians have senile dementia, while a further 10,000 have a mental illness at any one time. In addition, about 400 of the 4,000 people admitted to WA hospitals each year with head injuries are left with moderate to severe disabilities, while a further 3,000 West Australians have a moderate to severe intellectual disability from birth, and 13,000 a mild intellectual disability.
Mr Berinson also announced the final membership of the Guardianship Board, which is chaired by Mr Justice Robert Nicholson, with Mr Keith Chapman, the Principal Registrar of the Supreme Court, as deputy chairperson.
Psychologist John Hames, social worker Felicity Child, occupational therapist Catherine Hill, Spastic Welfare Association executive Erik Leipoldt, Dr Gwendoline Leavesley, and founding member of Windmill Projects Christine Hales, join previously announced members Dr Alan McCutcheon, Reverend Canon Leslie Goode, and social worker Jo Stanton.