Thursday, 21 October 2010
Carer Recognition Bill 2010
If I had followed the member for Pearce I would have found myself agreeing with most of what she said, but I think the member for Murray has a very distorted vision of what the Howard government did when it was in power. Unlike the member for Murray, I did not just read the media release from the Carers Alliance—I actually spoke to them when the Parliamentary Friends of Epilepsy conducted an inquiry into the needs of people with epilepsy. I know the issues that are important to them. From my work in the electorate and from the number of people I have seen, I am also very aware of the challenges facing carers and the multitude of needs that they have.
I would also like to address the issue that the member for Murray raised about the Howard government introducing the carer allowance. The Howard government changed the name of the carer allowance. It was previously available but it was called by a different name. That was a very dishonest contribution to this important debate on the Carer Recognition Bill 2010.
I would like to acknowledge the work that the former member for Canberra, Annette Ellis, did in this area. She was totally committed to carers, to people with disabilities and to older people in our community. She chaired the Standing Committee on Family, Community, Housing and Youth inquiry, whose report, Who Cares?…report on the inquiry into better support for carers, was tabled during the last parliament. I know that she was passionate about this issue and passionate about ensuring that carers and those they cared for had a better deal.
This bill is committed to enshrining in law the Australian government’s recognition of the exceptional contribution made by carers throughout Australia. This is the first tranche in putting together a national carer recognition framework. This bill is the first element of that framework. It is not the answer; it is not the complete framework. It is the first part of our commitment to delivering to carers, and it responds to that wonderful report that so many members in this parliament put an enormous amount of effort into.
This legislation establishes a broad framework and encompasses the definition of carer. There are many definitions of carer and, whilst you have got a number of definitions, it muddies the waters. This legislation adopts a broad definition of carer. I think it is important that it is not narrow. It looks at encompassing all people who provide personal care, support and assistance to individuals who need support due to their disability and medical condition. That includes terminal or chronic illness, mental illness and fragility due to age.
A person will not be a carer for the purpose of this legislation simply because they are a spouse, de facto, parent or guardian. In other words, another person could be the carer for somebody even if they have a spouse or de facto. A person who provides support under a contract for services or as a volunteer for a community organisation is not entitled to be considered a carer under this legislation or because they live with an individual. I am sure all members of this parliament can cite examples where a carer lives in a separate dwelling, suburb even, and provides care to one or two individuals who live in a house. Quite often it will be a daughter or a son that is providing care to their parents or it could a be young person that is being provided support by a parent that lives at a different address.
I think it is important that the definition of a carer be flexible because, by putting in place a broad definition of carer, it ensures that people are not excluded from being considered as a carer on a technicality. That has happened in the past.
This bill also establishes the Statement for Australia’s Carers, which states key principles of how carers should be treated and considered. It establishes that all public service agencies should have an awareness and understanding of the Statement for Australia’s Carers and develop internal human resource policies, insofar as they may significantly affect an employee’s caring role with due regard to the statement.
The bill also establishes that public service agencies should take action to reflect the principles in the statement for carers in developing, implementing and providing or evaluating care, supports; consult with carers and involve them in the development or evaluation of care supports; and report on the compliance with the obligations established. It also establishes that associated providers should have an awareness and understanding of the Statement for Australia’s Carers and take action to reflect the principles in the statement in developing, implementing or providing evaluation of care supports.
This is a very important piece of legislation. There has been consultation with carers and it is very important that all stakeholders be involved in the development of legislation like this. For far too long, carers have provided the care, asked for nothing and often worried about the consequences of not being around to provide care particularly where parents will be caring for their children in the future. Carers do a number of things—feeding, bathing, dressing, administering medications, transporting, banking, shopping and paying bills. Most importantly, carers provide emotional support, day in and day out. That is why respite—which the member for Murray raised—is so important. Often the provision of respite can help the carer maintain that role.
One of the most mind-blowing experiences for me was when I visited a family in my electorate with a young daughter who had developed muscular dystrophy. The mother was providing 24-hour care for her daughter—total love, total commitment. She would be up half a dozen times a night ensuring that her daughter continued to breathe. She was three or four years old and had developed muscular dystrophy at a very young age. Previous to that she had been a very happy young girl, running around and walking. Within a very short period, she was confined to a chair and needed intensive nursing care around the clock. The only thing which kept this mother going was respite care. I worked hard to increase her respite time.
This was when the coalition government was in power. I met with a number of parents who had children with profound disabilities and because of the definition ‘disability’ they were excluded from receiving the carers allowance. One mother whose child had a tracheotomy took her child to Centrelink and it was only when the Centrelink staff saw the child that they were prepared to pay carers allowance. This child was similar to the young girl I mentioned previously who had muscular dystrophy. This child had a different disability but needed intensive care and because the boxes were difficult to tick—it was a narrow definition—it meant that the carers allowance was not payable. Coming back to the definition of ‘carer’ I think that having a broad definition of ‘carer’ is very important. If you do not have that broad definition, it is going to inadvertently exclude people. The last thing we, as a parliament, want to do is to exclude anybody who is providing care for vulnerable people—people with a disability, people who are old, frail or have a terminal illness—from receiving support.
The former Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Children’s Services, Bill Shorten, did an enormous amount of work in this area. I feel it is important to acknowledge the work that he did in relation to people with disabilities, which flowed on to providing support for carers and helping them in their roles as carers.
I would like to congratulate Minister Macklin on this legislation and not only on this legislation. As I said at the commencement of my contribution to this debate, this is the first step in her total commitment to carers, to support them in the long term and bring in a tranche of improvements to legislation to ensure that all governments, across all areas, work together and are committed to acknowledging carers in all legislation. This is groundbreaking legislation for carers. It is the first step, and there will be many more because this government is committed to carers. I know that members on the other side of this House are also committed to carers, particularly people like the member for Pearce, who has a long history of working to ensure that carers and those they care for have good quality of life. I commend the legislation to the House.