House debates

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Carer Recognition Bill 2010

Second Reading

10:08 am

Photo of Chris HayesChris Hayes (Fowler, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I too rise to support the Carer Recognition Bill 2010. As you recall, this bill was in the last parliament prior to it being prorogued and now it is progressing. I welcome the support of the opposition in the passage of this bill in the House.

It is appropriate that the government recognises the vital role that carers play in our community and throughout society and to acknowledge the enormous personal and financial contribution that carers effectively make as they go about providing care. Carers are unsung heroes, and this bill goes some way to recognising and placing value on their incredible devotion, service and sacrifice and, quite frankly, outright hard work that is put in to looking after either a loved one or someone who they have dedicated their time to supporting. This belief is based on not only the sense of social responsibility but also the understanding that the work of carers in our community is commendable; moreover, it is essential.

According to the last census data, in and about my electorate in south-west Sydney there are 18,000 people who are reported to be providing unpaid assistance to persons with a disability. So, as at census night, 18,000 people, which is a very big number, were doing extraordinary work. I suppose one of the reasons it is so high in the south-west of Sydney is that the number of people who live with disabilities is overrepresented. Obviously, that has a key impact on the work of carers as well.

People who provide care include those who provide occasional care as well as full-time care for people with long-term illnesses and others who simply cater for the consequences of our having an ageing population. That is progressively becoming quite significant in our modern society. Then there are other people who cannot take any form of external work at all because they dedicate themselves to providing care to someone with a severe disability or a medical condition or to a loved one who is just very frail. There are many categories of carers in our community, and what is significant is that, other than families and people who directly acknowledge what occurs in the household, most of this caring goes unnoticed. Unfortunately, there has been no proper recognition until now. Carers have, understandably, been calling for greater recognition of their role in the community, and that is what this bill sets out to do. The Carer Recognition Bill 2010 is the first step in developing a National Carer Recognition Framework.

I remind the House that before the 2007 election the Labor Party made its stance on carer and carer recognition quite clear. Very deliberately, in a speech given by the then shadow minister for ageing, disabilities and carers, Senator Jan McLucas, she acknowledged the immense importance of carers in providing support for people with disabilities. I should at this stage congratulate Senator McLucas, as she now holds the role of Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Carers—a portfolio that I happen to know she is personally very committed to.

Labor believes that all people should be able to participate as valued members of our society. Disability should not stand in the way of people being active members of our community, our workplaces, our families as well as society in general. That is why in 2007 we announced that we would focus the disability service system on the needs of carers and review the need for federal legislation to recognise the role of carers in our community. As a result, in 2008 the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Families, Community, Housing and Youth conducted an inquiry into better support for carers and carer networks. In May 2009, the committee’s report Who cares…? Report on the inquiry into better support for carers made 50 recommendations, including that the government develop a nationally consistent carer recognition framework comprising national carer recognition legislation, which complements state and territory carer legislation, and a national carer strategy which builds on and complements state and territory carer policies and provisions currently in existence.

I am very pleased to say that the government has responded favourably to those recommendations and that as a consequence we have the bill that is before the House. This legislation establishes effectively who is a carer. It contains the Statement for Australia’s Carers and sets up reporting and consultation arrangements for certain public sector agencies as they go about their work, requiring them to have proper regard for those people who give of their time as carers. I will go into some of the detail of the bill shortly but firstly I think it is important to highlight that this legislation is part of Labor’s commitment to national carer recognition. It has certainly been welcomed by the various key organisations operating in this area and supporting the carer networks themselves. In fact, when we announced that we would establish a national carer recognition framework, Carers Australia CEO Joan Hughes said this:

The announcement of a National Carer Recognition Framework by the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, the Hon Jenny Macklin MP, brings us one step closer to a society that supports and recognises the contribution of family carers …

Following the first introduction of this bill into the House, Ms Hughes said:

This legislation is an important landmark and one that we have been working towards for some time.

We believe all carers should have the same rights and opportunities as other Australians to enjoy optimum health and social wellbeing and to participate in family, social and community life. It is encouraging that this is reflected under the principles of the legislation.

This bill enshrines in law an increased recognition of the awareness of informal carers and acknowledges the valuable contribution that they make not simply to the people they render care to but to society as a whole. It establishes a broad and encompassing definition of who is a carer. Under this legislation the definition of ‘carer’ encompasses all people who provide personal care, support and assistance to individuals who need support due to disability or medical conditions, including terminal or chronic illnesses, mental illnesses or fragility due to age.

I would like to highlight the fifth principle of the Statement for Australia’s Carers:

Carers should be acknowledged as individuals with their own needs within and beyond the caring role.

This is something I became vividly aware of, Mr Deputy Speaker. You might recall that two or three years ago we had a delegation of young carers visit this parliament. Like most members, I spent time with some of these young people and I learnt that in their role as carers they were being supported by this national network. I was talking to one of the young people, an 18-year-old, who was completing high school with no scope for extra tuition or assistance. This person was caring for his mother, who had a chronic illness, so he was looking after his mum while at the same time trying to maintain his studies. He thought he was there all by himself as there was no extended family network helping him. Until he became engaged within the carer network and found that there were other people in similar roles and that, besides that, there were organisations that actually looked at the issue of rendering care, this young bloke just thought that this was his lot in life. It is interesting that, having spoken since to him, I now understand that not only has he been accepted into university but he now has a continuing role in a carer network. He lives in the Northern Territory with his mother. So I have always thought this was quite an interesting thing as there was this one person in a crowd who had a story. I think the truth of the matter is that you do not have to scratch too deeply to find out that there are many people in this predicament—feeling isolated and alone and that they have a personal duty in their life to look after a family member or whomever it is.

This bill is trying to go a step further, to show that people are not alone, that we do recognise and value what carers do in the community. We will build support mechanisms as a consequence. Recognition was a big thing for this young fellow. Recognition showed that he was not just looking after his mother; he was seen as delivering to the community very worthy and wonderful assistance. If anything, that is the story which this legislation seeks to establish—giving proper recognition to the role of carers in our community. It is more than appropriate to recognise the role carers play in our society and the invaluable work of caring for those who are less fortunate, are ill or have a disability. It is just as appropriate and important to remember that carers have their own identity outside the role as a carer. While that role certainly contributes to their identity, it should in no way be limiting or stifling. They too have the right to have ambitions, to strive to fulfil their dreams. That is something we need to understand in our communities.

The other principles of the statement of Carers Australia which have struck a particular chord with me include the principles that carers should be treated with dignity and respect and that support for carers should be timely, responsive, appropriate and accessible. Much can be said about simply having a bill which recognises carers. This bill is not just a statement of recognition. It does a lot more than that, formally recognising what it is to be a carer. It ensures that government agencies, in developing policy, take into account carers’ needs and that these principles are considered when they implement and evaluate policies for various programs or services directed to carers. On that basis, I commend the bill to the House.


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