Thursday, 21 October 2010
Carer Recognition Bill 2010
I speak in support of the Carer Recognition Bill 2010. Carers Queensland tells me that in my electorate of Blair, which covers most of Ipswich and the Somerset region in South-East Queensland, there are more carers than in any other federal electorate in Queensland. For a long time in the Ipswich and West Moreton community there has been a very large number of people suffering from disability. This came about as a result of the presence of the Challinor Centre in Ipswich before de-institutionalisation took place some years ago to place people with mental disability into the community in domestic settings where they could be cared for by themselves or with the wonderful support of local community organisations—churches and charity organisations or care organisations such as Blue Care and others in the local area. For a long time Ipswich has been, because of low-cost housing, a place where people who are challenged, vulnerable and in difficult circumstances have come to live.
I have heard this figure quoted on numerous occasions this morning: 2.6 million Australians providing care for family members or friends with a disability, mental illness or chronic condition, or who are frail aged. In point of fact it is a lot more. The figures they quote are from the Australian Bureau of Statistics from 2004; now it is 2010 and there are many more than that. I heard quoted on numerous occasions as well, here and elsewhere, that there are approximately 500,000 of those people who are primary carers—providing the most care. That figure, again, is six years old and inadequate.
There are many people who do two jobs. One is caring for little ones—their own children—and caring for their parents or uncles and aunties who are suffering because they are frail aged or who have, by virtue of illness, injury, sickness or disease, circumstances where they cannot provide for themselves in a domestic setting. Sure, we provide HACC funding, and a record amount of that, and we have great Commonwealth respite centres in this country, including one in my electorate, which I will talk of in a minute. But it is simply not enough. The intergenerational report said that by 2050 we are going to have 2.7 Australian workers for every person over the age of 65 years. It is five now and it was seven in the 1970s for every person who was 65 or older.
As people get older their bodies cannot cope with the rigours of life, and they find themselves in circumstances where they cannot do everything they wish they could or that they once did. According to Carers Queensland, carers provide about $30.5 billion worth of care each year. As Carers Queensland tells me—and their website makes it very clear—our health and hospital system simply could not survive without carers because we would have to pay for doctors, nurses and allied health professionals without them.
I also want to commend the government for their Young Carers program and the assistance that they have provided. We have provided $25 million to continue to support young carers across Australia. Many young carers also have dual roles because they are in school, they are in TAFE, they are studying or they are working part-time. It is difficult to stay in touch with their friends. It is a daily challenge to provide care for their mum or their dad or, sometimes, their sibling. The Young Carers program provides access to respite care services to help school-age young people take time off for recreation and sport, to enjoy times with their friends and to continue with their study. We understand that caring for a loved one is a massive responsibility and it is not easy. There is no time off; it is not nine to five. There is no annual leave, there is no sick leave, there is no holiday bonus; you do not get work cover. You imperil your financial security in the future, your job prospects are reduced because of the time away, your earning capacity is abated and there are so many things that a carer suffers from themselves because they do it. They do it because of their love, compassion, charity and humanity for those they care for in their families and their friends.
Any sort of support and recognition is important in our community. The fact that this legislation has taken more than the century since Federation to actually be promulgated through this place and signed off by the Governor-General—the fact that it has taken us this long—is a national shame and tragedy. Carers Australia has been calling for this for a long time. Indeed, the Commonwealth government—whoever has occupied the Treasury benches from time to time—has failed with regard to the response to what carers have demanded and called for for a long time. I am pleased that the Gillard Labor government, of which I am proud to be a member, has responded to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Families, Communities, Housing and Youth report Who cares? I think that says it all. If we care we need to recognise those who care.
We have made significant changes to the help given since we have been occupying the Treasury bench: for example, pension increases from 20 September 2009, the introduction of a permanent ongoing carer supplement, the implementation of carer payment, child reforms from 1 July 2009 and the provision through Job Services Australia of assistance to carers entering or re-entering the workforce. I am particularly looking forward to seeing how the national disability strategy will be rolled out in the future.
This bill, as the Parliamentary Secretary for Community Services indicated in her second reading speech, is a first step for our National Carer Recognition Framework. This morning on my local radio station, River FM94.9, I paid tribute to the carers in my community. They get valuable assistance. I have heard many of them at my mobile offices around my electorate talk about the need to recognise what they do. This legislation adopts a very broad definition of ‘carer’—and so it should. It recognises that care, support and assistance can be given to individuals due to disability, a medical condition (including a terminal or chronic illness), a mental illness or frailty due to age. The bill then refers to an individual needing to not be a carer simply because they are a spouse, de facto partner, parent or guardian of an individual and so on.
This statement of principles about how carers should be treated is considered important in the employment arrangements for the Commonwealth Public Service. It is particularly significant that the Public Service of the Commonwealth, in which there are many fine men and women, is to develop internal human resources policies which take into consideration an employee’s caring role, having regard to the Statement for Australian Carers—those principles enshrined in this legislation. It will set a precedent and a benchmark and will be a symbol to other Australian employers, particularly in the private sector, who may not be so benevolent, benign and charitable about how they recognise employees’ obligations to their families and friends who suffer from disability, illness, injury and frailty.
This legislation is not just about the Commonwealth public sector. It has better implications for all of us and our community in general. We provide assistance to Carers Australia. Previous speakers have talked about being advocates in raising community awareness through activities and campaigns. We have provided $200,000 each year through the Department of Health and Ageing to Carers Australia to administer Carers Week—and so the department should.
We have, as I said before, Commonwealth Respite and Carelink Centres throughout the country. There are about 54 of them, one being in my electorate in the heart of Ipswich, and I have been there on numerous occasions. They provide assistance. In addition, we have demonstrated a commitment to carers through our National Respite for Carers program. There was, just a couple of years ago, nearly $200 million allocated in the budget for that. There are some wonderful community based respite services in my area. The respite services in my electorate which have received assistance through one-off funding under the National Respite for Carers Program, to name a few, are the Uniting Church in Australia—West Moreton South Coast Commonwealth Respite and Carelink Centre, Queensland; the Uniting Church in Australia Property, Employed Carers Service; Alzheimer’s Association of Queensland, Ipswich Day Respite Centre; and RSL (Queensland) War Veterans Homes Ltd. That assistance improves respite services for carers in Ipswich and surrounds to cover the costs of minor building modifications or the purchase or replacement of equipment and furniture. It is important that we do that.
Every year carers provide over 1.2 billion hours of care and this is worth some $30 billion annually to the economy. If carers decided overnight to literally stop—if they literally ran out of the capacity to do what they do and said, ‘No more!’—you can imagine the economy having to find $30 billion worth of alternative support for the people they are caring for. Too often we forget the extraordinary load that carers are carrying for our community. A primary carer’s role is the equivalent of a traditional full-time paid job of 40 or more hours a week in the labour market but, as I have said, our carers are not paid a salary. Instead they are paid a benefit, for those who meet the income and assets test criteria, or a carer payment or they may, under certain criteria, get a carer allowance. The carer allowance is not means tested, thankfully, but it is a comparatively small amount.
There are 2 million carers of working age, but they have to leave their jobs or they cannot enter the workforce or they work very substantially reduced hours because of the caring role that they undertake on behalf of the whole of our Australian society. Some 60 per cent of young primary carers, those aged between 15 and 25, are unemployed or not in the labour force. That is 60 per cent compared with 38 per cent of the same age group in the general population, and remember I have already said that Indigenous young people aged between 15 and 34 are almost twice as likely to be carers as non-Indigenous Australians. So imagine the handicap that those young Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians have when 60 per cent of them are not employed. They cannot be employed; they cannot go and get an apprenticeship to develop their future employment skills and make themselves employable because they have this caring function and take up this caring role.
Only 4 per cent of young primary carers aged 15 to 25 are still at school. That is 4 per cent compared to 23 per cent of the same age group in the general population. So they are out of school; they are not in work; they are not doing future education and training. This younger primary carer group was given particular recognition by the coalition when we were in government. We set up special inquiries and we wanted special scholarships for them to help them compensate for their lack of access to further education.
Unfortunately it is this young group of carers who today simply get ‘recognised’—nothing more—and I think that is a dreadful shame. It is an indictment on this place and this Labor government that more has not been done for those young primary carers because, after all, these young people will, in time, be very significantly handicapped in their opportunities to develop their full potential—their full employment potential and their capacity and time to have their own families and to care for many others besides the person they are caring for at this very young age.
Carer payment, as I said before, is subject to an income and assets test, but for a single person it is $658.40 and for a couple it is $496. It by no means compensates for the effort that these people put into looking after people too frail or disabled to be independent. The coalition introduced the carer allowance. We made sure that there was support that was non-taxable, neither income nor assets tested, and paid through the social security income support payment. That was a very important measure we introduced.
When we were in government we particularly understood, as I said before, the significant problem for young carers. On 24 June 2009 Carers Australia released the final report from the Bring it! Young Carers Forum 2008. That report highlighted key messages and directions for the future that they hoped would assist young carers to identify care, study, work and access support.
I strongly recommend that the Labor government reads and responds to that report. Unfortunately we have not had a response. Those younger carers remain out there doing their incredible task, at the same time handicapping themselves for future full engagement in all of the opportunities this great country has to offer. It is one of my deep misgivings and sadnesses that the coalition was not re-elected, because our mental health budget was so significant. Certainly, compared to Labor, it was going to deliver real benefits to those with intellectual handicaps or mental illness, and there would also have been much better outcomes for carers. But we now have a minority Labor government, of course, and all we are getting today is this bill recognising the fact that these carers actually exist. The coalition understood too that respite was so important. We cannot burn out our carers and then expect them to somehow pick up the load.