Wednesday, 8 August 2007
I rise to talk tonight about one of the Wakefield forums, which I had last week in Wakefield, looking at disabilities. The federal Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Mal Brough, came to Wakefield and met with a number of carers for people who have disabilities, at the Northern Carers Network. The Northern Carers Network is led by a lady called Maria Ross. She has been variously described by different people as a saint, as somebody who has kept their sanity and as somebody who very much has made life bearable and workable for these people because she has brought together a body of knowledge but, more importantly, has the passion and the ability to connect people who are caring for those with a disability.
Our forum was very instructive. There were a number of areas that people raised that we were able to talk about. There has been a lot of discussion in the media about the need for the federal government to be working with the state government and not to have the blame game. This is one area where I continually see the Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs from the federal government reaching out to the states, particularly to South Australia, and inviting them to come to talk and to look at ways that we can work together to meet the needs of people with disabilities in South Australia.
What became very clear through some of the questions and answers is that people really are not concerned about which level of government pays for services; they want outcomes. At the end of the day, for the government, the minister explained that we have on a number of occasions sought to engage with the states and territories—in our case, specifically South Australia—to reach an agreed position so that the Commonwealth-state disability agreement could be signed and agreed to well ahead of time. That gives agencies on the ground the time to know where their funding is going to come from so they can retain staff rather than waiting until the last gasp, when people are starting to consider looking for other jobs and so on because the funding is not secured. We were very keen to try and get that funding agreement done early. Yet, time and again, the states have walked out or asked for deferments, which have pushed it out toward the end of this year, so these agencies do not know whether funding is going to continue.
The minister was able to highlight some of the initiatives that we have taken, because of that, to directly engage with people. One of the real concerns that have been raised with me time and again by older carers, people in their 60s or 70s who are caring for adult children, is: ‘What is going to happen to our child? What’s going to happen to them when either I pass on or I need care myself? What is their future going to be?’ They are concerned about the lack of care for their children. So one of the initiatives that was very warmly received in this forum was the initiative whereby the Australian government has committed, before the end of this year, to make a care plan—to individually visit each older carer and look at what they and the child that they are caring for need into the future and put in place a care plan; importantly, a funded care plan.
I think that is one of the things that have most frustrated families who have come and spoken with me about disability care. Because of the division of responsibilities, they say that in some cases Disability SA, a state-run organisation, have responsibility for things, and their website says, ‘We deliver (a), (b) and (c),’ but when the families come to seek that support they find that that support is not actually available because the agency has not been funded adequately by the South Australian government.
So, in some of these interventions by the federal government, we are saying that we are taking a whole slab of responsibility away from the state government—in this case, for senior carers. We are going to be providing that care plan and the funding for that, which means that the state governments can spend a higher proportion of the funding they do have on each of the people who still remain under the area that they have agreed is going to be their responsibility. Certainly, as I sit and listen to the families who talk to me about the caring responsibilities they have and the impact those have on the other children in their family, I welcome the measures by the federal minister, but I also call on states and territories to step up to the mark, take this opportunity, cease the blame game, come on board, talk with us, get this agreement in place and provide the services that these families so desperately need.
Question agreed to.