House debates

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Carer Recognition Bill 2010

Second Reading

Debate resumed from 29 September, on motion by Ms Collins:

That this bill be now read a second time.

10:01 am

Photo of Kevin AndrewsKevin Andrews (Menzies, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Families, Housing and Human Services) Share this | | Hansard source

In May 2008 the House Of Representatives Standing Committee on Family, Community, Housing and Youth announced a parliamentary inquiry to investigate how carers could be better supported in their role. The committee tabled its report into better support for carers, the Who cares…? report, on 25 May 2009. Recommendation 4 was to develop a nationally consistent carer recognition framework comprising, firstly, national carer recognition legislation which complements state and territory care legislation, and, secondly, a national carer strategy which builds on and complements state and territory carer policies.

On 19 October 2009 during Carers Week the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs announced that the government would develop a national carer recognition framework and introduce legislation into parliament in 2010. The government tabled its response to the Who cares…? report on 29 October 2009.

The coalition will not oppose this bill. The bill establishes a legislative framework to increase recognition and awareness of informal carers and acknowledge the invaluable contribution they make to society. It is the first element in the development of a national carer recognition framework. The bill sets out a statement for Australia’s carers. The statement will not create rights but will instead establish key principles to provide guidance on how carers should be treated and considered by Public Service agencies and associated providers. The legislation is therefore symbolic rather than substantive. The bill is purely symbolic, stating specifically in part 4, Other matters:

This Act does not create rights or duties that are legally enforceable in judicial or other proceedings.
A failure to comply with this Act does not affect the validity of any decision, and is not a ground for review or challenge of any decision.

Carers have long sought recognition for the very important and significant role they play. Carers are unpaid Australians who give their time—often 24 hours a day, seven days a week—to provide care, love and support, often at a financial, emotional and social cost to themselves. Carers play a vital role in our society and carry tremendous emotional and financial burdens. Carers are parents, grandparents, siblings, partners, relatives and friends who assist every day with personal care, health care, transport and many other activities. Carers carry out a valuable role which otherwise would inevitably fall to our public systems—our public hospitals and professional carers—to do, a cost society would otherwise have to pick up.

Many carers, despite the tough times it can bring, will tell you that there is nothing more rewarding than giving unconditional love and care to a loved one. Carers are simply quite extraordinary Australians, but for most they take the view that it is just what you do as a partner, as a parent or as a friend. Whether these carers choose to identify themselves as carers or not, it is still our responsibility to support them in whatever way we can. As members of parliament, we can help to get the support framework right, but we can never transform the lives of those that they care for like the carers themselves. It is important we recognise carers in supporting them in their invaluable role.

Whilst the sentiments expressed in the bill are commendable, the coalition recognises that sentiment alone does not amount to real action for carers. That is why the coalition has developed practical and affordable initiatives to provide real, tangible support to carers.

Australian Bureau of Statistics data show that 6.6 per cent of carers are aged 18 years or under. Indeed some 400,000 Australians aged under 26 care for a person with a disability or a long-term illness.

Before the last election, the coalition announced a policy for a young carer scholarship program. Many of these young carers are missing chances to further their education or to undertake part-time work to help support themselves whilst at school, university or TAFE. The coalition would have delivered at least 150 annual scholarships valued at up to $10,000, awarded depending on the level of education involved. The coalition also announced a plan to establish a Commonwealth disability and carer ombudsman to give carers a real and independent voice. These are just two practical and affordable policy initiatives that would provide further real assistance to carers.

The coalition recognises the vital role carers play in our society and the tremendous financial and emotional burden they carry. The Liberal and National parties have always believed that the best social support ever devised is family and friends.

In government the coalition developed a package of measures to improve the position of carers, including more respite and the establishment of the National Respite for Carers Program; the introduction of and increases in funding and eligibility of the carers’ allowance; an increase in funding and eligibility of carers’ payment; and access to income support for those caring for a child with a disability and providing encouragement and support for carers to return to the workforce.

Under the coalition every year from 2004 to 2007, carers received one-off carer bonus payments of $1,000 to each person in receipt of carer payments, and $600 to each recipient of carer allowance for each person in their care. This was recognition of the vital role that carers play in our society and the tremendous financial burden they carry.

In 2008 the then Rudd Labor government failed to recognise this and wanted to remove support from carers by stopping payment of the carer’s bonus. The Labor government did not recognise the value of our carers, and it was only after community outrage and opposition from the coalition that they finally backed down.

While recognising the voluntary and personal nature of the work carers do, government needs to assist carers with income support, training and respite. The coalition’s good economic management meant new and improved initiatives could be implemented to support and recognise the vital role of carers in our society.

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.

10:23 am

Photo of Bob BaldwinBob Baldwin (Paterson, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Tourism) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today to address the Carer Recognition Bill 2010. This bill celebrates the amazing efforts of 2.6 million unpaid family carers in our community and acknowledges their vital contribution to Australian society. My hope is that this bill will also promote discussion about the challenges faced by carers. Across Australia in every community, no matter how large or small, carers provide unpaid care and support for family members or friends who have a disability, mental illness, chronic condition or terminal illness.

Carers come from all walks of life and can take on the role of carer at any stage of life. The common attribute of all carers is defined by the adjective by which they are described: they care. They care that their friend or relative is treated with dignity and respect. They care because they prioritise the needs of their family member or friend ahead of their own. They care because they know that only they can provide the love and dedication their friend or family member deserves. I have met and spoken to many carers in my electorate of Paterson. I have learned that being a carer is rewarding but is often exhausting and sometimes heartbreaking. Carers cannot take public holidays, weekends or rostered days off. The job of a carer is never done. The job of a carer is 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

I am pleased to note that the Australian government has made progress in helping to ease the burden and stress on our carers through financial support. Currently, carers of people aged 16 years or over are able to claim the carer allowance of $106.70 per fortnight. They are also eligible for an annual supplement of $600. For those caring for a child under 16, a healthcare card is available. In addition, many are also eligible for the carer allowance of $106.70 per fortnight. However, this is dependent on the child’s level of functional disability. Importantly, the carer allowance is designed to help them meet the costs of the constant care and therefore it is not contingent on income or asset tests. Building on this, however, is the carer payment designed specifically for those who suffer a loss in income due to their carer commitment on a daily basis. The carer payment is currently set at $658.40 per fortnight for a single carer or $496.30 for each carer in a couple. This does not include the pension supplement, which may also be paid concurrently.

Although no support mechanisms or financial assistance can ever completely meet the burden for the hours of unpaid work undertaken by carers, the coalition has always understood that government has a responsibility to assist carers. That is why the former coalition government made significant steps to acknowledge the plight of carers and ease their burden through a series of financial and other support measures. In 2002 the coalition simplified eligibility requirements for carers of children with a terminal illness who receive active treatment. In 2005 the coalition increased the number of hours a carer can work, study or train to 25 hours per week. In 2006 the coalition extended support to carers of children aged between six years and 16 years with severe intellectual, psychiatric or behavioural disabilities. In 2007 the coalition introduced the carer adjustment package of up to $10,000 as an interim ex gratia payment scheme while a review of the carer payment was conducted. Between 2004 and 2007 the coalition supplied one-off carer bonuses of $1,000 for eligible recipients of the carer payment. From 2006 eligible wife pensions and Department of Veterans’ Affairs partner service pensions also received $1,000 carer bonus payments if they were receiving carer allowance. What this time line shows is that the coalition has always been committed to increased support for carers. I certainly hope that the Gillard Labor government will follow the coalition’s lead and use this bill as the start of another round of discussion and action.

It is clear that the Australian government has a massive role to play in supporting Australia’s carers; however, it would be remiss of me to stand here today and not mention the fantastic community organisations whose staff and volunteers are an invaluable resource for carers across our country. These community organisations are often the ones that step in when our carers have had a rough day and all the usual support mechanisms have failed. They offer emotional support and advice. They also run practical excursions to give our carers a much-deserved small break.

One such organisation in my electorate of Paterson that I have had the honour of getting to know is Port Stephens Community Care. Port Stephens Community Care is a vital part of the Paterson electorate. It supports individuals requiring care services to live as they choose, while providing and promoting the development of community care. The target group of clients includes the frail aged, younger people with disabilities and the carers of these people. This organisation also offers support programs and peer support. Port Stephens Community Care is a not-for-profit organisation and works with government and private sector service providers to deliver a comprehensive and flexible range of services. It does so through the use of community volunteers. Its service delivery model hinges upon the core philosophy built on the values of individual choice, dignity, respect, privacy, confidentiality and accountability. These are values that we can all strive for and that should be a part of any health policy debate in Australia.

There are also a number of other organisations in the electorate of Paterson that do fabulous work, including North Coast Community Care, which supports my constituents in Forster, Tuncurry, Tea Gardens and Hawks Nest. It has worked hard to establish ties with various support organisations throughout the mid-North Coast, and helps hundreds of people by providing in-home nursing, domestic care and in-home respite services.

Maitland Community Care is another invaluable service for constituents in the west of my electorate. Its focus is on the frail younger people with a disability and of course their carers. Its aim is to help these people continue to participate as fully as possible in their local community and to maintain their normal lives and friendship networks as long as possible. Like Port Stephens Community Care, staff value everyone’s right to choice, mobility, dignity and responsive services. Without these services, in many cases, many constituents of mine would be forced to enter nursing homes or other similar institutions because of their inability to care adequately for themselves at home.

Thus, local care services not only make an immense contribution in the lives of individuals but also help to strengthen our society and local community life. For this reason we should this week celebrate not only carers but also those who support our carers. That includes community organisations and also the friends and family of carers. I will be taking the opportunity to do so this Friday when I will have the privilege of opening the Port Stephens Community Care event, ‘A Carers Journey’ at the Tomaree Community Centre. The aim of the event is to provide information on the comprehensive range of services that are available to assist carers throughout each stage of a carer’s journey.

The team at Port Stephens Community Care is highlighting three stages, those being identification and information for carers, maintaining with support services and decision making. I would like to highlight the tireless efforts of Sheryl Cain and the team at Port Stephens Community Care in support of the Paterson electorate. In August this year the organisation was honoured as Paterson’s Corporate Citizen of the Year for its ongoing commitment to adequately manage and respond to the needs of the vulnerable in our community.

Vulnerable people in our community come in lots of different forms. That is part of the challenge for carers, many whom have the duty of carer thrust upon them unexpectedly. Often the learning process must be quick. From speaking to my constituents, I know that the welfare of a carer’s friend or relative is never far from their mind. For example, Meg and Rob from Salamander Bay are carers providing for an adult daughter and they are riddled with guilt and worry about their child’s future beyond their passing. We as a government should provide help for those in care to establish themselves where possible and live as normal a life as they can. Many carers have also approached me with concerns regarding accessing respite care in emergency situations as they are at their wits end when in need of a well-deserved break. Others are faced with crippling debt after the passing of the friend or relative they have cared for. These are just a couple of the reasons that being a carer is a very tough job. However, it is not without its rewards.

It is the moral duty of a civilised society to provide the support services all carers so richly deserve and this bill should serve many purposes. Firstly, the bill should pay worthy tribute to carers for what they do every day, often without a simple thank you or a pat on the back. Secondly, the bill should promote action to address the need for additional respite and recognition for those in our community who, through their love and dedication, save the taxpayer billions of dollars a year. The situation is not always perfect. Thirdly, the bill should raise awareness of carers and their role in society so that we can move towards an even better support system for Australian carers.

Unfortunately, many people who do not have personal experience with a carer do not understand the personal sacrifices carers make on a daily basis. This lack of awareness is despite the fact that there are so many wonderful carers in our community. For example, in Paterson alone, last year’s figures show there were more than 4,000 unpaid carers. If each of those carers was looking after just one person then this bill affects in excess of 8,000 of my constituents. That is one in 10 people in the Paterson electorate.

I am confident that my electorate of Paterson is representative of many other electorates across Australia. That is why I am proud that I have the opportunity to celebrate Carers Week here in the parliament today. I am also proud to have the opportunity to fight for more support for local carers. There are always improvements that can be made, as no system is perfect, and I will work hard to help ensure that any legislative changes do improve the lives of our carers and, in turn, the people they care for, their friends and their family. It is fantastic to get people talking about this issue, but we also need to walk the walk. We have the opportunity to turn this situation into positive, real, life-changing action. I look forward to working with Paterson’s carers towards this in the future. Again, to all of the carers in the electorate of Paterson, I say thank you.

10:35 am

Photo of Dick AdamsDick Adams (Lyons, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

There are many in our communities around Australia who are often the forgotten people. They are the ones who take up the responsibility of looking after loved ones—loved ones who may be children or adult family members, siblings, partners, elderly relatives or even close friends. These loved ones may have a disability, a mental illness, a terminal illness or a chronic condition. They may be an elderly person who cannot live unassisted but who wants to remain at home where their belongings are about them, where their favourite chair is, where they feel comfortable, where they have a good view out of their window or where they are in surroundings that they have known for an awfully long time. These carers are the ones who selflessly put aside their lives to care for their relatives or friends. Many children find themselves playing the role of an adult so that they can stay with their parent at home.

These young carers are sometimes children as young as seven. Young people help or take on the caring role in families where someone has an illness, a disability, a mental disorder or substance abuse problems. They might help out with cleaning or the preparation of meals. They might assist their relative or friend or friends with daily tasks or help them with medicines, showering, dressing or watch out for them to make sure that they are okay. Across Australia 390,000 children and young people help care for their relatives. There are as many as 70,000 recognised family carers in Tasmania. The work undertaken by family carers is worth $1.6 billion to the Tasmanian community. Many young carers say that caring can be a great thing to do, that they are proud of who they are and what they do and that they have built up a whole swag of useful skills. However, young carers also say that caring affects the way they feel, how much time they get to spend with friends or to do their homework and their ability to hold down a job, and that often they need some help.

Anyone at any time can become a carer. Some are thrown into it because there is literally no-one else to do it and, of course, it can be extremely stressful. It is amazing how much volunteer time families put into caring for relatives, without any real recognition. So when a bill was raised to enshrine in law the Australian government’s national recognition for the exceptional contribution made by hundreds of thousands of carers across the country it made lot of sense, and I wanted to support it. This is also Carers Week and the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs should be congratulated for getting the Carer Recognition Bill 2010 into parliament. This bill establishes a legislative framework to increase recognition and awareness of informal carers to acknowledge the valuable contribution they make to society. The bill also establishes a broad and encompassing definition of carer and a statement for Australian carers that outlines key principles on how carers should be treated and considered.

The bill will establish that public service care agencies should take action to reflect the principles in the Statement for Australia’s Carers in developing, implementing, providing or evaluating care supports; to consult with carers and involve them in the development of care supports; and to report on compliance with the obligations established. It will establish 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 for Australia’s Carers in developing, implementing, providing or evaluating care supports.

So the new definition is a broader one that encompasses all people who provide personal care, support and assistance to individuals who need support due to a disability, a medical condition including terminal or chronic illness, a mental illness or frailty due to age. However, subclause 5(2) provides:

An individual is not a carer in respect of care, support and assistance he or she provides:
under a contract of service or a contract for the provision of services; or
in the course of doing voluntary work for a charitable, welfare or community organisation; or
as part of the requirements of a course of education or training.

This subclause means that an individual is not a carer for the purpose of this bill if they only provide care under these circumstances; therefore, as subclause 5(3) provides:

To avoid doubt, an individual is not a carer merely because he or she:
is the spouse, de facto partner, parent, child or other relative of an individual, or is the guardian of an individual; or
lives with an individual who requires care.

For example, a foster carer is not a carer for the purpose of the bill unless the child being cared for needs support due to disability, a medical condition including a terminal or chronic illness, or mental illness. I think the real benefit of this bill is recognition of all those people who put in time 24/7 without annual leave, public holidays or time off if they are sick. It gives them an opportunity to get some understanding from the various levels of government that are included in government policy and to have the same opportunities as other Australians to live healthy, happy lives and reach their full potential.

There are 10 main principles in this bill. The first two reframe certain fundamental human right principles with reference to the status of the individual as a carer. So children and young carers should have the same rights as other children and young people and should be supported to reach their full potential. Carers should have the same rights as other Australians on a non-discriminatory basis.

Principles 3, 5 and 8 reflect on the value of the carer and the need to acknowledge them. For instance, proposed principle 8 articulates the need to treat carers with dignity and respect, while proposed principles 6 and 7 reflect on the relational nature of carers. The statement stresses that:

The relationship between carers and the persons for whom they care should be recognised and respected.

It suggests:

Carers should be considered as partners with other care providers in the provision of care, acknowledging the unique knowledge and experience of carers.

Proposed principles 9 and 10 provide more specific guidance on the treatment of carers:

Carers should be supported to achieve greater economic wellbeing and sustainability and, where appropriate, should have opportunities to participate in employment and education.
Support for carers should be timely, responsive, appropriate and accessible.

This bill forms the basis for the National Carer Strategy which is currently under development and which will shape the government’s long-term agenda for reform. This strategy will include many of the issues raised by carers through the inquiry into better support for carers. It should consider, among other things, the training and skills development needs of carers, and the advocacy of care management and care coordination for carers. We must also address the needs of young carers and carers in rural and remote communities, and this will be a key priority in this strategy.

This is a very important bill and its implementation will drive increased awareness and understanding of the role and contribution of carers, as well as a much-needed cultural and attitudinal shift so that carers’ interests are taken into account by public service agencies and service providers. I think we have all seen people give so much as carers in our communities. As we work as MPs representing our electorates throughout the country, we sometimes see enormous sacrifices by such people in our community. I think giving some recognition to them in this way is a great thing for our nation and our parliament to do. I welcome the opportunity to speak to this, and look forward to following the development of the strategy as it begins to take shape. I commend the bill to the House.

10:48 am

Photo of Judi MoylanJudi Moylan (Pearce, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Can I begin by acknowledging my colleagues the member for Paterson and the member for Lyons for their long-term interest and their very sincere comments in regard to the introduction of the Statement for Australia’s Carers. I have appreciated personally also their involvement in the Parliamentary Diabetes Support Group.

I have to declare an interest today. I have spoken many times in this chamber and in the House about the need for us to better recognise carers in Australia and the need for ongoing work in this parliament in that regard. But recently I was asked by Carers Western Australia to be a co-patron and I accepted with great joy. It is a great honour to be able to help to represent the interests of carers not only in Australia but in Western Australia particularly.

I acknowledge that it is Carers Week and it is a great thing that we are now able to acknowledge carers in this way through this Statement for Australia’s Carers at a time when there is a great focus on carers nationally.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates that there are 2.6 million carers in Australia, providing assistance to the disabled, the frail and the chronically ill. Carers are mostly family members, close friends or relatives who through circumstances not necessarily of their choosing have become a primary carer. For many it is a shock to deal with the grief that frequently accompanies the pain and the suffering of somebody that they are close to or the loss of companionship of a close friend, a relative or a spouse, or the realisation that their child will never have the same chance to fully develop and take their place in the broader community that most children have.

As deputy chair of the House Standing Community on Family, Community, Housing and Youth in the last parliament which produced the Who Cares …? report, I heard firsthand along with my colleagues the experience of carers in these and many other circumstances. None of us on that committee were left in any doubt that too many carers feel desperate, depressed and isolated.

For a year the secretariat and the members of that committee pored over 1,300 community submissions, mostly from individual carers. It was impossible not to be moved, sometimes to tears, by the heart-rending stories from people who found the courage to come here and share their day-to-day challenges as carers.

One of the many recommendations from that report was that carers be formally recognised by the Commonwealth. So many carers drop out of mainstream activities, out of the workplace and, as they grapple with the day-to-day needs of the person dependent on them, they feel isolated, unrecognised. It is a very lonely road.

We have estimated that Australian carers give upwards, if you want to quantify it in dollar terms, of $30 billion a year. That is the value of the care that is given, yet this contribution often goes unnoticed in the wider community. This statement today gives that long awaited recognition to carers, providing the basis from which to build greater support in society.

The vision is to have a nationally consistent framework for carer recognition, an architecture from which a national strategy to assist carers can be born. Such a strategy is necessary as current assistance often overlooks the human and the emotional needs of carers, adding to the confusion and the turmoil that frequently come with the shock of such a dramatic life change that carers necessarily confront. As Anne-Marie MacArthur, who cares for her elderly mother, noted in her submission:

Although services are available to carers, trying to access those services is akin to being in an ever increasing maze with illegible signposts so that the carer never really knows where to go or in which direction to take. To add to this mix the carer—

in this case herself—

is physically exhausted and emotionally spent. Not a happy combination when trying to understand bureaucratic-speak.

As the evidence unfolded, it became increasingly clear that there is simply not enough assistance to go around. Time and time again, the committee heard stories from carers who were under extreme financial or emotional stress. It is intolerable that those who give up so much to care for others should be subject to such pressures.

Women are disproportionately affected as they make up 71 per cent of primary carers with the median age of primary carers being 52 years. This brings me to a part of the statement which particularly interests me—that is, part 2, Children and Young People. There are increasing numbers of children taking on the primary caring role, often of a parent. It impacts on their education, it affects their capacity to get a job in the paid workforce and it often robs them of their childhood. In evidence to the committee, we saw incredible maturity in these young people and a great sense of pride in their capacity; nevertheless, as the member for Lyons quite rightly pointed out, they need extra support to be able to fulfil their caring role and to make sure they can take their place in the wider world.

Workforce participation and the flow-on financial impacts are critical matters for carers, particularly children and young people, and women who we see are disproportionately represented in the number of people who take social security benefits such as the old age pension. There is an expectation that families with children will have access to affordable high-quality childcare centres, yet parents who are caring for children with profound disability find it very difficult to get a placement in the small number of specialised facilities that are available. This perhaps has a disproportionate impact on women being able to take their place in the paid workforce at some stage and save for their retirement. It is another reason we are seeing disproportionate numbers of women ending up on the old age pension.

Similar accounts can be heard in relation to respite care or day-care facilities for older children and adults, who may not be able to be left at home alone. Cost, suitability and availability are all issues for primary carers who want to continue to work in the paid workforce or who just simply need some respite from the 24-hour a day, seven day a week job that they are often committed to for a lifetime. As I said in my speech to the House of Representatives when the report was presented:

… no wonder carers feel undervalued, no wonder they feel desperate, because when they cannot access work there is a whole flow-on effect. Try living on a carer payment. Try living on a disability pension. I challenge everyone in this House to think about just how difficult it is. And yet—


have no option sometimes but to stay home and care because there is nowhere to put the person who they care for—

so that they can work. With little paid work it is almost impossible to have superannuation savings so, as I said, in older age this has a major impact on all carers. As it stands, 44 per cent of primary carers are living in low-income households. The range and demand of caring roles varies considerably, but one group I continue to be deeply concerned about—and I spoke in the House about them on Monday and I will not recanvass those issues—is the ageing carers and more particularly their dependants. Twenty-four per cent of carers are over the age of 65 and of those more than 15,000 are caring for severely or profoundly disabled individuals, according to the latest ABS data from 2003. The testimony of Colin West, whose son Richard suffers from cerebral palsy, to the Senate inquiry on special disability trusts typifies the situation of many older carers. He submitted to the inquiry:

We have never applied for or received a carer’s allowance, nor, other than his home loan and a small amount of input from the Disability Services Commission, received monetary or other assistance from any Government body.

We are prepared to support our son as long as it takes and as long as we are around. What really frightens us is that we do not know who will take care of him when we are gone. His siblings, whilst very supportive, have their own families to care for and could not offer the necessary time required.

The government already provides a vehicle to assist but its practical operation is imperfect, in fact some would say almost impossible. In 2006, the Howard government created special disability trusts where families can make provision for the care and accommodation needs for severely disabled dependants in trust. With little or no impact on social security benefits the concept has much potential, but drawbacks have been identified and need to be urgently rectified by the government so that more families can benefit from this trust arrangement.

Carers should be able to look to the future with at least some degree of certainty. A dramatic increase in funding is required so that accommodation is available to those that need it the most. Also, as the need for care and associated costs grow, I believe we must examine a national disability insurance scheme. I made an addendum to the carers report on this particular matter. Whilst there is much work needed on the design of a particular scheme, as a submission from MS Australia to the carer inquiry noted:

A disability insurance scheme with a capacity to fund rehabilitation and a lifetime of care is a necessity for Australia’s health system from both a financing and a service delivery perspective.

Such a system would have a profound impact on carers and go far in alleviating the low workforce participation rate, especially amongst women, and help redress the cumulative negative flow-on effects. A national disability insurance scheme would also help to relieve the burden on the growing number of young carers in Australia. Surprisingly, 13 per cent of primary carers are aged 15 to 34 years. In raw numbers that is estimated to be 40,000 young carers in Western Australia alone. These young Australians are compromising their studies, work and social lives to provide family care. One example is Alishya Purss, who cares for her father who has depression and frontal lobe brain damage. In her submission to the inquiry she noted:

My friends would not understand what I do, as not every 19 year old does what I do. Socially, it is hard to go out on weekends and I used to be an active volunteer in my region in regards to Red Shield appeals, Salvation Army door knock appeals and blood donations. I can no longer contribute to society as I could before.

While the evidence overwhelmingly shows that the parliament must continue to work to address the physical, financial, social and psychological impact of caring, addressing these needs in a holistic manner is vital and is in the interests of the people being cared for as well. There is still considerable work that needs to be done. The needs are as complex as they are individual. As a result, we need a system that is flexible and coordinated. It became apparent to me in the course of the inquiry that for too long the welfare of carers has been compartmentalised and departmentalised, with carers finding themselves in the middle of a bureaucratic maze. For all carers, dealing with a complex system is the last thing they need.

In conclusion, we will only get a solution through a whole-of-government approach. The carers report asked the question, ‘Who cares?’ If we as decision makers are to answer, ‘We care,’ then we need to be more responsive, match rhetoric with reality and exercise our collective and political will. (Time expired)

11:03 am

Photo of Shayne NeumannShayne Neumann (Blair, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

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.

Photo of Jill HallJill Hall (Shortland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Why didn’t you do anything about it?

Photo of Sharman StoneSharman Stone (Murray, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Shortland asked why we did not do something about it. I suggest she reads the record. When in government, the coalition developed a package of measures to improve the position of carers. We included more respite and the establishment of the National Respite for Carers Program. We actually did that. In 1999 we introduced the carer allowance. We also gave the first recognition to young carers and their specific needs through respite and information services. We funded the Young Carers Research Project in 2001 and in 2004 we funded the first carers’ summit, which was so important in having those young people step into this place. Some who were in parliament at the time remember that summit and the amazing, magnificent young people who took advantage of the opportunity. They told us what it was like to be looking after their loved ones, their elders in almost every case, and about the difficulties that they faced every day in trying to meet their own personal needs and their future employment and education needs, given that they were 100 per cent, seven days a week, 24 hours a day carers.

During the 2010 election the coalition released a range of policies to further assist people with a disability and carers, including a plan to establish a Commonwealth disability and care ombudsman and a $3 million policy to introduce a young carer scholarship. I commend the recommendations in our policy to the Labor government because they would make a difference to young people. When announcing her ministry, Julia Gillard forgot even to appoint a member of executive with specific portfolio responsibilities for disabilities and carers. What a disgrace! A few days later she rushed to fill the gap with an appointment of a parliamentary secretary. We had expected more because the then parliamentary secretary, Bill Shorten, had assured us that he really cared about the sector, the disability sector in particular. But then Prime Minister Gillard forgot to give someone responsibility for that area when she announced a new set of portfolios—quite extraordinary.

Let me quote from the Carers Alliance, a very important advocacy group. When they heard about this bill, in a media release of 18 March 2010 they said:

Carers Alliance is profoundly disappointed in the Carer Recognition Bill tabled yesterday … It is a very watered down version of what Carers Alliance has lobbied for in our campaign for family carers to be recognised by legal status with rights and entitlements to services … It is unfortunate, but this Bill is not even a first step, it is actually marking time, going nowhere and providing nothing but legislative platitudes. It is most unsatisfactory and very disappointing.

So I suggest the people in government right now go and talk to the Carers Alliance. I suggest you really do make sure that we go beyond the platitudes. Of course recognition is important, but what about legal status? What about better respite support? What about understanding that in my electorate, for example, there are 80-year-old women—and they are invariably women—who have been looking after adult sons and daughters with profound disabilities since their birth, and they are now worried sick about who is going to pick up the caring that they have been offering all of their lives to their sons and daughters if they themselves die.

We simply do not have the accommodation in our communities to replace the caring that parents have been providing in their homes. As the older carers transition into aged care support, we need to have places where their sons and daughters who need care can go during at least the daytime and then for overnight accommodation, before perhaps transitioning to care for 24 hours, seven days a week because their elderly parents will not be able to continue carrying the load.

All of those needs are out there, particularly in rural and regional Australia and in Indigenous communities. The bill before us from this government simply says: ‘Yes, we know these carers exist. Look, we are going to have a recognition bill.’ I say that you have got to do much more than that. The social inclusion agenda of the last government was a farce. The now Prime Minister carried that portfolio and I cannot think of a single thing she did to reduce social exclusion or to promote social inclusion in this society—not a single thing. All we saw was rural and regional people getting more and more distant from the resources and opportunities available in metropolitan Australia. We saw Indigenous Australians more isolated and disadvantaged, and I do not think that is fair. (Time expired)

11:31 am

Photo of Jill HallJill Hall (Shortland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

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.

11:46 am

Photo of Greg HuntGreg Hunt (Flinders, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Climate Action, Environment and Heritage) Share this | | Hansard source

It is a great honour to address this bill, the Carer Recognition Bill 2010, in relation to carers and the way in which they are treated and respected within our society. I want to proceed in three phases. I want to, firstly, address the essence of the bill and the status of carers in Australia; secondly, look at the particular circumstances of children who operate as carers of parents with mental illness; and then, thirdly, address the maltreatment of one particular person, Robert Rice, and call for action on that immediately.

Let me deal first with the circumstances of carers in Australia. We know that there are at least 2.6 million unpaid carers in Australia. Their work is profound. The role that they play is socially critical. Yes, they take financial pressure off the Commonwealth but, much more importantly, they provide a human service and they help to create a strong society with a tendency towards greatness if they are given the ability and the support they need. Seventy-nine per cent of assistance required by Australians due to disability or illness is provided by these unpaid carers. If we take the entire state system and multiply that by four, that gives us the scope, the scale, the magnitude, of the work of the voluntary carer—the unpaid carer. So that is vitally important. The way in which we support them through the carer payment and the carer allowance, advances made under the previous government, is a sign of our health as a nation. This bill is a valuable step forward, although it is primarily about definitions and words and not about money. That, I accept, is the stage we are at. But the bill builds on the definition of ‘carer’ to broaden it, and that is a welcome element.

We know that there are 380,000 carers under the age of 26—young people who care for people with illnesses including congenital conditions and mental health illnesses. Of those, 170,000 are under the age of 18. That brings me to the issue of carers who are children looking after parents with mental illness. I was recently approached, on the basis of my own family circumstances, to be the patron of the Satellite Foundation. It has been a great opportunity. As a standard Australian male I did not talk about my mother’s circumstances for two decades, but an event led me to do so and that in turn led to my association with the Satellite Foundation.

What I would commend to the House is a proposal as an individual member of this parliament, not as a member of the Liberal Party or as a member of another party. It is not my party’s policy and it is not the Labor Party’s policy; it is something which I will seek to be policy on a non-partisan basis right across the House. My proposal is that there should be for young people who are caring for parents with a mental illness a program which would involve what I would call ‘camps and counselling’. It is a four-year program which we launched with the Satellite Foundation. They have valued this program at appropriately $5 million per annum. That is a starting point. We are happy to negotiate with either side of the House. At $5 million per annum over four years, the program would provide up to 8,000 places for either counselling or camps for children across the country who are taking care of parents with a mental illness.

I recently visited the Weston family in Ringwood. I will use their name because they were photographed and allowed themselves to be considered in the Australian newspaper. They are very fine people. The family consists of mum and dad and five kids. The middle child, Ethan, has quite significant Down syndrome conditions. Mum has suffered from some very, very traumatic mental illnesses but has been a great survivor. Dad is caring and the kids also have a very important caring role. These are the sorts of people who should have access to an ongoing process of constructive counselling, camps and retreats, a place of respite, on an annual basis—not as victims but as people who need to have support on the journey and to know that they are not alone.

To be able to help these people and thousands of other young carers is a profoundly important step forward. It is the niche within mental health that I wish to focus on. There are many people in this parliament and outside of this parliament who are doing great work, but I believe this is a gap. Over the course of this term, I want to work with both sides of parliament to achieve that allocation of funding. It is important, and I am very hopeful that we can do it on a non-partisan basis, with universal support. That would be a small step forward for the many thousands of children who, through no fault of their own, have an enormous weight to bear way beyond that of their years.

The third element that I want to raise in this speech is about a particular person who has been, in my view, badly treated under the current government. Robert Rice is an Australian veteran. He served with distinction in Bougainville and in Afghanistan. He is not a carer in the traditional sense, but as this bill is about the definition of ‘carer’ I think it is important that we consider his circumstances. As a decorated veteran from Bougainville and Afghanistan, he sought to make his way in small business. He was drawn into the government’s Green Loans program and paid $3,000 to go through the training and then, within a matter of days after making that outlay and completing that payment, the program was cancelled. He believed that it would be restarted, but that never occurred. He therefore lost possible income, and he has just had to sell his campaign medals. This Australian veteran, who, because of a government program, has had to sell his campaign medals, is a symbol of the thousands of assessors who trained, worked and sought to do something for the environment and then were betrayed by the government.

The message is very clear: there must be redress for Robert Rice so that he can regain his campaign medals and there must be redress for the other Green Loans assessors who are out of pocket. I would urge the Prime Minister to take up by the end of today Mr Rice’s case and the case for compensation, on a modest scale, for those assessors, those Australian small business people, who sought to do the right thing. I am happy to draw to a conclusion and to commend the bill but to seek action on behalf of Mr Rice.

11:55 am

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (Robertson, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It gives me great pleasure to speak today to this important piece of legislation—the Carer Recognition Bill 2010. This is Carers Week, so the timing of this debate could not be better. In the week that we shine the light on the work of carers around the country, it is perfect that we move in this House to establish a legislative framework for those who give care voluntarily to others in need. The purpose of this legislation is to increase the recognition and awareness of informal carers and to acknowledge the valuable—indeed, I would argue, invaluable—role that they play in our community.

I feel uncomfortable reducing the act of caring to a crude dollar value, because caring is so much more important than that. It is significant, however, and worth noting, as others already have in this debate, that Access Economics puts the annual replacement value of informal care provided by unpaid carers at more than $40 billion. When he spoke of that research earlier this week, the Minister for Mental Health and Ageing, the member for Port Adelaide, said that this research shows a 33 per cent increase in the value of replacement care over the past five years. That is a factor that Access Economics attributes largely to our ageing population. A figure of $40 billion is breathtaking on its own; but the overall dollar value and its growth really brings home to me how important our national response to our ageing population is going to be, particularly in the context of the kinds of demographic challenges outlined in this year’s Intergenerational report.

Throughout this year, I have heard many on the Labor side talk seriously about the challenges. We have heard all the projections that the number of older people aged between 65 and 84 years will more than double and that the number of very old people—85 and over—will more than quadruple between now and 2050. Especially this week, Carers Week, we should all reflect on how much of this burden of care will be borne by carers.

There is really no price we can put on the work of carers in our community. Setting aside crude dollar values, the sheer number of carers in our community is quite staggering. In my state of New South Wales there are said to be something of the vicinity of 750,000 carers. That is about one in 10 people. All of us know several carers. They are people who give from the heart. Carers can be relatives, friends or neighbours, and there are few boundaries when it comes to giving care. Carers Australia has this year again made the theme of carers week ‘anyone, anytime’. The motto reminds us all that anyone at anytime could become a carer or indeed become the subject of care.

This legislation establishes a broad definition of who is a carer. The Statement for Australia’s Carers in schedule 1 of this bill gives 10 key principles of how carers should be treated and considered. They range from the basic principle that ‘all carers should have the same rights, choices and opportunities as other Australians’ to stating that ‘support for carers should be timely, responsive, appropriate and accessible’.

The legislation does not create an enforceable right or obligation. It is a framework to increase recognition and awareness of informal carers. It does, however, create an obligation on Public Service agencies and associated providers to take all practicable measures to ensure their employees have an awareness and an understanding of the Statement for Australia’s Carers.

The bill will also establish reporting requirements for the Australian Public Service. I sincerely hope and expect that this will lead to carers leave becoming easier to access for members of the Australian Public Service and associated providers. This service has a responsibility to be a model employer when it comes to granting carers leave. Anecdotally, I hear that it does not always live up to its responsibility in this regard. I hope this legislation leads to an improvement in that area. I know that carers in the Australian Public Service will be watching closely and waiting for that consultation to occur.

Creating a national workplace culture in which carers leave is seen as a matter of course not a privilege to be dispensed according to whim of the HR line manager is something all political parties should encourage. So why, some may ask, do we need a statement of principles? From an educational perspective, I think the answer is because our values need constant reinforcement. I definitely understand that there is power in words to articulate our beliefs. This piece of legislation seeks to articulate a new understanding that is growing in Australia about the place of carers. Principles are indeed the way that we express our beliefs in such a way to form a model for how we might enact those beliefs, how we might bring those beliefs into the public place. It provides us with a core document upon which we can reflect, a document that provides a range of statements against which we must measure our success, as we move towards enacting them every day.

Research I have read most recently about the centrality of beliefs and the way we interact in our world indicates that without words that express our values, without considering our values and articulating them, and understanding them deeply, we can get caught in older sets of beliefs that can contain our possibility to respond to new challenges. In this piece of legislation, we have an articulation of beliefs against which we will measure our success. When we are in complex situations, research tends to show that we return to our beliefs. This piece of legislation is a very appropriate 2010 articulation of our deep belief, our growing understanding as Australians, of the place of carers and the role they play in our society.

Pardon me, Madam Deputy Speaker Bird, for waxing lyrical a little academically, but it is a field in which I have pursued some study. In short, defining what we want our values to be, putting them down on paper, debating them in our legislature and passing legislation are all important steps in the public process of prioritising the role of carers in our society. From a government policy perspective, this bill is the first element in the development of a national carer recognition framework, which is central to the government’s response to last year’s House of Representatives standing committee report on carers. It would be remiss of me not to note the contribution here of the former member for Canberra who chaired that committee and the deputy chair, the member for Pearce, who spoke earlier in this debate today. The acknowledgement of carers is an area I anticipate will enjoy strong and constructive bipartisan support and I look forward to engaging with my colleagues on advancing the interests of carers as best we can.

I note that this legislation will not exclude similar state or territory laws. Other states such as South Australia, Western Australia, the Northern Territory and Queensland already have their own carers charters. My state, New South Wales, passed its own Carers Recognition Bill through its parliament on 12 May this year with bipartisan support. I am pleased to note that the New South Wales act even established a Ministerial Advisory Council for Carers. The state Minister for Disability Services, Peter Primrose, is the chair of that council. Those who know Peter know he is one of the great gentlemen of the Labor Party movement. Peter and his wife, Jan, have given political care to many of their fellow party members over many years. I am very pleased to hear that the New South Wales carers advisory council that Peter will chair has committed to having diverse membership—Aboriginal carers, carers from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, people caring for a family member with a physical or intellectual disability, young and ageing carers, those caring for people with mental illnesses, carers of people with a chronic illness and carers from both rural and remote areas. Our intention at federal government level is, of course, not to curtail any positive initiatives such as these and that others may pursue in their respective jurisdictions.

Before I conclude my remarks on the legislation, I would like to close by congratulating Central Coast carer groups who have been marking Carers Week and to acknowledge the great work that they do in our community. I have spoken to a number of their representatives and conveyed my best wishes. The parent support group at Glenvale Special School in Narara, which is in Robertson, have marked Carers Week—meeting just yesterday at the school—and next week will be holding a carers barbecue to support the work the parents to. Glenvale has its main campus in Narara in the seat of Robertson and a smaller campus at The Entrance North. The latter happens to be in the member for Dobell’s electorate. As with many aspects of regional life on the Central Coast, caring has no borders. I am sure the member for Dobell will not mind me congratulating the parents and supporters of Glenvale on his behalf.

Back in Robertson in Kincumber, the Kincumber Carers Support Group held a pamper morning yesterday. June Galea, a local community worker, was critical in gathering together five local therapists who offered their services to support carers. In June’s own words, she said that carers were so used to giving that they had trouble actually receiving the care that was on offer to them. I am pleased to note that DADHC and Carers NSW provided $250 towards lunch for the day. The member for Blair indicated the funding line that allows such a celebration to occur. Our local carers were able to enjoy a morning tea, enjoy a fully catered lunch and also in between had access to reiki massage, neck and shoulder massage, manicure and pedicure. I am thinking it might have been a very nice place to be yesterday to be a carer at Kincumber. Kincumber is an area the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs knows well, because she came there not long ago and officially opened the men’s shed, a terrific venue, where there is also a lot of care given.

Carers in my region also a celebrated Carers Week yesterday with the Walk of Pride. This was the mental health carers ARAFMI group, who coordinated through Rhonda Wilson. This is the second year that the march has actually happened and it follows on from an example they saw from the Newcastle area. ‘Proud to care’ is the motto that they wanted to convey. They aimed not only to signify that they are engaged in caring and that they are proud to care but to reduce stigma about mental health and mental ill health, in particular, in the community. We want to make sure the community better understands mental health and through that they find a way, again, to support the people they are engaged in caring for.

I will conclude with one final anecdote about a Central Coast man who sought out my help. I met him on the street as I was campaigning in the most recent federal election. To secure his anonymity I am simply going to call him ‘Jack’ and his lovely wife ‘Jill’. Jack and Jill married later in life and have a great affection for one another. Jill was a disabled person when they married. Jack understood fully the care that that would entail. Most recently Jill had a fall and was hospitalised. The greatest fear that Jack and Jill have was that their lives would be very much impacted by a shift to a nursing home for Jill rather than being able to bring her home.

The critical incident made them aware that they needed to find a new hoist mechanism at home. The search for that equipment and assistance in seeking funding to provide that in their home and maintain care has taken up all of their time. I am pleased to have been able to support them in some way towards that end. The journey continues. But this fine gentlemen’s love for his wife, his courage, his determination, really serves as an inspiration to all of us in our work in advancing the interests of carers across the country. I commend the bill to the House.

12:09 pm

Photo of Bernie RipollBernie Ripoll (Oxley, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is a great pleasure to speak on the Carer Recognition Bill 2010 and also a pleasure to hear the contributions of others on this bill. It is a really important bill and gives people an opportunity to talk about some exceptional people in their own electorates and what this bill represents in terms of what they do throughout their whole lives. I too, like many others in this place, have had the great privilege of coming into contact with carers and with carer families who look after family members and other people. It is very humbling to meet and talk with them about their circumstances and the issues they face on a day-to-day basis, and to understand just how deep the commitment is to become a carer, to care for somebody else. It requires an enormous amount of commitment and effort. So it is just a small and humbling experience for me to be able to support this Carer Recognition Bill and talk a little bit about why this government supports the principles in the bill—as I believe everyone in this parliament would support them—and what they mean to carers.

The Carer Recognition Bill 2010 establishes a legislative framework around the idea that we need to increase recognition and awareness of informal carers—those who are not in a paid or structured career; those who are not directly employed to care for somebody else—and acknowledges the very valuable contribution that they make to society. While this bill is particularly about that, I want to note that I also have a little place in my heart for all the people who are professional carers—people who work in facilities looking after the frail, the aged and people with disabilities. I have come into contact with many of those people as well, and realised that, much beyond their professional contribution, much beyond what they are actually paid to do, they make a personal contribution. They become personally attached, many times, to the people they care for, and feel a deep connection with and affection for those people. They will often do things well and truly beyond the call of duty.

I want to make just a brief mention of Di Bates in my electorate and the organisation she started four years ago called Daniel’s Shield. She started awards to recognise the work of carers. She felt that there was a gap. She felt we should in some way recognise or pay tribute to people who care for others. The work that she has done has been absolutely fabulous. I was at the most recent awards, just weeks ago, and really got to see and understand just how much work, effort and care goes into being a carer, whether you are a professional carer—someone who is paid to do it—or an informal carer. And informal carers are the people we are recognising in this bill. So I have a great deal of respect for all of those people who consider themselves carers, and I will talk about the definition of ‘a carer’ in a moment.

What this bill does is to establish a definition of a carer. I think that is important, so that people can not only relate to what this bill is about but also consider themselves fully in that sense: ‘I am a carer; I define myself as a carer—but so does legislation; so does the government. I am properly recognised for what I do.’ The bill also establishes—I think very importantly—a statement for Australia’s carers. That will state key principles for how Australia’s carers should be treated themselves, and how they should be considered. I think that is something that has been lacking.

Often, we do not quite understand that relationship that a carer has with government departments, with agencies, with the commercial world, with other people and with the community, and that has been a problem for many years. This bill will remove those problems over time, and I think those principles will be something that carers themselves will enshrine, and hopefully others will as well. The way that this bill does that is by establishing the principles and providing that all public service agencies should have an awareness and understanding of the Statement for Australia’s Carers and then develop, internally, their own mechanisms and systems to make sure they can adhere to those policies and to make sure that, if they are dealing with people or if people are employed through those agencies, they understand the role that they play as carers. I think that is a very important step towards making sure that we do give due regard to the role of carers and to this Statement for Australia’s Carers.

This bill also establishes that the Public Service care agencies should actually take direct action. What they should do is reflect in their policy and in their work the principles in this Statement for Australia’s Carers. They should do that when they are providing or evaluating care support and in the way they consult with carers to involve them in the development and/or evaluation of care support. They also have an obligation to report on their compliance. It also establishes that associated providers should have an awareness and understanding of this. So this is about other people and other providers who also interact with carers.

These are very real issues. I recall on many occasions talking to carers about some of the problems they face. Often it is that no-one understands their role—that government agencies do not understand and that care provider associations in the community do not understand. They do not understand their responsibility and the role that they actually play. It is almost as if they are sidelined in the process of a particular service or a matter that needs to be dealt with for the person they are caring for. The principal person who should be part of that process is the carer themselves. They will have the deepest relationship with and the best understanding of the person they are caring for. They will have their best interests at heart. So what this recognition bill does is to help provide mechanisms for that and make sure that the Statement for Australia’s Carers is reflected in the developing, implementing and providing of evaluation, care and support.

It is not intended that this bill establishes in any way a particular charter, a carers’ rights definition or any enforceable obligations binding on carers or entities affected by this legislation—or, for that matter, the Commonwealth. It is not intended to do that. It is intended to be about setting a base of values, of recognition, of bringing forward the connection between what carers do, the people they look after and the services that are provided—and giving them some scope and some definition around what it is they do and the role that they play.

For the purposes of this act, a carer is an individual. A carer is defined in this act as an individual who provides personal care, support and assistance to another individual who needs that support because of a range of things—either their disability; their medical condition, whether that be terminal or chronic illness; whether they have a mental illness or whether they are frail and aged. An individual, though, is not a carer in respect of care, support and assistance that he or she provides if that is under a contract for the provision of services or in the course of doing voluntary work for a charitable, welfare or community organisation—or for that matter as part of the requirements of education or training. We set out to make this clear so that there is no confusion about who this relates to and the different obligations that organisations will have as opposed to individuals. This really is about informal carers rather than those who are employed in some particular capacity or who volunteer for a particular organisation who may receive funding as a matter of course for their work.

In summing up, there is a range of things that I think are important in terms of what this statement for Australian carers is. All carers should have the same rights, they should have the same choices and opportunities—regardless of their age, sex, disability, political beliefs and so on—as every other Australian. It is important that we acknowledge that, and that they understand that we acknowledge that. Regardless of their ethnicity, their heritage or their cultural background everyone should have these same rights and those rights should be recognised. Children and young people who are carers should also have the same rights as all other children. These young people should be supported to reach their full potential as well. It is the case that some young people end up being carers. Often they are sidelined in the process of care because of their age, and that should not be the case; they should have the same opportunities that other young people have.

The valuable social and economic contribution that carers make to society should also be recognised and supported. I think we can all play a role in that. I think we can do it in our own electorates. We can do it when we hold community events and when we have our own community awards. I host the Oxley community awards in my electorate, where I look to recognise people in the community who by any other means do not really get recognised. Sometimes they are people without a voice or people who are not formally recognised in any particular other way. Over the years in doing these awards I myself have been the one who has been enriched. I have managed to bring together or in a way provide a forum for people who are quite isolated in the community so that they can understand that there are other people like them, there are people in the community who do great deeds for others. We recognise also the relationship between carers and people who are themselves cared for.

This is a good bill. I know it will be supported by everyone in the parliament. It is the right course of action as part of this government’s 10-year plan to recognise fully the work of carers in this country.

12:20 pm

Photo of Steve GeorganasSteve Georganas (Hindmarsh, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I too rise in support of the Carer Recognition Bill 2010. In this bill we recognise: people’s love and dedication for their loved ones; people’s desires to see their family members live as normal a life as possible; people’s commitment to their parents, their spouse, their children, their brothers and sisters; and people’s loving sacrifice of time, energy and a large part of their own lives to the health and happiness of those for whom they care.

In our electorates we all hear stories of people who put their lives on hold to work very hard in the home, caring for their loved ones—these are stories of unswerving dedication, acute expressions of love. Some stories we hear are absolutely jaw-dropping. In some instances, such stories are almost painful to hear and bring a tear to the eyes of all of us. But mostly such stories show the dedication and the work—performed day in, day out, year after year—which is nothing short of awesome, and it is inspirational to many people.

It is always sad to learn of the condition of a person who requires care, whether the person is aged, in ill-health, suffering a progressive disease or mentally ill. Many of us empathise with the person requiring care and feel for his or her loss or absence of independence. It can be very sad to see people in need of care. This may especially be the case where memories are fresh of a strong, independent person whose life is now a shadow of what it was in his or her prime.

There are also the young—the children, who through no fault of their own have happened upon circumstances which severely limit their life options, their ability to grow as a person, the possibility of a long and healthy life. The loss or absence of what most of us take for granted can be sad. I believe when we consider carers—what they do and how they must approach their work—we should consider how they too suffer pain in seeing their loved ones suffer.

Carers endure the work itself—sometimes thankless work, even dangerous work at some points. But, as if that were not enough, they may also have to endure the slow slipping away of their loved one over many years. Such an experience could be the worst that anyone anywhere might endure. I am sure we have all had contact with carers in our electorates. We have heard heart-wrenching stories of painful experiences that last for years and we are all amazed at the resilience of these carers. We stand in full admiration of carers’ commitment to their loved ones.

Nothing could be more appropriate than this parliament—and governments and councils across the land—expressing its support for those who deliver so much support themselves. Nothing could be more just than recognising and supporting the work and sacrifices made by carers. There has been some recognition of carers and some support for them in the work they do. Some of this recognition has been introduced by the current government and is inherently positive, and this is very good. But I believe nothing can surmount what many carers go through. Nothing will outweigh the pain and heartache of loving a family member who has always loved you but now does not even know your name. That is why this bill is extremely important. I support the bill and commend it to the House.

12:25 pm

Photo of Julie CollinsJulie Collins (Franklin, Australian Labor Party, Parliamentary Secretary for Community Services) Share this | | Hansard source

in reply—Australia’s carers, through their dedication and hard work, enrich community life and are an inspiration to us all. The government is determined to give carers the acknowledgment of their role which they so clearly deserve. The need to give recognition to carers was emphasised when the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Family, Community, Housing and Youth tabled its report Who Cares…?: Report on the inquiry into better support for carers. Central to the government’s response to this inquiry was the commitment from the Commonwealth to lead the development of a national carer recognition framework. The Carer Recognition Bill 2010 is the first element of the framework. It formally acknowledges the vital contribution that carers make to Australian society and complements carer recognition legislation already in some states and territories.

There are several key elements to the bill. Firstly, the bill establishes a broad and encompassing definition of ‘carer’. This definition captures the diversity of carers and care relationships. Importantly, the bill sets out a statement for Australia’s carers. The statement contains 10 key principles that set out how carers should be treated and considered in policy development and program and service delivery. This includes the fundamental principle that all carers should have the same rights, choices and opportunities as other Australians.

All public service agencies will be required to take all practical measures to ensure their staff have an awareness and understanding of the principles in the statement. This includes the direction that all public service agencies should have due regard to the statement for Australia’s carers when developing human resource policies that significantly affect an employee’s caring role. Public service agencies with responsibilities for policies, programs and services that affect carers and the people they care for will have additional obligations under the legislation. These agencies need to ensure that their staff take action to reflect the statement’s principles when developing, implementing, providing or evaluating policies, programs or services directed to carers or the people for whom they care. These agencies will also be required to consult with carers and the bodies that represent them in the development and evaluation of relevant policies, programs and services. These agencies will be required to report publicly in their annual reports on their compliance with their obligations under the legislation.

Critically, the legislation also extends to associated providers, people or bodies contracted or funded by Australian government public service agencies with responsibility for policies, programs and services that affect carers and the people that they care for, and their immediate subcontractors. These associated providers will need to ensure staff and agents have awareness and understanding of the statement’s principles and take action to reflect the principles when they develop, implement, provide or evaluate policies, programs or services.

The bill supports the work the government is undertaking to reform the system of supports for carers and the people for whom they care. It recognises that carers should have the opportunities and the capability to enjoy optimum health and wellbeing, and social and economic participation. Implementation of the bill will drive increased awareness and understanding of the role and contribution of carers as well as drive a much-needed cultural and attitudinal shift so that carers’ interests are taken into account by public service agencies and service providers.

The bill recognises in law the valuable social and economic contribution as well as the many personal sacrifices that carers make. It delivers on the government’s commitment to provide better support for carers so that they have the same opportunities as other Australians to live healthy, happy lives and reach their full potential.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Ordered that this bill be reported to the House without amendment.