House debates

Monday, 25 October 2010

Private Members’ Business

National Carers Week

Debate resumed, on motion by Ms Owens:

That this House:

that the week of 17 to 23 October was National Carers Week;
that there are more than 2.6 million carers in Australia;
the caring role is one of immense social and economic value, with carers being the foundation of our health, aged, palliative and community care systems;
as health care increasingly moves away from ‘institutional’ settings into the home and community, family carers shoulder greater responsibility for managing complex conditions and providing the emotional and physical support for the person for whom they are caring;
without carers, no future health or community care system will be able to respond to changing demographics and health needs, clinical practices and societal influences, in the long term;
the Government’s practical measures to improve the lives of carers through significant reforms across the disability, health, mental health and aged care service systems, including:
delivering a $60 a fortnight increase to the base pension plus an increase of $5 a fortnight in the new Pension Supplement for carers receiving the maximum single rate of Carer Payment (a total increase of around $100 per fortnight, after indexation increases from 20 March);
guaranteeing the certainty of an annual ongoing Carers Supplement of $600 for each person cared for, benefiting around 500 000 carers;
overhauling the complex and restrictive eligibility requirements for Carer Payment (Child);
significantly boosting funding to the State and Territory governments for specialist disability services including supported accommodation, in-home care and respite; and
commissioning the Productivity Commission to examine the feasibility, costs and benefits of a National Long Term Disability Care and Support Scheme; and
calls on the Government to renew its commitment to carers in this Parliament and to exercise all instruments of policy to support carers in their vital work.

6:42 pm

Photo of Julie OwensJulie Owens (Parramatta, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to recognise the vital work of, and enormous contribution made by, Australian carers. No group deserves our support more than carers. Few make greater sacrifices or demonstrate a firmer commitment than carers. They provide the strongest support to some of the most disadvantaged in our community. As Minister Macklin said recently at the Carers Week launch:

It’s a job where you don’t knock off at five o’clock—or six or seven. No public holidays, no annual leave, no time off when you’re sick.

Carers give a whole new meaning to the words—”soldiering on”.

All of us in this House would have had the privilege of meeting some of the extraordinary people who dedicate literally every second of their lives to caring for someone they love. Over one in eight, or close to three million Australians, are estimated to be providing informal care to a person who needs assistance due to disability, chronic illness or old age. Nearly half a million, 494,000, are primary carers, providing the majority of the recipients’ care, and approximately 3,000 of those live in my electorate of Parramatta.

I am going to talk a bit about the numbers here, and particularly the dollars—what it costs people to do this extraordinary thing that they do. I know well and truly that I am talking about people, but for a few minutes I am going to talk about dollars. It is estimated that informal carers together provide a total of 1.2 billion hours of care per year. That is equivalent to each carer providing an average of 470 hours of care per year, or nine hours a week. However, in reality the hours are much more unevenly distributed, with primary carers providing 54 per cent of all care hours. That is about 700,000 hours of care per year. Access Economics has measured the opportunity cost of time devoted to informal care, measured as a reduction in paid employment due to caring, and provided a conservative estimate of $4.9 billion. That is about 0.6 per cent of forecast GDP and 9.9 per cent of the value of formal health care. That is the amount that it costs our carers each year—$4.9 billion—to essentially give up all or part of their earning capacity and care for people they love.

There are also substantial impacts of caring on the health and wellbeing of carers. Often the burden of pain and suffering associated with depression, musculoskeletal injuries and other problems dwarf the financial costs. Several studies suggest that the sleep impacts of caring alone may exceed $1 billion per annum, including a financial estimate of the reduction in quality of life.

Governments are increasingly recognising the contribution of carers. The Gillard Labor government recognise the immense social, emotional and financial pressures that carers face in caring for their loved ones. We believe that carers deserve the same opportunities as other Australians to participate in work and in the community and to live a meaningful life. A very good report by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Family, Community, Housing and Youth was tabled last year called 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, which we have discussed in this House in the past couple of days, is the first element of that framework. It sits alongside another important element, the National Carer Strategy.

The Australian government released a discussion paper to inform the development of a national carer strategy at the launch of the national Carers Week this year. The discussion paper outlines the government’s commitment to deliver improved support and greater recognition for carers. As part of the process, the government is seeking the views of carers on how to achieve better opportunities for work and education, improve the health and wellbeing of carers and provide better access to information and support. Again, all of us in this House are well aware of some of the quite difficult circumstances of carers. We are well aware that families are more likely to break up when there is a caring role within it. We are well aware of the loss of earning capacity and sometimes the loneliness and isolation of carers. Providing a framework that allows people with this important role to participate more fully in life outside the home is incredibly important.

To ensure that we hear from carers across the country, the Australian government has provided $175,000 to Carers Australia and Children with Disability Australia to run discussion forums with carers and to seek their views and ideas for the National Carer Strategy. We will consult directly with carer organisations, advocates and service providers across all capital cities and selected rural and remote areas. The Carer Strategy will be a 10-year agenda to support carers, to drive reform and to guide policy development and delivery of services for carers.

We have also moved to make some improvements in the past three years of government. We have provided increased financial security for carers by delivering increases to the carer payment and more than $100 a fortnight for single pensioners on the maximum rate. In addition, more than 500,000 carers each now receive a new annual carer supplement of $600 for each person they care for, guaranteed in legislation. Carers most under financial pressure who receive both the carer payment and the carer allowance receive at least two payments of $600.

As I said, to formally acknowledge the role of carers at a national level, the Gillard government has introduced national carer recognition legislation. The Gillard Labor government also recognises that carers want better support for their loved ones, whether they are frail, aged, a child with a disability or a partner with a mental illness. That is why the Gillard Labor government is committed to reforms to achieve a fairer Australia in the disability services system, aged care and better mental health. Labor will introduce A Better Start for Children with Disability to provide more families of children with disabilities with access to intensive early intervention therapies and treatments from expert health professionals.

From 1 July 2011, young children diagnosed with sight and hearing impairments, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome or fragile X syndrome will be eligible to receive up to $12,000 for early intervention services. In addition, about 20,000 children up to the age of 13 years will be able to access new Medicare services for diagnosis and treatment under this program. The Gillard government will also establish a new $60 million capital fund to build innovative, community based supported accommodation and respite places for people with disability, building on our $100 million capital injection in 2008 to build over 300 supported accommodation places.

These announcements build on federal Labor’s track record of delivering for people with disability and their carers. The Gillard Labor government is providing more than $6 billion over five years under the new National Disability Agreement, including the highest ever level of indexation to improve and expand services for people with disability and their carers. This funding includes the highest ever level of indexation for disability services. In 2010-11 the indexation will be 6.8 per cent, compared with just 1.8 per cent in 2006-07 under the former coalition government. By 2012 the federal government’s contribution will exceed $1.3 billion—over double what it was in 2007. The new agreement also includes a commitment to deliver more than 24,000 additional disability places, including 10,000 respite places, 2,300 in-home care places and more supported accommodation.

The Gillard government has also increased incentives for families to establish special disability trusts, which assist immediate family members and carers who have the financial means to do so to make private financial provision for a family member with a severe disability. Changes delivered by the Gillard Labor government are expected to increase take-up by over 20 per cent. I am pleased to have this opportunity to recognise close to three million Australians who provide care and more than 3,000 people from Parramatta who provide care for loved ones. Their work is substantial and their contribution immense. The government recognises that there is always more work to be done in uplifting the life circumstances of all Australians and we also recognise that the ageing population face ever-increasing demands. (Time expired)

6:52 pm

Photo of Teresa GambaroTeresa Gambaro (Brisbane, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Citizenship and Settlement) Share this | | Hansard source

Last week across Australia we celebrated National Carers Week 2010. The theme—‘Anyone any time can be a carer’—serves to remind us that we never know what is round the corner and when we may be called upon to be a carer. ‘Anyone any time can become a carer’ reflects the unexpected and indiscriminate nature of who will be called upon in the future to become carers. Last week was an opportunity to publicly and collectively thank all local areas in the Brisbane area and across the country. Carers Week serves to highlight and promote the valuable role that Australian carers play. Approximately 20 per cent of the Australian population has a physical or intellectual disability, yet many of these people face significant challenges in fully participating in the work force, family and community.

Support for people with illness and disability is most often provided by full- and part-time carers. These carers sacrifice their time, lives and independence to look after loved ones. The value of this caring role can be measured in terms of the $30 billion annually that it might otherwise cost. The primary carer’s role is equivalent to a traditional full-time paid job of 40 hours or more per week. But we know that carers provide more than 40 hours per week of care. They provide the basic values of love and dignity to the person in their charge. These things cannot be measured so easily.

In Australia, there are some 2.6 million unpaid carers giving their time and energy 24 hours a day, seven days a week to care for their loved ones and families. In my own family, I have seen firsthand the role that carers undertake, often forsaking their own well being. It has become a 24-hour, round-the-clock process of love, often depriving them of basic and simple pleasures such as being able to meet friends and family members for coffee or just having that really valuable time out.

The coalition when in government developed a package of measures to improve the position of carers, including more respite and the establishment of the National Respite for Carers program. We introduced a carers pension and increases in funding for and a broadening of eligibility for the carers allowances. It was the coalition that first gave recognition to young carers and their specific needs through respite and information services. Throughout, the coalition government continued its commitment to support and ease the finance burden of carers and in 2006 the government recognised that there was a gap in the level of assistance for families caring for young children with a disability.

During the 2010 election campaign, the coalition released a range of policies to assist people with disabilities and their carers. We proposed to establish the office of the Commonwealth disability and carer ombudsman to give Australians with a disability and carers a real independent voice on policy activities within the government. The ombudsman would independently investigate claims and assist Australians with a disability and their carers to resolve dispute with government departments and ensure that the Commonwealth government is accountable to Australians with a disability and carers.

The young carers scholarship program was another one of the coalition’s commitments to take real action. It was designed to particularly value the work of young carers. Around this country at this time there are 400,000 Australians aged under 26 who care for a person with a disability or a long-term illness. The ABS data shows that 6.6 per cent of carers are aged under 18. It is absolutely mind boggling that these young people have such a heavy burden of responsibility placed on their shoulders. Many of these young carers are missing chances to further their education, to take part-time work or to mingle with their peers. Getting through secondary school or university is an added burden. This program would have assisted young carers to take up places in secondary schools, TAFEs and universities.

There are many groups that provide emotional support to carers and family members providing care. One such group is the Palliative Care Association of Queensland. I recently met with the CEO in Brisbane. He outlined many instances where members of his organisation have been providing care for loved ones during this very difficult time in their lives. There is constant stress. The emotional demand placed upon carers is something that should never be underestimated. They do incredibly valuable work. Many volunteer organisations across many of our electorates and communities are involved in caring for carers. Their work deserves high praise and recognition. I am pleased today to be speaking to this motion.

6:57 pm

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

It is a great pleasure for me to speak on this motion, because it is a really important motion about some very important people in our community. I want to congratulate the member for Parramatta, Julie Owens, for putting this motion on the Notice Paper. She is well regarded in this place for her commitment to carers and has a longstanding history of working in that particular area. I also want to place on the record my support for carers broadly and for this motion.

Last week was National Carers Week. I got the opportunity to speak briefly on a range of matters in relation to that last week. It is time for us in this place to recognise the vital work that is done by nearly 2.6 million carers across this country. That is a lot of people. If you analyse what that represents and the work that they do, it is a lot of hours, a lot of effort and a lot of love going into making sure that the people who need them are properly cared for. We cannot ever as a government compensate people for the work that they do in providing that care every hour of every day. It is almost an impossible task. There are numbers floating around the place about what that represents. We heard just before from the member for Brisbane a figure of around $30 billion a year. Whatever the number is, it is too much for any government to bear on its own. That is why we need to recognise the work of carers; that is why we need to acknowledge what they do. Beyond recognition, we need to provide real support for people who care for others. That is where government comes in: to put in place the proper assistance measures and regulations.

It is fair to say, I think, that all governments through time progressively work through improvements for people who are carers. I know that, as much as people on the other side have done their bit when they were in government, we too, on this side, will do our part now that we are in government. And we have done that in a number of areas. We have recognised that being a carer is an exhausting job. It is a full-time job, much more than a paid job. It is often seven days a week. It is 24 hours a day. There is often very little opportunity for respite, and that is one of the great areas of difficulty and need: how do you provide that respite for 2.6 million carers around the nation?

The government is committed to supplying practical help for carers. We are doing that across a range of areas, from disability care through to health care, mental health care, aged-care services and a range of other areas. Measures we have particularly taken are to deliver a $60 a fortnight increase to the base pension rate plus an increase of $5 a fortnight in the new pension supplement for carers who receive the maximum single rate of carer payment. We have moved to guarantee the certainty of the annual ongoing carer supplement of $600 for each person in care, which benefits around half a million carers specifically. We have also looked at overhauling the complex and restrictive eligibility requirements for carer payment, particularly in relation to children, which is often not as well recognised.

We have provided a funding boost for the states and territories for specialist disability services as well, and we have put in place and are developing a National Carer Strategy, which is a really long-term agenda, a long-term approach, to help guide policy development and delivery. Often the things that government could do and can provide are more than just monetary supplement. It is also about making sure that policy development and delivery are done properly. That strategy is due for release in the first half of next year, in 2011.

The government also is committed to recognising the role of carers and the very important part they play. Last week I spoke on the Carer Recognition Bill, which for the first time actually defines what a carer is and sets out 10 key principles on how carers should be treated, through the Statement for Australia’s Carers. That is reflected back through the public sector, through the Public Service, through policy, and will bring a much more holistic approach to the way that carers are treated in this country.

I also want to mention an incredible couple who were the feature of a media story in my electorate last week: Goodna’s Harry Chalk and his wife Ellie, who cares for her husband around the clock and has been doing this very unselfishly for the past 20 years. Harry was struck down with a particular disability which meant that he had no movement from the neck down, and Ellie has been there for him for a very, very long time and continues to provide that support. You can imagine the amount of work and the pressure on this one woman to look after her husband for the past 20 years and continue to do that. That story for me reflects what we need to do in this place and the care we should provide as well.

7:03 pm

Photo of Ewen JonesEwen Jones (Herbert, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It gives me great pleasure to be able to speak in support of the motion by the member for Parramatta recognising the work of carers in the community. The timing of the motion is fitting, as we have just celebrated Carers Week for 2010 from 17 October to 23 October. I remind the House that the theme of this year’s celebration was, ‘Anyone, any time, can become a carer’. That theme should resonate with all Australians when we come to contemplate our blessings and/or misfortunes. Any one of us at any time could be faced with the daunting challenge of caring for a loved one. Let us not forget that reality.

I was invited to participate in Carers Week activities in my home town of Townsville. Activities included open days, lifestyle expos and shopping centre displays in Townsville, Bowen, Rollingstone and Charters Towers. In addition to the organised activities, Carers Week gave hundreds of paid and unpaid carers in my electorate an opportunity to share their experiences and to network together in a positive way. Activities such as Carers Week are vital in assisting these wonderful people to continue their vital work. I take this opportunity to commend the work of Sandy McIntyre, Regional Carer Services Officer in Townsville, and her team for their work in organising Carers Week activities and for their general support work.

I also take the opportunity to publicly recognise the work of Cootharinga North Queensland, an organisation that has been looking after the needs of people with disabilities for almost 60 years. Cootharinga has won a number of awards for excellence for its tireless work in easing the burdens shared by disabled North Queenslanders and their families. I would like to make particular mention of Cootharinga’s respite service, particularly the Older Parent Carers Project that was set up specifically to help older carers who may be suffering ill health or simply the realities that come with advancing years. The respite service not only provides a welcome break for clients and their parents but also seeks alternative, longer term support arrangements. This service has been a great source of relief for older constituents in my electorate who are understandably worried about the welfare of their children after they can no longer provide care or, indeed, pass on.

I note that paragraph 1(f) of the motion by the member for Parramatta recognises measures that the government has taken to ease the burden on carers through increases in carer payment and the annual carer supplement and the range of other measures including increased funding to state and territory governments for ‘specialist disability services including supported accommodation, in-home care and respite’. While these measures are welcome, I remind the House that no amount of money will ever compensate Australian carers for the wonderful, selfless work they perform every day to make the lives of the less fortunate in our society more enjoyable. The work they do and the load they carry simply cannot be quantified. These quiet achievers are the unsung heroes of our society. I welcome the opportunity to pay tribute to Australia’s carers and offer my support to the motion by the member for Parramatta.

I would like to finish by asking the committee to always be mindful of the process which must be followed to gain access to support. Currently, a carer, to gain the best possible help for their loved one, must paint them in as black a picture as humanly possible. We are asking family members to articulate just how hard it is to care for a loved one. This is as sad and upsetting a process as one will ever have to endure. Any change which will ease this burden must be looked at with great care.

Photo of Maria VamvakinouMaria Vamvakinou (Calwell, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.