House debates

Wednesday, 30 March 2022


Social Security Amendment (Improved Child to Adult Transfer for Carer Payment and Carer Allowance) Bill 2022; Second Reading

11:19 am

Photo of Linda BurneyLinda Burney (Barton, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Families and Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Social Security Amendment (Improved Child to Adult Transfer for Carer Payment and Carer Allowance) Bill 2022. I move:

That all words after "That" be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

"whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House:

(1) notes the Coalition Government's long delayed changes to the age transfer rules for Carer Support Payments, when children with a disability or terminally ill are turning 16 years, have caused needless anxiety for families; and

(2) condemns the Government for continually failing Australia's 2.6 million carers, including aged carers, especially through the COVID pandemic".

There are many ways to measure the success of our country and society. Ultimately the measure of our shared humanity is the support we provide to those who do the quiet, difficult and remarkable things that make the lives of those around them happier and more fulfilling. Of all the measures in every budget handed down by governments of both persuasions, those are the ones which show our strength as a country, an economy and a society. That is our view. It is the predominant view of our country because it is so obviously the right thing for us to do as a nation.

It is not a view shared by those opposite. Those opposite see supporting their fellow citizens as nothing other than a cost to be cut at every opportunity. The only thing those opposite like more than spending public money to try to shore up their own jobs is cutting government supports to the vulnerable, whether it is the pension, the NDIS or payments to carers. They tried it on in their first budget, and they haven't stopped since. Tony Abbott tried to cut indexation for carers, something expressly and deliberately designed to leave people on carers' payment almost $80 a week worse off by now. Those on this side of the chamber opposed those cuts. It was only through strong efforts across the country that those opposite were shamed into abandoning their efforts to make life harder for carers. In that same budget, they cut away the concessions that helped carers manage the cost of living. In 2015, Scott Morrison, the present Prime Minister, made a deal with the Greens to cut payments by changing the assets test.

The attacks on those doing it toughest didn't change when the Liberals changed Prime Minister. Malcolm Turnbull, with Scott Morrison as his cutter in chief, kept up the Liberals' shameful tradition of putting people in need of support last. Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison thought the best thing for the country was to cut thousands of dollars a year from some of Australia's lowest-income families. Scott Morrison's enthusiasm for cuts meant that Malcolm Turnbull promoted him to Treasurer, where he kept up the cutting, trying to slash the energy supplement designed to help carers cope with price rises caused by the government's energy policy chaos. He succeeded on his second try, and excluded carers from the energy assistance payment in the 2017 budget.

The changes the government is bringing forward with this bill are a worthy but modest change which will iron out an inconsistency in the way that payments are treated when children reach 16. It also provides a sensible and compassionate change to the eligibility for payments to carers caring for someone with a terminal illness between the ages of 16 and 18. Currently carers who engage proactively and early and have their child assessed for eligibility as an adult can find that their payments are ceasing earlier than those who do not engage. This bill means that payments will be made to carers until their children reach the age of 16 and three months so that carers who engage in a timely way are not disadvantaged.

This bill also makes changes to eligibility for people with a terminal illness who are between the ages and16 and 18. In essence, carers looking after a person who is likely to pass on between the ages of 16 and 18 will not lose access to payments or need to go through an adult assessment process. Carers in this circumstance are enduring one of the most difficult times I can imagine, and I can't imagine one member of this place taking issue with this modest, compassionate measure, which will leave families with one less hurdle to confront.

These changes will make continuing to access vital support easier for those receiving the carer payment, and Labor will support them, and I indicated that earlier on in my speech, as well as moving the second reading amendment. These changes will not make up for almost a decade of attacks on carers and the support they depend on. Labor will never forget the government's history of shameful treatment of those they should have been proud to support.

Photo of Kevin AndrewsKevin Andrews (Menzies, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the amendment seconded?

Photo of Julie CollinsJulie Collins (Franklin, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Agriculture) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the amendment and reserve my right to speak.

Photo of Kevin AndrewsKevin Andrews (Menzies, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The original question was that this bill be now read a second time. To this the honourable member for Barton has moved, as an amendment, that all words after 'That' be omitted, with a view to substituting other words. If it suits the House, I will state the question in the form that the amendment be disagreed to.

11:26 am

Photo of Emma McBrideEmma McBride (Dobell, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Mental Health) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Social Security Amendment (Improved Child to Adult Transfer for Care Payment and Carer Allowance) Bill 2022 and to support the amendment moved by my friend and colleague the member for Barton. Labor supports this bill, which will address an anomaly in the process of reassessing the eligibility of carers to receive the carer payment and carer allowance against the adult criteria for those payments when the child they are caring for turns 16. It would also allow carers of a person aged between 16 and 18 who has a terminal illness to continue to receive the carer payment without having to go through the process of being reassessed against the adult criteria.

The bill will extend eligibility for carer payment and carer allowance in relation to a child until the later of the child turning 16 and three months or Services Australia completing an assessment of continued eligibility for carer payments under the adult rules if the required information is provided before the child turns 16. It would extend eligibility for carer allowance, healthcare card only, until the child is 16 and three months, in line with the above. And it will extend eligibility for carer payment for carers of a person over 16 who has a terminal illness until the later of the child turning 18 or Services Australia completing an assessment of continued eligibility for carer payments under the adult rules.

The main forms of financial support provided to carers are carer payment, which mirrors the age pension, currently $987.60 per fortnight for a single person, and the carer allowance, currently $136.50 per fortnight. Eligibility for carer payment and carer allowance are assessed differently depending on whether the person being cared for is aged under 16 or 16 and over. The Adult Disability Assessment Tool is used for those aged 16 and over, and the Disability Care Load Assessment (Child) is used for those under 16.

The change in assessment criteria at 16 is in line with eligibility for the disability support pension, which commences at 16. In general, it is more difficult for carers to qualify for payments if they are taking care of an adult. As a result, a proportion of carers lose access to payments when the child they are caring for turns 16. Before a child turns 16, carers can be reassessed to see whether they meet the payment threshold that applies to adults. This process can start some time, as you would expect, before the child turns 16.

If the assessment is conducted before a child turns 16 and the assessment finds that the carer will not be eligible for ongoing payments, payments cease when the child turns 16. However, if a carer does not engage in the process, payments continue until the child is 16 and three months before being automatically cancelled. Historically, this process was probably put in place to support carers who had not been able to complete the relevant assessment before the child they were taking care of turned 16; however, this process disadvantages people who engage earlier in the process. Extending eligibility for carer payment and carer allowance for all carers of children aged up to 16 years and three months will mean carers are not disadvantaged in engaging in the adult assessment process early. All carers will continue to receive payments until the child they are caring for turns 16 and three months, regardless of continued eligibility.

The government has also indicated it will improve communication with carers of children who are about to turn 16. This includes bringing forward letters about changes in eligibility criteria by three months so that carers will receive them when the child turns 15 and six months.

The changes to the eligibility rules for the carer payment for a person with a terminal illness between the ages of 16 and 18 will mean that some carers will lose access to payments or will need to go through the adult assessment process. This change may be of help to some carers who are taking care of a person who is likely to pass away between the ages of 16 and 18. If the person being cared for survives to 18 then they will need to meet the adult criteria for the carers to continue receiving payments.

While welcome, I would like to take this opportunity on the day after the budget to reflect on the incredible contribution made by Australia's 2.65 million unpaid carers. These are people who each and every day care for a loved one, a partner, a child, a friend. They do it because they care and they do it with an enormous toll on themselves. Research conducted for Carers Australia in 2020 found these unpaid carers provided nearly 2.2 billion hours of care. The cost of replacing that care was estimated in 2020 to be around $78 billion and that will have only grown through COVID, while so many carers have been isolated, alone, with the withdrawal of formal support services through the pandemic.

Around 862,000 carers are the primary carer of the person they care for. Seven out of 10 primary carers are women. One in three provide care for 40 hours a week or more, and over 25 per cent—a quarter—provide care for more than 60 hours per week. That is all day, every day. As we enter the third year of a pandemic, carers are burnt out, they are exhausted and they desperately need more support. These responsibilities also have an impact on the carer—their own health and wellbeing. Carers Australia has asked for them to be considered as a vulnerable group in their own right. Their responsibilities limit carers' opportunities to participate in education and training, community activities or paid employment. It is estimated that, collectively, carers forgo income of some $15.2 billion a year. That is, across Australia, the collective contribution of what carers are forgoing—$15.2 billion a year—in order to care for their loved one. Whether it was like me helping to care for my dad or people helping to care for their partner or children, being a carer is a tough job. As my mum says, 'They do it because they love them.' She said she did not sign up to be a carer; it was not a club she wanted to join.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had and will continue to have a profound and enduring impact on carers. The national carers survey undertaken in the first years of the pandemic reported the impact of COVID-19 on carers. These are just some of the impacts: nearly half of the carers who responded were experiencing high or very high psychological distress and one in three felt highly socially isolated. They felt alone and vulnerable while they were trying to support the most vulnerable person in their life. One in three respondents to the survey said they never get time out from their caring responsibilities—never—with only half having enough time to keep on top of the other responsibilities of trying to hold down a job, of trying to keep a roof over their head and, with the cost-of-living pressures rising, of trying to keep food on the table. One in four carers reported spending more money than they made in the last 12 months. Every 12 months, they're going backwards, and this impact is long term, across their life span.

The impact has been particularly felt by parent carers of children with a disability and partner/family carers of older Australians waiting for home care, waiting for care at home or waiting for residential aged care. And, as the chance for respite dwindled and visitors to the house or home were limited or just not allowed, carers were even more isolated, alone and vulnerable. And yet the government has done very little to support carers through this difficult time, which will continue, as we're in the third year of this pandemic.

The vaccine rollout, particularly the failure to prioritise vaccination of people with disabilities, their carers and age and disability support workers, left carers isolated, anxious for their loved ones and concerned for their own health and wellbeing. Cuts to services resulting from workforce shortages and the additional costs to carers in PPE and RATs have made their lives even harder.

I heard from a grandparent whose granddaughter is in palliative care. They did not know at the time how much longer she had to live, and they couldn't get a RAT. His granddaughter's parents were just desperate, and they were phoning around, scrambling to get a RAT so that they could comply—which of course they wanted to do—with the requirements of the palliative care centre where she was being looked after. Just stop and pause for a moment and think about your loved one being in palliative care and you not being able to get a RAT so that you can comply with a requirement to keep them safe and others safe, including those caring for them. It's wrong. So many people have found themselves in that situation, or one not unlike it, through this pandemic.

Then, on the eve of an election, we get from this government, after almost a decade in power, a one-off $250 payment that is meant to take the pressure off carers. What will that do? Most carers I speak to can't afford to own a home; they're renting. Vacancy rates in my community are less than one per cent. You could be trying to rent a home with bedrooms so that you've got a place for the carer and a place for yourself, but it would cost you $600 or $700 a week. What's $250 going to do for someone who's looking at caring for someone for the rest of their life? It won't relieve the pressure. It will just leave them feeling more desperate and alone—and overlooked. That's what most carers tell me. They say they're forgotten, they're invisible, they don't exist. People remark that they know that what they do is valuable, that it's a contribution, but where's the meaningful action? Where's the proper financial support for carers? Where's the recognition that, in caring for their loved one, they're doing something on behalf of all of us? Where is the proper support for them to get back into paid work, to be able to fully participate, to have super when they retire? Being a carer is stressful, it's demanding, and people do it because they love the person. It is particularly demanding for carers of children with a disability, and this government has done nothing to ease that this stress or pressure, and, at times, it has made it worse.

I spoke to a mum recently, in Blue Haven, with twin daughters who are seven, and she has just been notified that their NDIS package was being cut. Her daughters live with ADHD and autism, and she's been struggling, having them learning from home for much of the last two years and going into a third year. She's just desperate. She's a capable person who has been left in this situation. What does she do? Does she seek a disability advocate, wait months and try to battle this in the tribunal, against the government's expensive lawyers? Or will they fall out of the system altogether, which is what has happened to so many of the most vulnerable people and families in our community? How can someone deal with Centrelink, NDIS or My Aged Care and all of this at the same time? One NDIS participant told me that being an NDIS participant was a full-time job, it's so demanding of them.

Australia's 2.65 million unpaid carers are tired, worn out, exhausted. They are being forgotten by this government. They are overlooked. They're invisible. They tell me that they don't count, that sometimes they're an afterthought. The government scrambles, 'Oh, what have we done for carers? Maybe we should give them $250.' They missed out on that support during the pandemic. It's just wrong. In a wealthy country like Australia, where the government's spruiking that we're having the best economic recovery from the pandemic and leading the world—we're a trillion dollars in debt—and yet carers can't get the proper support they need. Do you know what they need? They need heart. They need a government that cares. They need someone with empathy to walk side by side with them, not a government that puts hurdles and barriers and obstacles every step of the way that they have to fight and struggle to get the basic things that any of us want—a roof over our heads, the opportunity to have a good job, to contribute, to be able to care for the ones that we love.

I'm here today because of my dad and my mum and their experience. Their experience reflects the experience of millions of people and families around the country. All it takes is an accident, an injury, for someone to end up needing care overnight, like my sister's friend Steve, who, in his early 30s, ended up with a spinal cord injury. He has struggled to get the basic support that he needs to live with dignity, to lead a meaningful and contributing life.

Australia's carers deserve better. They shouldn't be overlooked, forgotten, invisible. They do matter. Every single one of them counts. I say to them: if we are fortunate to form a government after the election, Australian carers will be better off. They must be.

11:41 am

Photo of Rebekha SharkieRebekha Sharkie (Mayo, Centre Alliance) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise in support of the Social Security Amendment (Improved Child to Adult Transfer for Carer Payment and Carer Allowance) Bill 2022. I want to take this opportunity to speak to the impact of the proposed changes to the child to adult transfer process for many families in my electorate of Mayo.

Mount Barker in my electorate is one of the fastest growing centres in South Australia, attracting a growing number of families, some of whom are caring for children and young with disability. I've heard from some of these families about anomalies in the rules under the Social Security Act 1991. At present, parents and carers of children receiving a carers payment or allowance who apply for transfer to the adult payment through the adult disability assessment tool, who apply on time but do not qualify, may lose payment when the person receiving care turns 16 or soon after. However, others who do not apply for the assessment on time continue to be paid until the person reaches 16 years and three months. Additionally, carers qualified for a healthcare card who do apply on time may lose access to their cards as soon as the person receiving care turns 16 years old rather than three months later if they no longer qualify.

Under this bill, all carer payment and carer allowance recipients will remain qualified for payments under child related qualification provisions and for the healthcare card until the person turns 16 years and three months. The government's stated aim is to remove any incentive to delay engagement with the application process and to provide for a more equitable process. Importantly, carers will also be notified earlier, 15 years and six months rather than 15 years and nine months, to provide more lead-in time to apply for the transfer to the adult carer payment.

The government also advises that Services Australia will better support implementation by streamlining the process and communicating more clearly so that carers understand what is needed of them. I am particularly interested in this part. Last year, I heard from a constituent, a single mum, whose husband had sadly passed away, leaving her with two young children, one of whom had significant intellectual disabilities and health issues. My constituent stated to me that she completed and returned the adult disability assessment tool in the month of her child's 16th birthday when she received the necessary paperwork from Centrelink. Her child carers payment was cancelled three months later, and she then received a request from Centrelink for additional information, which she supplied. However, both her child carers payment and healthcare card were cancelled. This mum of two said that she tried to make contact more than 20 times and was put on hold for several hours each time, waiting to speak to someone to get help. She said she was left at her wits end by the whole process.

This is the real human impact of us having a system that, I believe, is deliberately designed to make life harder for people. Her focus needed to be on caring for her family, not on 20 phone calls to Centrelink. So I support this bill that addresses the anomalies and urge the government to deliver on promised improvements in the process in place of families, who are doing their absolute best in the most difficult of circumstances. We really can do so much better.

Centrelink is an adversarial system. It's deliberately made to be hard. We know these families. They're not lying. They're not trying to get away with anything. They're just receiving, if they receive a Centrelink payment, the absolute basics that actually don't even cover the necessities anymore. I urge the government to make it easier for families with children with disabilities, children who are transitioning to becoming adults, and let's make it a service system; it's called Services Australia, so let's make it a service system and not a system that undermines and grinds people down and makes them give up.

11:47 am

Photo of Ken WyattKen Wyatt (Hasluck, Liberal Party, Minister for Indigenous Australians) Share this | | Hansard source

TT (—) (): Today we move forward with the Social Security Amendment (Improved Child to Adult Transfer for Carer Payment and Carer Allowance) Bill 2022. This bill helps to ensure a smoother transition for carers moving from the child to the adult stream of the carer payment or care allowance. From 1 April 2023, the measure will ensure all carers retain equal access to carer payment and care allowance until their care receiver turns 16 years and three months. At this time they can transfer to the adult stream of payment if they are assessed as eligible. The measure also ensures carers who submit their documentation for the adult stream before their care receiver turns 16 years but have not been assessed by the time to care receiver turns 16 years and three months will remain eligible for payment until the claim is assessed.

The standalone carer allowance healthcare card currently cancels when the care receiver turns 16 years of age. Under this measure, qualification for the standalone HCC would align with the carer allowance, meaning all standalone carer allowance healthcare cards will continue until the carer receiver turns 16 years and three months of age. The Australian government is committed to achieving fair and equitable access to payments and supporting carers, allocating around $9 billion per year to over 620,000 carers. This bill builds on the Australian government's commitment. We have listened to carers and acted to make this process simpler and easier for them and their families.

Photo of Kevin AndrewsKevin Andrews (Menzies, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The original question was that this bill be now read a second time. To this the honourable member for Barton has moved as an amendment that all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. The immediate question is that the amendment be disagreed to.

Question agreed to.

Original question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.