Tuesday, 11 October 2016
As we prepare to celebrate National Carers Week, I rise to say thank you and pay tribute to Australia's family and friend carers. National Carers Week, marked from 16 to 22 October this year, offers us all the chance to thank carers and show them how much they count and are valued.
Any one of us at any time could become a carer. A sudden and debilitating illness, a road accident or an injury at work could mean a relative or friend needs part-time or full-time care. Carers may also support and provide around-the-clock care for children with additional needs, sick or elderly family members and people with a disability or mental illness. It is estimated that 2.8 million Australians provide unpaid care and work tirelessly every day, often putting their own lives on hold to care for a loved one. They are extraordinary people. I know this from personal experience and also from hearing from carers in my role as shadow minister for disability and carers.
Last week, I was fortunate enough to meet a group of young carers in Tasmania. Like so many young carers they showed maturity beyond their years. They are articulate and resilient and are trying to plan future lives outside their caring roles. They work hard to balance their caring role with any work or school they can fit in. For example, one 17-year-old has been caring for his mother, who has a chronic health condition, for the past three years. He left school in grade 8. He said he thought his teachers assumed that he had a drug or alcohol problem, but the reality was he had to stay home to care for his mother. He was too exhausted to go to school. However, he has returned to studying, and despite long hours caring for his mother, who has just had surgery, he is achieving excellent results in his two diploma areas. It is important that this Carers Week, and every week, carers like this young Tasmanian know that they count.
Another young carer I met, a young refugee, was thrust into a significant caring role at the age of 15. Now 19, she cares for both parents and her grandmother, who are all ill with a range of conditions, as well looking after her two younger siblings—a significant role for anyone, regardless of their age.
Carers Week reminds us how important it is to let these young carers, and all carers, know that they are valued. Young carers, like the ones I have met, do an incredible job, but they face extraordinary challenges in balancing their caring role, their education and trying to find a job. I stand here to recognise the contribution that they make. This includes openly acknowledging the challenges and the obstacles that they face. When asked about the challenges of the caring role, one carer stated:
My greatest challenges have been the acceptance of giving up a business, my lifestyle, selling my home, losing my financial independence and moving across the world. Being a carer is so unpredictable that trying to rebuild a professional life is very difficult, if not impossible.
Others wrote of their social isolation and the strain on family relationships. While caring can be challenging it does have its rewards. A man who cares for his partner, who has a variety of mental health conditions, said:
When she is happy and stays happy for more than a few hours I feel elated. My goal is to provide the care she needs and our children need to be happy for the rest of our lives. She is a loving, dynamic and highly complex person and our lives are never boring or routine.
These carers make an enormous contribution to our communities and to the national economy, and they make a huge difference in somebody's life every day. As part of this year's Carers Week we can all make a small difference in their lives. We can make a difference by simply saying thank you. So thank you to the hundreds of thousands of carers who contribute so much every day.