Thursday, 14 November 2019
Minister for Disability, Ageing and Carers; Consideration
That the Senate take note of the document.
I rise to take note of the grandparent carers resolution of 18 September and the letter to the President of the Senate from the Victorian Minister for Disability, Aging and Carers. The minister has responded to the resolution that the chamber passed on 18 September, which was about grandparent carers, from myself and Senators Brown, Urquhart, Dean Smith and Marielle Smith. It made a number of points about grandparent carers and the level of care they are providing, which is huge, but it also called:
… on all levels of Government to work together with the goal that grandparent carers receive adequate and appropriate support payments to support the children they are caring for.
It's fantastic that the state government of Victoria has responded, and it has responded outlining what Victoria does, making the point that the Victorian government has invested in a new model of kinship care, providing greater support to statutory kinship carers. That is actually really good. I'm not making a go at that. That's really good. The point that's being made by many grandparent carers is that often they're not caring for their grandchildren as a result of a statutory decision nor have they been awarded care under the child protection system.
The minister also articulates that kinship carers have access to the same care allowances as foster carers. If you come under the statutory process, that's great. But a lot of grandparent carers don't, so that's one of the issues that need to be resolved with the states and territories. I realise it's the state and territories that are responsible for that, although the Commonwealth also provides some level of support for grandparent carers. That's the point that grandparent carers are making: where they've come to informal arrangements, they need greater support. They are therefore calling for grandparent carers to have an ongoing allowance similar to foster care subsidy payments, which are administered by the state government. They are calling for, across the board, all grandparent carers to be able to access that.
They want to make all grandparent carers exempt from participating in activity requirements for Newstart, not just for those with court orders. This is a particularly important point. We have some, and we know there is a growing list of, older Australians who are stuck on Newstart payments—that is, those over the age of 55 in particular, although there are some over the age of 45. Some of these people are becoming grandparent carers and are expected to look after their grandchildren while also having to meet their mutual obligations, particularly when it's informal care. What grandparents are calling for—and this is specifically within the purview of the Commonwealth government—is a system where they can be exempt from their mutual obligations while they're looking after their grandchildren. Then, of course, the level of payment they received for looking after their grandchildren would help tremendously when they're trying to exist on Newstart.
They're also suggesting that family tax benefit—again, this is directly within the purview of the Commonwealth government—which currently follows the carer, should follow the child's residence. This should increase the income to grandparent carers but remove a potential source of family conflict. This was one of the points strongly made in our Senate committee inquiry, which Senator Dean Smith, who is in the chamber, was a very essential part of and, in fact, initiated. The point made was that issues over family tax benefit can be a significant point of conflict between the child's parents and the child's grandparent carers. If there were a different method and, for example, family tax benefit followed the child's residence—in other words, where the child was living—and clearly it was with the grandparent carer, there wouldn't be conflict because that would be the basic fact. That's where the child lives, and the person managing that residence is then the person who receives the payment—obviously with checking. That's a suggestion that grandparent carers have made. There may be another way of dealing with this issue, but it is a significant issue when it comes to supporting carers who are looking after their grandchildren. It's a really important, growing issue in this country. It's really good that we had this response.