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Wednesday, 13 May 2009
Page: 3816

Ms MARINO (5:00 PM) —I rise in this chamber to support all of those carers and parents in Australia and in my electorate of Forrest. The Social Security Legislation Amendment (Improved Support for Carers) Bill 2009 provides part of the government’s response to a report initiated by the former Howard government into the carer payment paid in respect of a child and gives effect to a number of measures aimed at improving assistance to carers from 1 July 2009. Any assistance to carers is certainly important. The main ones include: relaxed child disability and care requirements for the child to allow more carers of children to access carer payments; to allow carer payments where the care required is short term—quite important; to allow continued payment of carer payments where the child goes into hospital; to allow carer payments where the child has a terminal illness and the anticipated life expectancy is short term; and to allow automatic qualification for carer allowance where the carer is qualified for carer payments.

The previous review was conducted by an independent task force from March to November 2007. The review examined the eligibility criteria for carer payments and their effectiveness in providing a safety net for carers of children with a severe disability or medical condition. The report entitled Carer payment (child): a new approach was released last year and found that the qualification criteria for carer payment paid in respect of a child are too restrictive and the assessment process overly rigid, often producing inequitable outcomes. This bill makes amendments to the carer payment paid in respect of a child. Carer payment is an income support payment for carers who, because of the demands of their caring role, whether they are parents or other carers, are unable to support themselves through substantial participation in the workforce.

The current set of medical and behavioural criteria that determines eligibility for the payment has resulted in the payment being received by the parents of just under 7,000 children. The proposed amendments seek to delete the existing method of determining eligibility for carer payment, which is based on medical criteria relating to the child’s disability or medical condition. The new method bases eligibility on the level of care required. As a result, the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs estimates around 19,000 more carers will have access to carer payment from 1 July 2009. This is a very good result. The new assessment will be known as the disability care load assessment (child) and it will improve the overall efficiency and effectiveness of assessments even in complex cases such as where children have multiple carers, where carers have multiple care receivers and where there is care required for an adult with a disability at the same time as a child with a disability.

Administration will be improved, with better processing of claims and capacity for the more complex claims to be handled by a dedicated complex claims assessment team. We have heard from several speakers why and how that is so important. The disability care load assessment (child)will be established by a legislative instrument. The instrument will allow a test, comprising a carer questionnaire and a treating health practitioner questionnaire, that will be used to assess the functional ability, behaviour and special care needs of children under 16 and the level of care provided by their carers. The process will accommodate assessment of eligibility for carer payment across a wide range of household situations, the situations that are encountered on a daily basis, including situations where there is more than one child or more than one carer involved in the qualification process. This test will provide a method for determining a qualifying rating for the carer based on the level of care associated with caring for the child or children with severe disability or a severe medical condition.

For the first time there will be access to carer payment paid in respect of a child on a short-term or episodic basis. Episodic care will cover care required for recurring conditions where the care recipient is aged under 16 years and each episode is expected to last at least three months and less than six months. Episodic care will cover care required for recurring conditions where the care recipient is aged under 16 years and each episode is expected to last at least three months and less than six months. This could include, for example, treatments for medical conditions such as cancer, brain injury or mental illness. Short-term care will apply if the care recipient is aged under 16 years and has a condition that is expected to be short term from a one-off incident. Some short and intensive treatments for childhood cancer may also fit this category. There will be more generous arrangements for carers of children who are in hospital so the carers can keep their carer payment, and if payable their carer allowance, while the child is in hospital. This means that the current limit on payment in these circumstances of 63 days in a calendar year will no longer apply and will be replaced by a 12-week review cycle.

The qualification rules will also be relaxed in the tragic situation of a person caring for a child with a terminal illness. The current criteria require a medical professional to certify that the child has a terminal condition and will not live for substantially longer than 12 months. This will be replaced with a process that assesses the average life expectancy for a child with the same or a similar condition and provides for payment on that less intrusive basis. The basic qualification conditions for carer payment within the amendments remain much the same as in the existing legislation. Basically, the carer must provide constant care to a care receiver who has high-care needs, provide that care in the home of the care receiver and be an Australian resident. However, there is a new feature included in the proposed new amendments: the constant care provided by the carer must severely restrict the carer’s capacity to undertake paid employment.

The bill also amends some of the carer allowance provisions in the social security law. Carer allowance is an income supplement for people who provide daily at-home care and attention to an adult or child who has a physical, intellectual or psychiatric disability that is permanent and likely to affect the person for an extended period. Carer allowance is not means tested and may be paid in addition to an income support payment. A person in receipt of carer payment in respect of a child will become automatically eligible for carer allowance. These measures provide a more flexible and accessible income support payment for Australians facing some of the toughest circumstances, and certainly those of a very emotional basis—caring for a child with severe disability or a severe medical condition. As has been said by previous speakers, there would be very few of us who have not been touched by those either in our families or close to us who are caring for a child in these circumstances. This bill is the inevitable legislative response to an initiative that was commenced previously. It is part of a 2008 budget measure and will cost $271 million over four years.

As we all know, carers take on a huge role in caring for their loved ones, frail or disabled. The emotional pressure of this care is often cumulative. Care is often required for 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and the demands on carers are so great that carers often end up needing care themselves, or at least access to regular respite. I am hopeful that the amendments in this bill will further assist the many carers in my electorate of Forrest to access the help they require to continue their very dedicated and diligent work. One such deserving person in my electorate is Susan Keddie, from Gelorup, who cares for her mother, who lives in Allanson, a 110-kilometre round trip. Ms Keddie still needs further financial assistance with travel and petrol costs as she makes the round trip each day to care for her mother. As we have heard here, we all know that carers are the unsung heroes in all of our communities. Their contribution cannot be measured or quantified, but it is an extensive contribution.

Michelle Snitch, of Cookernup, also cares for her 21-year-old daughter, who has Asperger’s syndrome, spina bifida and a mild intellectual handicap. She has cared for her daughter all her life in their family situation. She has also, up until November last year, been the sole carer of another adult daughter who has a mental illness. You can only imagine the pressure on Michelle. During this time, she has also received the carer allowance and carer payment, which has been the only income she has been able to bring into the house for many years.

Four years ago, her husband retired from work to be able to help with the caring of both daughters, as she found she was struggling. You can imagine that that is exactly what she would be doing. At this time, her husband also started to receive the carer payment. Michelle has not been able to understand why the carers pension was not recognised when it comes to support for things such as glasses, when anyone in receipt of a disability support pension, age pension or veterans’ affairs payment can receive a $50 cashback from the government when purchasing new glasses. Then there is the travel issue. Anyone in receipt of a DSP, age pension or veterans’ affairs payment can receive free public transport at certain times and days, and also discounts at stores. There are a lot of stores that offer a 10 per cent discount to aged or senior citizens.

Michelle wanted to know why she was not able to access those, as she believes the family, as we have heard earlier, saves the government many thousands of dollars by not placing their children in care and by caring for them themselves. That, of course, is exactly what they want to do and they would not have it any other way. But she does believe she should receive the same privileges as other pensioners. Having just purchased new glasses at considerable cost, she was shocked when her husband—now an age pensioner—could receive the $50 rebate but she could not. She also travels to Perth regularly with her daughter for appointments and it is hard for her to understand why she has to pay for public transport and her daughter does not, because the daughter has the disability pension card.

I just wanted to touch briefly on a group in my electorate called the South West Family Support Association. I went to the opening of their new facility recently, and I note that their mission is to be a provider for families and individuals with a disability who want to be included in their community. Their program is to develop methods to include people with disabilities in community life. It is a wonderful facility. It is one that offers assistance not only to the people with a disability but to those who care for them. I think any support that we can provide for carers is one that we should be pursuing.

I look forward, as other members do, to the House of Representatives report that is due in the next sitting in May. I look forward to reading the recommendations and the further amount of support that this House will recommend as a result. I support our carers and I support those, like one of my neighbours, for whom it is basically their life’s work to care for their child. It certainly precludes the family from doing a range of other things that we all take for granted. I think we should do our very best to encourage and support anything that we can do to assist people like those and the many others across Australia in a bipartisan way.

Debate interrupted.