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Monday, 15 June 2009
Page: 5943

Ms LEY (6:44 PM) —Like the previous two speakers, I welcome the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Improved Support for Carers) (Consequential and Transitional) Bill 2009. It is insignificant and technical in itself, but it is part of a very important range of measures that will make life easier for carers. As our opposition spokesman said a few moments ago, there would be few less contentious pieces of legislation to go through the House. So, of course, we in the opposition welcome the measures in this bill and the changes that they will help bring to the lives of carers.

I was privileged to be part of the Standing Committee on Family, Community, Housing and Youth for a short while last year and to commence work on the inquiry that was tabled recently. I recognise the previous speaker, the member for Canberra, for her chairmanship of that inquiry. The report was called Who cares…? It really puts so much of what carers feel, believe and passionately want into words. It was a privilege to be part of that committee. As members of parliament, every day we hear and see the results of people struggling with the caring role. I just want to touch on a couple of the special moments for me as part of that committee and the moments that encouraged me to work harder for carers. They were the representations made by young carers—those who are children struggling with school or in some cases young people at university and who are actually the carers in their family. One particular young lady said:

… I have been caring for my father since I was 12 years old and he retired. Over those years I did not have any support. It was not until the start of this year that I found community options. So for seven years I was doing it on my own and attending high school. It was not actually until I started university—and I am doing psychology—that I realised that dad could have a mental illness. I went to his GP and I said, ‘Dad could have depression’. I was told that, because I do not have a medical degree, I did not know what I was talking about. So for six months dad went undiagnosed. Subsequently he took himself to hospital with suicidal thoughts. That was a big shock to me personally. For 12 months dad did not have any treatment. I just want to say that, because of that, I would really like GPs to consider that carers are a big part of the lives of the people they look after.

I do not read that third-party quote to criticise GPs at all, but simply to say that the issue of carers and those that they look after is a community-wide issue and everybody involved needs to be aware of this. All carers that come to see me in my office without question, apart from being exhausted, talk about their responsibility. They talk about the positives as well; it is not all negative. They have such low expectations and they feel this is a burden that they have to carry very much on their own. If every other chain in the process—including GPs, advocates, workmates and everybody involved—recognised the enormous load that the caring role places on individuals and offered a bit of support here and there, it would make an enormous difference.

One of the other things that came out of my work on this committee was a forum we held in my home town of Albury where people stood up and for a few minutes gave a snapshot of their lives and the caring role. One member of the committee—I actually cannot remember who it was—said, ‘You all seem so calm,’ and one particular woman said, ‘That is because we are all so medicated.’ It really struck me that in order to get through the day a lot of carers are themselves quite understandably struggling with their own health issues. They really do need support.

Without making this a political statement, in New South Wales we do certainly notice a lot less support than the government just across the border to the south gives to its carers and their families. With the New South Wales budget on its way tomorrow, I really do hope that further support for this important area is maintained. It needs to be increased, because along the border—and my electorate is on the border—between New South Wales and Victoria the frank advice that people are receiving in New South Wales is to take their family to Victoria where the state government actually does a lot more for their children in school and gives them the respite that they desperately need. Respite is an enormous issue for everybody—and I am sure this is common across the board. For people under 18, there are day programs and places for people to go with their disabilities and have special treatment. That is catered for reasonably well. The problem arises for families when their young person turns 18, is no longer entitled to the same level of support or the support changes and—more importantly—the facilities are not there in the community.

Just because somebody has a disability does not mean they want to live at home when they turn 18 and become a young adult. They still need to make their own way in the world and they need that level of independence. There is nowhere which supports them, which allows them their independence, which gives their family that much needed ongoing respite and which keeps them safe and looks after them. I do hope that we as a parliament focus more attention on the needs of carers and that we look at the needs of those young adults. Good things have been done for autism and packages have been put together, and they have made a difference for young people. There is early intervention at school, which is a critical time in a young person’s life, but at the moment I am really detecting that some support for young adults with disabilities at the stage of life where they do want to gain some independence is simply not out there. I conclude by thanking those on all sides of the parliament who work hard for those carers in their electorate. I encourage each and every one of them to continue to support them in whatever way they can.