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Monday, 25 October 2010
Page: 1484

Ms OWENS (6:42 PM) —I rise to recognise the vital work of, and enormous contribution made by, Australian carers. No group deserves our support more than carers. Few make greater sacrifices or demonstrate a firmer commitment than carers. They provide the strongest support to some of the most disadvantaged in our community. As Minister Macklin said recently at the Carers Week launch:

It’s a job where you don’t knock off at five o’clock—or six or seven. No public holidays, no annual leave, no time off when you’re sick.

Carers give a whole new meaning to the words—”soldiering on”.

All of us in this House would have had the privilege of meeting some of the extraordinary people who dedicate literally every second of their lives to caring for someone they love. Over one in eight, or close to three million Australians, are estimated to be providing informal care to a person who needs assistance due to disability, chronic illness or old age. Nearly half a million, 494,000, are primary carers, providing the majority of the recipients’ care, and approximately 3,000 of those live in my electorate of Parramatta.

I am going to talk a bit about the numbers here, and particularly the dollars—what it costs people to do this extraordinary thing that they do. I know well and truly that I am talking about people, but for a few minutes I am going to talk about dollars. It is estimated that informal carers together provide a total of 1.2 billion hours of care per year. That is equivalent to each carer providing an average of 470 hours of care per year, or nine hours a week. However, in reality the hours are much more unevenly distributed, with primary carers providing 54 per cent of all care hours. That is about 700,000 hours of care per year. Access Economics has measured the opportunity cost of time devoted to informal care, measured as a reduction in paid employment due to caring, and provided a conservative estimate of $4.9 billion. That is about 0.6 per cent of forecast GDP and 9.9 per cent of the value of formal health care. That is the amount that it costs our carers each year—$4.9 billion—to essentially give up all or part of their earning capacity and care for people they love.

There are also substantial impacts of caring on the health and wellbeing of carers. Often the burden of pain and suffering associated with depression, musculoskeletal injuries and other problems dwarf the financial costs. Several studies suggest that the sleep impacts of caring alone may exceed $1 billion per annum, including a financial estimate of the reduction in quality of life.

Governments are increasingly recognising the contribution of carers. The Gillard Labor government recognise the immense social, emotional and financial pressures that carers face in caring for their loved ones. We believe that carers deserve the same opportunities as other Australians to participate in work and in the community and to live a meaningful life. A very good report by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Family, Community, Housing and Youth was tabled last year called Who cares? Report on the inquiry into better support for carers. Central to the government’s response to this inquiry was the commitment from the Commonwealth to lead the development of a national carer recognition framework. The Carer Recognition Bill 2010, which we have discussed in this House in the past couple of days, is the first element of that framework. It sits alongside another important element, the National Carer Strategy.

The Australian government released a discussion paper to inform the development of a national carer strategy at the launch of the national Carers Week this year. The discussion paper outlines the government’s commitment to deliver improved support and greater recognition for carers. As part of the process, the government is seeking the views of carers on how to achieve better opportunities for work and education, improve the health and wellbeing of carers and provide better access to information and support. Again, all of us in this House are well aware of some of the quite difficult circumstances of carers. We are well aware that families are more likely to break up when there is a caring role within it. We are well aware of the loss of earning capacity and sometimes the loneliness and isolation of carers. Providing a framework that allows people with this important role to participate more fully in life outside the home is incredibly important.

To ensure that we hear from carers across the country, the Australian government has provided $175,000 to Carers Australia and Children with Disability Australia to run discussion forums with carers and to seek their views and ideas for the National Carer Strategy. We will consult directly with carer organisations, advocates and service providers across all capital cities and selected rural and remote areas. The Carer Strategy will be a 10-year agenda to support carers, to drive reform and to guide policy development and delivery of services for carers.

We have also moved to make some improvements in the past three years of government. We have provided increased financial security for carers by delivering increases to the carer payment and more than $100 a fortnight for single pensioners on the maximum rate. In addition, more than 500,000 carers each now receive a new annual carer supplement of $600 for each person they care for, guaranteed in legislation. Carers most under financial pressure who receive both the carer payment and the carer allowance receive at least two payments of $600.

As I said, to formally acknowledge the role of carers at a national level, the Gillard government has introduced national carer recognition legislation. The Gillard Labor government also recognises that carers want better support for their loved ones, whether they are frail, aged, a child with a disability or a partner with a mental illness. That is why the Gillard Labor government is committed to reforms to achieve a fairer Australia in the disability services system, aged care and better mental health. Labor will introduce A Better Start for Children with Disability to provide more families of children with disabilities with access to intensive early intervention therapies and treatments from expert health professionals.

From 1 July 2011, young children diagnosed with sight and hearing impairments, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome or fragile X syndrome will be eligible to receive up to $12,000 for early intervention services. In addition, about 20,000 children up to the age of 13 years will be able to access new Medicare services for diagnosis and treatment under this program. The Gillard government will also establish a new $60 million capital fund to build innovative, community based supported accommodation and respite places for people with disability, building on our $100 million capital injection in 2008 to build over 300 supported accommodation places.

These announcements build on federal Labor’s track record of delivering for people with disability and their carers. The Gillard Labor government is providing more than $6 billion over five years under the new National Disability Agreement, including the highest ever level of indexation to improve and expand services for people with disability and their carers. This funding includes the highest ever level of indexation for disability services. In 2010-11 the indexation will be 6.8 per cent, compared with just 1.8 per cent in 2006-07 under the former coalition government. By 2012 the federal government’s contribution will exceed $1.3 billion—over double what it was in 2007. The new agreement also includes a commitment to deliver more than 24,000 additional disability places, including 10,000 respite places, 2,300 in-home care places and more supported accommodation.

The Gillard government has also increased incentives for families to establish special disability trusts, which assist immediate family members and carers who have the financial means to do so to make private financial provision for a family member with a severe disability. Changes delivered by the Gillard Labor government are expected to increase take-up by over 20 per cent. I am pleased to have this opportunity to recognise close to three million Australians who provide care and more than 3,000 people from Parramatta who provide care for loved ones. Their work is substantial and their contribution immense. The government recognises that there is always more work to be done in uplifting the life circumstances of all Australians and we also recognise that the ageing population face ever-increasing demands. (Time expired)