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Tuesday, 4 April 2000
Page: 13318


Senator CHRIS EVANS (6:50 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

This document is the government's response to the Department of Family and Community Affair's report entitled Review of the measure to extend carer payment eligibility to carers of children with a profound disability—final report. This is the government's response to the review which reviewed the new assessment tool for payments to the carers of children with a profound disability, which was introduced in July 1998. The review occurred because of a concern that many families were failing to qualify for the payment because of the strict guidelines imposed. A number of community groups and families believe the current criteria are far too rigid and do not recognise the care needs of some of the most common genetic disorders, syndromes and neurological afflictions. The disability community as a whole were hoping that the coalition government, through this review, would come to realise that often an individual's disability cannot be defined to fit into prepared statements or tick-box approaches to assessment and neither can their care needs.

The response of the government to that review is, quite frankly, very disappointing. It was an opportunity for the government to come to terms with the very serious concerns about the families who are being excluded from eligibility for the payment—families with children with very severe disabilities and very high care needs, families who are under a great deal of stress and who would greatly benefit from being eligible for the carer payment. I know you have to draw the line somewhere, but I think it has been widely accepted that the current guidelines were proving to be very harsh and unreasonable in many circumstances. There was hope that by the process of this review many families would have their eligibility reassessed and that many who had been excluded would be allowed to access those payments.

As I have said, the government has missed that opportunity and has failed to pick up some of the key recommendations that came from its own review. The review made a number of recommendations. I do not think it could be described as radical in any terms, but it did pick up most of the key issues that were raised and made a fairly balanced response to the concerns of the community about how we might improve the carer payment eligibility criteria. Submissions to the reference group from both individuals and disability organisations identified many aspects of the current assessment procedures that are deficient in identifying and acknowledging that a child with a profound disability may require constant supervision for either medical or behavioural reasons. All the main disability groups stated that the assessment criteria were too rigid and needed to be broadened.

Despite the reference group also recognising the merits of the measure, the coalition government have ignored that recommendation. The government claim to have picked up the majority of the recommendations—I would dispute that—but they have certainly missed the core recommendations. They have picked up a couple of the functional concerns, and I appreciate that, but they have ignored the major recommendations that deal with the discretionary provision to be included in the system. Their response to the tube feeding criterion is disappointing, with a commitment to again review and look into the problem. I think that will not give any great satisfaction to the families affected.

A key finding of the review was about building some discretion into the system, and it was a matter that was argued strongly in a submission from the Social Security Appeals Tribunal. It advocated the inclusion of a discretionary clause on the basis that, no matter how long or exhaustive the list of criteria, there will always be deserving children who are not recognised. The Social Security Appeals Tribunal, which in some ways is the umpire in this area and deals with this sort of thing all the time, said that the discretionary clause would be a useful addition. The reference group supported that recommendation, but the government has failed to do so. I think we will be left with a very rigid system, a system that does not recognise a range of conditions, demands, on carers. I think there will be many disappointed people in the community as a result of the government's very disappointing, short-sighted and, I think, bordering on mean response. The key line to understand the government's response is found in this document where it states:

Given that the review identified that customer numbers have substantially exceeded the number originally anticipated, the Government has decided not to adopt the recommendation.

In other words, it is not prepared to spend any more money. (Time expired)

Question resolved in the affirmative.