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Thursday, 26 June 2008
Page: 3525


Senator PATTERSON (2:30 PM) —My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Evans. In January, in a typical spin versus substance stunt, Kevin Rudd gave his senators and members—


The PRESIDENT —Order! You must refer to the Prime Minister by his proper title.


Senator PATTERSON —The Prime Minister, Mr Kevin Rudd, gave his senators and members homework to do. They were to visit homeless shelters and schools supposedly so they could develop more informed policy. Will the Prime Minister give a similar order for compulsory homework over the winter break and, this time, will it include visiting carers of older Australians and carers of sons and daughters with a disability; carers who work 24/7 without a Jeeves, without a driver, without any staff—many for 10, 20, 30 and sometimes more than 50 years?


Senator CHRIS EVANS (Leader of the Government in the Senate) —It is unfortunate Senator Patterson used her last question in that tone, given I know her commitment to those less fortunate in our society. The Prime Minister does encourage Labor members of parliament to get out and move around the community and he did encourage us to visit homeless shelters. I actually think that was a very good thing, and it was a very good experience for those of us who have not done it for a while. I think we learned a lot from it. It resulted in us getting the question of homelessness on the national agenda and that is a very important thing. One of the things that a friend of mine said to me the other day was, ‘One of the good things about Kevin Rudd’—and I am not sure that he necessarily voted for us—‘is that he is making the community think about things that they have not thought about for a long time.’ He used the examples of homelessness and binge drinking. It was a very telling comment from someone who is not particularly interested in politics.

The Prime Minister encouraging Labor members of parliament to get out and deal with these issues and connect with people affected by serious social issues is one of the best things about his prime ministership. He is really interested in those issues and the concerns of people doing it tough.

The senator asked a question about carers and people with disabilities. She would be well aware that there were significant financial commitments and new initiatives in the budget aimed at carers and people with disabilities. That was the focus of a range of measures in the budget and Minister Macklin has been very focused on those issues. There were increases—not only did we pay a whole range of people the annual bonus for the first time but there was also an increase in the number of people able to get access to benefits for caring for children with disabilities as well as a range of other measures that I would have thought the senator would have welcomed because I know that she has had a long-term commitment in these areas.

I actually think that, in the budget, we made a very serious commitment to people with disabilities and a very serious commitment to the plight of carers who are not only underappreciated but also very highly stressed caring for people with disabilities. Senator Ellison, I and a lot of the other WA senators are a part of a Politician Adoption Scheme, which I think first commenced in WA. I have been a member for a long time. It puts you in touch with a family with a person with a disability and allows you to connect with the issues they confront. I have certainly found it very helpful, although, unfortunately, the carer I was first connected with died of cancer and her mature age boy then had to go into full-time care.

I think it is important that we focus on these issues. The budget did that, and if the Prime Minister was to encourage us to go out and connect again with carers and people with disabilities, I think that would be a very good thing. I urge all members of parliament to do so, but it is a focus for him already. That focus was reflected in the budget, and I know he was particularly moved by a carer’s contribution in one of the community cabinets we held. Again, it is a sign that the Prime Minister is in touch and listening to people’s concerns. So I think the Prime Minister concentrating on these issues is a very good thing, and it is forcing a lot of Australians to do the same thing. (Time expired)


Senator PATTERSON —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. He really did not answer the question I asked him, and it only requires a simple yes or no. Will the minister ask the Prime Minister to set his colleagues homework to visit carers in their homes and see what they do 24/7?


Senator CHRIS EVANS (Leader of the Government in the Senate) —I reject the suggestion that I did not answer the question because I tried to give a fulsome answer to the senator. I and my colleagues seek to be in contact with the community. The community cabinets have been a very useful way of making sure that we are in touch with those issues. It is front and centre of the government’s agenda. Look at the budget, look at the commitments to disability funding, look at the commitments to carers and look at the autism package announced recently by the minister. This is a key part of the government’s agenda and we are listening to carers, we are listening to their needs. It is a part of the work that we are focused on. I would hope we get bipartisan support for such an approach.