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Thursday, 24 June 2004
Page: 31761


Mr MELHAM (10:58 AM) —I wish to draw the attention of the chamber to the circumstances of one of my constituents. This highlights the dilemma facing many in our community who have disabilities and their families and others who care for them. A constituent has been in touch with my office about her concerns over her intellectually disabled sister. Until recently the constituent's sister, Carolyn, and her mother lived together. The mother has unfortunately been diagnosed with dementia, so she is no longer able to care for her daughter and is now in a nursing home. Carolyn is 58 years old. Carolyn is unable to understand why her mother is no longer with her. Added to that is the fact that Carolyn's mother is not able to communicate with her because of the dementia, so Carolyn is confused and disoriented. In fact, Carolyn has had a breakdown. Carolyn is virtually homeless and is being cared for in the geriatric unit of a major public hospital in Sydney. While she needs specialist care, she is not geriatric.

This lack of appropriate accommodation is one of the difficulties faced by ageing carers, and these problems will increase with our ageing population. Carers who are parents of middle-aged children with intellectual and physical disabilities will age and will become increasingly unable to care for their children. The Australian Bureau of Statistics found that in 1999 there were 162,300 people with profound severe core activity restriction in New South Wales under the age of 54. There are almost as many with moderate core activity restrictions.

Of the people in New South Wales with a severe disability, 76,000 were receiving some form of assistance or support from a parent. This support takes the form of assistance with daily tasks such as mobility, communication, health care, transport, self-care, meal preparation and housework and property maintenance. Yet there is little respite or accommodation support available to these people. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare in the 2001 report Unmet need for disability services found that as a conservative estimate there were 12,500 people across Australia needing accommodation and respite services. It seems self-evident that the government must give urgent consideration to the accommodation support services needed by many in our community. I repeat: the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare found that there are 12,500 people with disabilities across Australia who need but do not have access to accommodation, respite care and day care services.

The National Disability Advisory Council end of second term report in December 2003 identified priority issues to be considered over coming years. Priority 4.9 refers to the de-institutionalisation of community housing and support programs and states:

A cooperative and integrated approach across governments and portfolios is needed to find practical funding solutions to housing and accommodation support options. Council aims to progress work on issues such as young people with a disability in nursing homes and homelessness and disability.

I strongly urge this government to take action on this priority. It is not going to go away.

The baby boomer population is ageing and it will no longer be able to care for middle-aged disabled children. Children like Carolyn will find themselves in inappropriate care facilities. Carolyn's family, like many others facing the same predicament, must ask a series of questions: `What will happen to my child when I am no longer here to care for him or her? Where can I go to get support? What sort of future is my child facing? How long will my child need to wait for assistance?' The questions are seemingly endless and the answers, sadly, are just not available.

This government must give urgent priority to the provision of the accommodation support services needed by so many in our community who are currently unable to access these services. The government must give urgent consideration to the provision of respite services needed by the families and carers of the disabled. Further, the government must address the pressing need for the provision of post-school option services needed by those currently unable to access the support they need to engage in activities during the day.

Australians with disabilities served by the Commonwealth-State/Territory Disability Agreement are among the most vulnerable in our community. Their disabilities are often lifelong and their support places ongoing strains on their families—strains which are unsustainable. This problem is not going to go away. The government does not have a good record in providing services for the disabled. Given that government is currently throwing around so much money, perhaps some of it could be thrown at those who so desperately need appropriate accommodation and respite support.

I did not need a tax cut in the last budget but I got it and many like me got it. The government would have been better placed giving that money to services such as this for disabled people and people who need that sort of care. The vulnerable in our community need assistance from government, not the top end of town. That is the problem with this government: it has its priorities wrong.