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Monday, 15 June 2009
Page: 5941


Ms ANNETTE ELLIS (6:37 PM) —It is indeed a pleasure to rise this evening to speak in support of the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Improved Support for Carers) (Consequential and Transitional) Bill 2009. As has probably been said by other members, the earlier bill, the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Improved Support for Carers) Bill 2009, provides part of the government’s response to the report of the Carer Payment (child) Review Taskforce. It gives effect to a number of measures aimed at improving assistance to carers from 1 July this year. The bill we are debating tonight is the companion bill to the improved support for carers bill, which has passed through the House already. This bill now comes in, as the previous speaker said, to put into effect most of the provisions required for carers in this area. I am really very pleased to see this happening and to be part of the clarification process in the parliament tonight.

As most members will be aware, a committee I chair recently provided a report to the parliament on the role of carers in our society. Through that process we had the opportunity—and the privilege, I might add—to speak and listen to literally hundreds and hundreds of carers around the country. We had the opportunity to hear precisely what they had to say about their lives, the impact of the caring role on their lives and the sorts of things that they saw as important in attempting to lighten the load or to make their journey through their life of caring a little bit more bearable and manageable. Many of the things that are in this bill answer some of those questions and will make things a lot better for many carers. For instance, the amendments will include the removal of references in social security law which, from 1 July this year, will be redundant and the replacement of those references with the new terms necessary for the proper administration of the changes to be introduced.

There are a couple of things I would like to mention briefly, if I may, which really will have a great effect on the day-to-day lives of these people. One of them is the 63-day rule. Amendments made by this bill will provide that carers who qualify for the carer payment under the new qualification provisions will be able to take advantage of the existing benefits for carers. For example, under the 63-day rule, carers can temporarily cease to provide constant care but remain qualified for the carer payment. What this new provision will mean is that, if you are in a caring role and the person for whom you are caring has a period in hospital or a period of respite care for up to 63 days per annum, the carer payment will continue to be made. That makes life a whole heap easier. The cost of caring does not necessarily dissolve into nothing just because the person you are offering that care to is not literally in your house or under your care. As I said, they could be in hospital or respite care or a similar type of arrangement. I think this is a really sensible provision and will be very welcome for a number of people out there.

One of the other provisions is the special backdating for the carer payment. Given that this is a new regime, a new order of things, and knowing the frantic lives that these people lead, it may take a little while for some of them to access the new forms and the new transitional arrangements. Between 1 July and 1 October this year, if there is evidence in an application from a treating health professional indicating that the carer would have been qualified for the payment within that period—had they known that they could in fact have made that application or had they had the time to make the application—the application can be backdated, as a transitional arrangement under the new rules. So between 1 July and 1 October this year there is a little bit of flexibility, given the right circumstances, for the carer in question to be accommodated through the application process, should that be required. Again, that makes it just that bit easier for these people and offers some understanding of the types of situations that they find themselves in and the pressures that we all know they face. I do not know how other members feel, but I know that in my own life sometimes I can be very busy. Sometimes paperwork flows through your letterbox and you are not really sure how quickly you will be able to look at it. If you are in a caring role, I tell you, it can be all the more difficult. It is hard enough in normal life, let alone in those sorts of circumstances.

I am really very pleased to see that we are now progressing. As I said, the original bill has gone through the House, and I believe it is now in the other place. We now have this machinery piece of legislation which will put into place the provisions that were alluded to in the earlier bill. This bill makes them all technically possible. I am very, very happy to think that we are going to see this happen, that we are going to see the progress brought about by these legislative changes. I have only mentioned a couple of them in brief, but I know that for the carers that we have spoken to through our inquiry process and the people that we all know in our constituencies this is really going to make a difference. That is what we are all here for, I believe, as parliamentarians. In cases like this we can actually make a practical difference to the lives of people who really need assistance. So I welcome this bill. As technical as it may be in some cases, it will put into action the provisions of the previous piece of legislation. Importantly, it builds on the work of the Carer Payment (child) Review Taskforce, which set this in train in the first place. I am proud to be a member of the government that set that up. I am proud that we are now seeing the provisions come in and that the benefits will flow through to those who have caring roles in our community. I welcome this legislation into the House.