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Thursday, 21 October 2010
Page: 1192


Mr ANDREWS (10:01 AM) —In May 2008 the House Of Representatives Standing Committee on Family, Community, Housing and Youth announced a parliamentary inquiry to investigate how carers could be better supported in their role. The committee tabled its report into better support for carers, the Who cares…? report, on 25 May 2009. Recommendation 4 was to develop a nationally consistent carer recognition framework comprising, firstly, national carer recognition legislation which complements state and territory care legislation, and, secondly, a national carer strategy which builds on and complements state and territory carer policies.

On 19 October 2009 during Carers Week the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs announced that the government would develop a national carer recognition framework and introduce legislation into parliament in 2010. The government tabled its response to the Who cares…? report on 29 October 2009.

The coalition will not oppose this bill. The bill establishes a legislative framework to increase recognition and awareness of informal carers and acknowledge the invaluable contribution they make to society. It is the first element in the development of a national carer recognition framework. The bill sets out a statement for Australia’s carers. The statement will not create rights but will instead establish key principles to provide guidance on how carers should be treated and considered by Public Service agencies and associated providers. The legislation is therefore symbolic rather than substantive. The bill is purely symbolic, stating specifically in part 4, Other matters:

(1)   This Act does not create rights or duties that are legally enforceable in judicial or other proceedings.

(2)   A failure to comply with this Act does not affect the validity of any decision, and is not a ground for review or challenge of any decision.

Carers have long sought recognition for the very important and significant role they play. Carers are unpaid Australians who give their time—often 24 hours a day, seven days a week—to provide care, love and support, often at a financial, emotional and social cost to themselves. Carers play a vital role in our society and carry tremendous emotional and financial burdens. Carers are parents, grandparents, siblings, partners, relatives and friends who assist every day with personal care, health care, transport and many other activities. Carers carry out a valuable role which otherwise would inevitably fall to our public systems—our public hospitals and professional carers—to do, a cost society would otherwise have to pick up.

Many carers, despite the tough times it can bring, will tell you that there is nothing more rewarding than giving unconditional love and care to a loved one. Carers are simply quite extraordinary Australians, but for most they take the view that it is just what you do as a partner, as a parent or as a friend. Whether these carers choose to identify themselves as carers or not, it is still our responsibility to support them in whatever way we can. As members of parliament, we can help to get the support framework right, but we can never transform the lives of those that they care for like the carers themselves. It is important we recognise carers in supporting them in their invaluable role.

Whilst the sentiments expressed in the bill are commendable, the coalition recognises that sentiment alone does not amount to real action for carers. That is why the coalition has developed practical and affordable initiatives to provide real, tangible support to carers.

Australian Bureau of Statistics data show that 6.6 per cent of carers are aged 18 years or under. Indeed some 400,000 Australians aged under 26 care for a person with a disability or a long-term illness.

Before the last election, the coalition announced a policy for a young carer scholarship program. Many of these young carers are missing chances to further their education or to undertake part-time work to help support themselves whilst at school, university or TAFE. The coalition would have delivered at least 150 annual scholarships valued at up to $10,000, awarded depending on the level of education involved. The coalition also announced a plan to establish a Commonwealth disability and carer ombudsman to give carers a real and independent voice. These are just two practical and affordable policy initiatives that would provide further real assistance to carers.

The coalition recognises the vital role carers play in our society and the tremendous financial and emotional burden they carry. The Liberal and National parties have always believed that the best social support ever devised is family and friends.

In government the coalition developed a package of measures to improve the position of carers, including more respite and the establishment of the National Respite for Carers Program; the introduction of and increases in funding and eligibility of the carers’ allowance; an increase in funding and eligibility of carers’ payment; and access to income support for those caring for a child with a disability and providing encouragement and support for carers to return to the workforce.

Under the coalition every year from 2004 to 2007, carers received one-off carer bonus payments of $1,000 to each person in receipt of carer payments, and $600 to each recipient of carer allowance for each person in their care. This was recognition of the vital role that carers play in our society and the tremendous financial burden they carry.

In 2008 the then Rudd Labor government failed to recognise this and wanted to remove support from carers by stopping payment of the carer’s bonus. The Labor government did not recognise the value of our carers, and it was only after community outrage and opposition from the coalition that they finally backed down.

While recognising the voluntary and personal nature of the work carers do, government needs to assist carers with income support, training and respite. The coalition’s good economic management meant new and improved initiatives could be implemented to support and recognise the vital role of carers in our society.