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Thursday, 21 October 2010
Page: 1196

Mr BALDWIN (10:23 AM) —I rise today to address the Carer Recognition Bill 2010. This bill celebrates the amazing efforts of 2.6 million unpaid family carers in our community and acknowledges their vital contribution to Australian society. My hope is that this bill will also promote discussion about the challenges faced by carers. Across Australia in every community, no matter how large or small, carers provide unpaid care and support for family members or friends who have a disability, mental illness, chronic condition or terminal illness.

Carers come from all walks of life and can take on the role of carer at any stage of life. The common attribute of all carers is defined by the adjective by which they are described: they care. They care that their friend or relative is treated with dignity and respect. They care because they prioritise the needs of their family member or friend ahead of their own. They care because they know that only they can provide the love and dedication their friend or family member deserves. I have met and spoken to many carers in my electorate of Paterson. I have learned that being a carer is rewarding but is often exhausting and sometimes heartbreaking. Carers cannot take public holidays, weekends or rostered days off. The job of a carer is never done. The job of a carer is 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

I am pleased to note that the Australian government has made progress in helping to ease the burden and stress on our carers through financial support. Currently, carers of people aged 16 years or over are able to claim the carer allowance of $106.70 per fortnight. They are also eligible for an annual supplement of $600. For those caring for a child under 16, a healthcare card is available. In addition, many are also eligible for the carer allowance of $106.70 per fortnight. However, this is dependent on the child’s level of functional disability. Importantly, the carer allowance is designed to help them meet the costs of the constant care and therefore it is not contingent on income or asset tests. Building on this, however, is the carer payment designed specifically for those who suffer a loss in income due to their carer commitment on a daily basis. The carer payment is currently set at $658.40 per fortnight for a single carer or $496.30 for each carer in a couple. This does not include the pension supplement, which may also be paid concurrently.

Although no support mechanisms or financial assistance can ever completely meet the burden for the hours of unpaid work undertaken by carers, the coalition has always understood that government has a responsibility to assist carers. That is why the former coalition government made significant steps to acknowledge the plight of carers and ease their burden through a series of financial and other support measures. In 2002 the coalition simplified eligibility requirements for carers of children with a terminal illness who receive active treatment. In 2005 the coalition increased the number of hours a carer can work, study or train to 25 hours per week. In 2006 the coalition extended support to carers of children aged between six years and 16 years with severe intellectual, psychiatric or behavioural disabilities. In 2007 the coalition introduced the carer adjustment package of up to $10,000 as an interim ex gratia payment scheme while a review of the carer payment was conducted. Between 2004 and 2007 the coalition supplied one-off carer bonuses of $1,000 for eligible recipients of the carer payment. From 2006 eligible wife pensions and Department of Veterans’ Affairs partner service pensions also received $1,000 carer bonus payments if they were receiving carer allowance. What this time line shows is that the coalition has always been committed to increased support for carers. I certainly hope that the Gillard Labor government will follow the coalition’s lead and use this bill as the start of another round of discussion and action.

It is clear that the Australian government has a massive role to play in supporting Australia’s carers; however, it would be remiss of me to stand here today and not mention the fantastic community organisations whose staff and volunteers are an invaluable resource for carers across our country. These community organisations are often the ones that step in when our carers have had a rough day and all the usual support mechanisms have failed. They offer emotional support and advice. They also run practical excursions to give our carers a much-deserved small break.

One such organisation in my electorate of Paterson that I have had the honour of getting to know is Port Stephens Community Care. Port Stephens Community Care is a vital part of the Paterson electorate. It supports individuals requiring care services to live as they choose, while providing and promoting the development of community care. The target group of clients includes the frail aged, younger people with disabilities and the carers of these people. This organisation also offers support programs and peer support. Port Stephens Community Care is a not-for-profit organisation and works with government and private sector service providers to deliver a comprehensive and flexible range of services. It does so through the use of community volunteers. Its service delivery model hinges upon the core philosophy built on the values of individual choice, dignity, respect, privacy, confidentiality and accountability. These are values that we can all strive for and that should be a part of any health policy debate in Australia.

There are also a number of other organisations in the electorate of Paterson that do fabulous work, including North Coast Community Care, which supports my constituents in Forster, Tuncurry, Tea Gardens and Hawks Nest. It has worked hard to establish ties with various support organisations throughout the mid-North Coast, and helps hundreds of people by providing in-home nursing, domestic care and in-home respite services.

Maitland Community Care is another invaluable service for constituents in the west of my electorate. Its focus is on the frail younger people with a disability and of course their carers. Its aim is to help these people continue to participate as fully as possible in their local community and to maintain their normal lives and friendship networks as long as possible. Like Port Stephens Community Care, staff value everyone’s right to choice, mobility, dignity and responsive services. Without these services, in many cases, many constituents of mine would be forced to enter nursing homes or other similar institutions because of their inability to care adequately for themselves at home.

Thus, local care services not only make an immense contribution in the lives of individuals but also help to strengthen our society and local community life. For this reason we should this week celebrate not only carers but also those who support our carers. That includes community organisations and also the friends and family of carers. I will be taking the opportunity to do so this Friday when I will have the privilege of opening the Port Stephens Community Care event, ‘A Carers Journey’ at the Tomaree Community Centre. The aim of the event is to provide information on the comprehensive range of services that are available to assist carers throughout each stage of a carer’s journey.

The team at Port Stephens Community Care is highlighting three stages, those being identification and information for carers, maintaining with support services and decision making. I would like to highlight the tireless efforts of Sheryl Cain and the team at Port Stephens Community Care in support of the Paterson electorate. In August this year the organisation was honoured as Paterson’s Corporate Citizen of the Year for its ongoing commitment to adequately manage and respond to the needs of the vulnerable in our community.

Vulnerable people in our community come in lots of different forms. That is part of the challenge for carers, many whom have the duty of carer thrust upon them unexpectedly. Often the learning process must be quick. From speaking to my constituents, I know that the welfare of a carer’s friend or relative is never far from their mind. For example, Meg and Rob from Salamander Bay are carers providing for an adult daughter and they are riddled with guilt and worry about their child’s future beyond their passing. We as a government should provide help for those in care to establish themselves where possible and live as normal a life as they can. Many carers have also approached me with concerns regarding accessing respite care in emergency situations as they are at their wits end when in need of a well-deserved break. Others are faced with crippling debt after the passing of the friend or relative they have cared for. These are just a couple of the reasons that being a carer is a very tough job. However, it is not without its rewards.

It is the moral duty of a civilised society to provide the support services all carers so richly deserve and this bill should serve many purposes. Firstly, the bill should pay worthy tribute to carers for what they do every day, often without a simple thank you or a pat on the back. Secondly, the bill should promote action to address the need for additional respite and recognition for those in our community who, through their love and dedication, save the taxpayer billions of dollars a year. The situation is not always perfect. Thirdly, the bill should raise awareness of carers and their role in society so that we can move towards an even better support system for Australian carers.

Unfortunately, many people who do not have personal experience with a carer do not understand the personal sacrifices carers make on a daily basis. This lack of awareness is despite the fact that there are so many wonderful carers in our community. For example, in Paterson alone, last year’s figures show there were more than 4,000 unpaid carers. If each of those carers was looking after just one person then this bill affects in excess of 8,000 of my constituents. That is one in 10 people in the Paterson electorate.

I am confident that my electorate of Paterson is representative of many other electorates across Australia. That is why I am proud that I have the opportunity to celebrate Carers Week here in the parliament today. I am also proud to have the opportunity to fight for more support for local carers. There are always improvements that can be made, as no system is perfect, and I will work hard to help ensure that any legislative changes do improve the lives of our carers and, in turn, the people they care for, their friends and their family. It is fantastic to get people talking about this issue, but we also need to walk the walk. We have the opportunity to turn this situation into positive, real, life-changing action. I look forward to working with Paterson’s carers towards this in the future. Again, to all of the carers in the electorate of Paterson, I say thank you.