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Thursday, 21 October 2010
Page: 1199

Mr ADAMS (10:35 AM) —There are many in our communities around Australia who are often the forgotten people. They are the ones who take up the responsibility of looking after loved ones—loved ones who may be children or adult family members, siblings, partners, elderly relatives or even close friends. These loved ones may have a disability, a mental illness, a terminal illness or a chronic condition. They may be an elderly person who cannot live unassisted but who wants to remain at home where their belongings are about them, where their favourite chair is, where they feel comfortable, where they have a good view out of their window or where they are in surroundings that they have known for an awfully long time. These carers are the ones who selflessly put aside their lives to care for their relatives or friends. Many children find themselves playing the role of an adult so that they can stay with their parent at home.

These young carers are sometimes children as young as seven. Young people help or take on the caring role in families where someone has an illness, a disability, a mental disorder or substance abuse problems. They might help out with cleaning or the preparation of meals. They might assist their relative or friend or friends with daily tasks or help them with medicines, showering, dressing or watch out for them to make sure that they are okay. Across Australia 390,000 children and young people help care for their relatives. There are as many as 70,000 recognised family carers in Tasmania. The work undertaken by family carers is worth $1.6 billion to the Tasmanian community. Many young carers say that caring can be a great thing to do, that they are proud of who they are and what they do and that they have built up a whole swag of useful skills. However, young carers also say that caring affects the way they feel, how much time they get to spend with friends or to do their homework and their ability to hold down a job, and that often they need some help.

Anyone at any time can become a carer. Some are thrown into it because there is literally no-one else to do it and, of course, it can be extremely stressful. It is amazing how much volunteer time families put into caring for relatives, without any real recognition. So when a bill was raised to enshrine in law the Australian government’s national recognition for the exceptional contribution made by hundreds of thousands of carers across the country it made lot of sense, and I wanted to support it. This is also Carers Week and the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs should be congratulated for getting the Carer Recognition Bill 2010 into parliament. This bill establishes a legislative framework to increase recognition and awareness of informal carers to acknowledge the valuable contribution they make to society. The bill also establishes a broad and encompassing definition of carer and a statement for Australian carers that outlines key principles on how carers should be treated and considered.

The bill will establish that public service care agencies should take action to reflect the principles in the Statement for Australia’s Carers in developing, implementing, providing or evaluating care supports; to consult with carers and involve them in the development of care supports; and to report on compliance with the obligations established. It will establish that associated providers should have an awareness and understanding of the Statement for Australia’s Carers and take action to reflect the principles in the Statement for Australia’s Carers in developing, implementing, providing or evaluating care supports.

So the new definition is a broader one that encompasses all people who provide personal care, support and assistance to individuals who need support due to a disability, a medical condition including terminal or chronic illness, a mental illness or frailty due to age. However, subclause 5(2) provides:

(2)   An individual is not a carer in respect of care, support and assistance he or she provides:

(a)   under a contract of service or a contract for the provision of services; or

(b)   in the course of doing voluntary work for a charitable, welfare or community organisation; or

(c)   as part of the requirements of a course of education or training.

This subclause means that an individual is not a carer for the purpose of this bill if they only provide care under these circumstances; therefore, as subclause 5(3) provides:

(3)   To avoid doubt, an individual is not a carer merely because he or she:

(a)   is the spouse, de facto partner, parent, child or other relative of an individual, or is the guardian of an individual; or

(b)   lives with an individual who requires care.

For example, a foster carer is not a carer for the purpose of the bill unless the child being cared for needs support due to disability, a medical condition including a terminal or chronic illness, or mental illness. I think the real benefit of this bill is recognition of all those people who put in time 24/7 without annual leave, public holidays or time off if they are sick. It gives them an opportunity to get some understanding from the various levels of government that are included in government policy and to have the same opportunities as other Australians to live healthy, happy lives and reach their full potential.

There are 10 main principles in this bill. The first two reframe certain fundamental human right principles with reference to the status of the individual as a carer. So children and young carers should have the same rights as other children and young people and should be supported to reach their full potential. Carers should have the same rights as other Australians on a non-discriminatory basis.

Principles 3, 5 and 8 reflect on the value of the carer and the need to acknowledge them. For instance, proposed principle 8 articulates the need to treat carers with dignity and respect, while proposed principles 6 and 7 reflect on the relational nature of carers. The statement stresses that:

6.   The relationship between carers and the persons for whom they care should be recognised and respected.

It suggests:

7.   Carers should be considered as partners with other care providers in the provision of care, acknowledging the unique knowledge and experience of carers.

Proposed principles 9 and 10 provide more specific guidance on the treatment of carers:

9.   Carers should be supported to achieve greater economic wellbeing and sustainability and, where appropriate, should have opportunities to participate in employment and education.

10.   Support for carers should be timely, responsive, appropriate and accessible.

This bill forms the basis for the National Carer Strategy which is currently under development and which will shape the government’s long-term agenda for reform. This strategy will include many of the issues raised by carers through the inquiry into better support for carers. It should consider, among other things, the training and skills development needs of carers, and the advocacy of care management and care coordination for carers. We must also address the needs of young carers and carers in rural and remote communities, and this will be a key priority in this strategy.

This is a very important bill and its implementation will drive increased awareness and understanding of the role and contribution of carers, as well as a much-needed cultural and attitudinal shift so that carers’ interests are taken into account by public service agencies and service providers. I think we have all seen people give so much as carers in our communities. As we work as MPs representing our electorates throughout the country, we sometimes see enormous sacrifices by such people in our community. I think giving some recognition to them in this way is a great thing for our nation and our parliament to do. I welcome the opportunity to speak to this, and look forward to following the development of the strategy as it begins to take shape. I commend the bill to the House.