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Thursday, 21 October 2010
Page: 1214


Ms O’NEILL (11:55 AM) —It gives me great pleasure to speak today to this important piece of legislation—the Carer Recognition Bill 2010. This is Carers Week, so the timing of this debate could not be better. In the week that we shine the light on the work of carers around the country, it is perfect that we move in this House to establish a legislative framework for those who give care voluntarily to others in need. The purpose of this legislation is to increase the recognition and awareness of informal carers and to acknowledge the valuable—indeed, I would argue, invaluable—role that they play in our community.

I feel uncomfortable reducing the act of caring to a crude dollar value, because caring is so much more important than that. It is significant, however, and worth noting, as others already have in this debate, that Access Economics puts the annual replacement value of informal care provided by unpaid carers at more than $40 billion. When he spoke of that research earlier this week, the Minister for Mental Health and Ageing, the member for Port Adelaide, said that this research shows a 33 per cent increase in the value of replacement care over the past five years. That is a factor that Access Economics attributes largely to our ageing population. A figure of $40 billion is breathtaking on its own; but the overall dollar value and its growth really brings home to me how important our national response to our ageing population is going to be, particularly in the context of the kinds of demographic challenges outlined in this year’s Intergenerational report.

Throughout this year, I have heard many on the Labor side talk seriously about the challenges. We have heard all the projections that the number of older people aged between 65 and 84 years will more than double and that the number of very old people—85 and over—will more than quadruple between now and 2050. Especially this week, Carers Week, we should all reflect on how much of this burden of care will be borne by carers.

There is really no price we can put on the work of carers in our community. Setting aside crude dollar values, the sheer number of carers in our community is quite staggering. In my state of New South Wales there are said to be something of the vicinity of 750,000 carers. That is about one in 10 people. All of us know several carers. They are people who give from the heart. Carers can be relatives, friends or neighbours, and there are few boundaries when it comes to giving care. Carers Australia has this year again made the theme of carers week ‘anyone, anytime’. The motto reminds us all that anyone at anytime could become a carer or indeed become the subject of care.

This legislation establishes a broad definition of who is a carer. The Statement for Australia’s Carers in schedule 1 of this bill gives 10 key principles of how carers should be treated and considered. They range from the basic principle that ‘all carers should have the same rights, choices and opportunities as other Australians’ to stating that ‘support for carers should be timely, responsive, appropriate and accessible’.

The legislation does not create an enforceable right or obligation. It is a framework to increase recognition and awareness of informal carers. It does, however, create an obligation on Public Service agencies and associated providers to take all practicable measures to ensure their employees have an awareness and an understanding of the Statement for Australia’s Carers.

The bill will also establish reporting requirements for the Australian Public Service. I sincerely hope and expect that this will lead to carers leave becoming easier to access for members of the Australian Public Service and associated providers. This service has a responsibility to be a model employer when it comes to granting carers leave. Anecdotally, I hear that it does not always live up to its responsibility in this regard. I hope this legislation leads to an improvement in that area. I know that carers in the Australian Public Service will be watching closely and waiting for that consultation to occur.

Creating a national workplace culture in which carers leave is seen as a matter of course not a privilege to be dispensed according to whim of the HR line manager is something all political parties should encourage. So why, some may ask, do we need a statement of principles? From an educational perspective, I think the answer is because our values need constant reinforcement. I definitely understand that there is power in words to articulate our beliefs. This piece of legislation seeks to articulate a new understanding that is growing in Australia about the place of carers. Principles are indeed the way that we express our beliefs in such a way to form a model for how we might enact those beliefs, how we might bring those beliefs into the public place. It provides us with a core document upon which we can reflect, a document that provides a range of statements against which we must measure our success, as we move towards enacting them every day.

Research I have read most recently about the centrality of beliefs and the way we interact in our world indicates that without words that express our values, without considering our values and articulating them, and understanding them deeply, we can get caught in older sets of beliefs that can contain our possibility to respond to new challenges. In this piece of legislation, we have an articulation of beliefs against which we will measure our success. When we are in complex situations, research tends to show that we return to our beliefs. This piece of legislation is a very appropriate 2010 articulation of our deep belief, our growing understanding as Australians, of the place of carers and the role they play in our society.

Pardon me, Madam Deputy Speaker Bird, for waxing lyrical a little academically, but it is a field in which I have pursued some study. In short, defining what we want our values to be, putting them down on paper, debating them in our legislature and passing legislation are all important steps in the public process of prioritising the role of carers in our society. From a government policy perspective, this bill is the first element in the development of a national carer recognition framework, which is central to the government’s response to last year’s House of Representatives standing committee report on carers. It would be remiss of me not to note the contribution here of the former member for Canberra who chaired that committee and the deputy chair, the member for Pearce, who spoke earlier in this debate today. The acknowledgement of carers is an area I anticipate will enjoy strong and constructive bipartisan support and I look forward to engaging with my colleagues on advancing the interests of carers as best we can.

I note that this legislation will not exclude similar state or territory laws. Other states such as South Australia, Western Australia, the Northern Territory and Queensland already have their own carers charters. My state, New South Wales, passed its own Carers Recognition Bill through its parliament on 12 May this year with bipartisan support. I am pleased to note that the New South Wales act even established a Ministerial Advisory Council for Carers. The state Minister for Disability Services, Peter Primrose, is the chair of that council. Those who know Peter know he is one of the great gentlemen of the Labor Party movement. Peter and his wife, Jan, have given political care to many of their fellow party members over many years. I am very pleased to hear that the New South Wales carers advisory council that Peter will chair has committed to having diverse membership—Aboriginal carers, carers from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, people caring for a family member with a physical or intellectual disability, young and ageing carers, those caring for people with mental illnesses, carers of people with a chronic illness and carers from both rural and remote areas. Our intention at federal government level is, of course, not to curtail any positive initiatives such as these and that others may pursue in their respective jurisdictions.

Before I conclude my remarks on the legislation, I would like to close by congratulating Central Coast carer groups who have been marking Carers Week and to acknowledge the great work that they do in our community. I have spoken to a number of their representatives and conveyed my best wishes. The parent support group at Glenvale Special School in Narara, which is in Robertson, have marked Carers Week—meeting just yesterday at the school—and next week will be holding a carers barbecue to support the work the parents to. Glenvale has its main campus in Narara in the seat of Robertson and a smaller campus at The Entrance North. The latter happens to be in the member for Dobell’s electorate. As with many aspects of regional life on the Central Coast, caring has no borders. I am sure the member for Dobell will not mind me congratulating the parents and supporters of Glenvale on his behalf.

Back in Robertson in Kincumber, the Kincumber Carers Support Group held a pamper morning yesterday. June Galea, a local community worker, was critical in gathering together five local therapists who offered their services to support carers. In June’s own words, she said that carers were so used to giving that they had trouble actually receiving the care that was on offer to them. I am pleased to note that DADHC and Carers NSW provided $250 towards lunch for the day. The member for Blair indicated the funding line that allows such a celebration to occur. Our local carers were able to enjoy a morning tea, enjoy a fully catered lunch and also in between had access to reiki massage, neck and shoulder massage, manicure and pedicure. I am thinking it might have been a very nice place to be yesterday to be a carer at Kincumber. Kincumber is an area the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs knows well, because she came there not long ago and officially opened the men’s shed, a terrific venue, where there is also a lot of care given.

Carers in my region also a celebrated Carers Week yesterday with the Walk of Pride. This was the mental health carers ARAFMI group, who coordinated through Rhonda Wilson. This is the second year that the march has actually happened and it follows on from an example they saw from the Newcastle area. ‘Proud to care’ is the motto that they wanted to convey. They aimed not only to signify that they are engaged in caring and that they are proud to care but to reduce stigma about mental health and mental ill health, in particular, in the community. We want to make sure the community better understands mental health and through that they find a way, again, to support the people they are engaged in caring for.

I will conclude with one final anecdote about a Central Coast man who sought out my help. I met him on the street as I was campaigning in the most recent federal election. To secure his anonymity I am simply going to call him ‘Jack’ and his lovely wife ‘Jill’. Jack and Jill married later in life and have a great affection for one another. Jill was a disabled person when they married. Jack understood fully the care that that would entail. Most recently Jill had a fall and was hospitalised. The greatest fear that Jack and Jill have was that their lives would be very much impacted by a shift to a nursing home for Jill rather than being able to bring her home.

The critical incident made them aware that they needed to find a new hoist mechanism at home. The search for that equipment and assistance in seeking funding to provide that in their home and maintain care has taken up all of their time. I am pleased to have been able to support them in some way towards that end. The journey continues. But this fine gentlemen’s love for his wife, his courage, his determination, really serves as an inspiration to all of us in our work in advancing the interests of carers across the country. I commend the bill to the House.