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Monday, 30 August 2004
Page: 26721

Senator GREIG (8:44 PM) —by leave—I move:

(1) Schedule 2, item 1, page 6 (line 34) to page 7 (line 21), omit subsection 954A(2).

(2) Schedule 2, item 1, page 7 (lines 22 to 24), omit subsection 954A(3).

The first of these amendments goes to the eligibility criteria for carer allowance by removing the requirement that the carer live with the person for whom they are providing care. The Democrats have been calling for this outcome for some time. Most carers willingly provide care to another person—to family or friends—in that person's home and do it, as I have said, out of love or duty and at substantial sacrifice to themselves. Providing care to another person in that person's home enables the person requiring care to maintain a degree of independence that they do not want to have compromised. However, it does not diminish the amount of care required.

The bill before us recognises that a person providing care for another person in that person's home is entitled to carer allowance. There is no need to qualify it further as the bill is attempting to do. There is no need to specify 20 hours a week or `for care of bodily functions'. That is already in the adult disability assessment tool, the ADAT. There is no reason for this additional criterion to be added to the legislation where care is provided outside the home. It does not exist in the legislation where care is provided in the home, and I seriously doubt the intentions of the government in attempting to put it into this bill. It seems to me that this is a case of the government on the one hand giving help to carers but on the other hand putting in the means to take it away again.

Democrat amendment (1) means that the legislation for carers who do not live with the person they are caring for mirrors the legislation for carers who live in the same home—no extra bits, no more and no less. If we allow these additional qualifications—which, as I have emphasised, already exist in the ADAT—the next thing we know the government will be amending the legislation for carers who live with the person, just to make it consistent. It is already consistent and it does not need further specification. Carer allowance requires that the person being cared for has passed the rigorous adult disability assessment tool. That does not change, and our amendments do not seek to water it down.

The ADAT test was imposed some years ago to take away the subjectivity of determining a person's need for care or the amount of care needed. It contains a number of requirements, such as that the care must be largely for bodily functions to preserve the life of the person and must be for a minimum of 20 hours a week. There has been no need to enshrine these provisions in law because, as I said earlier, the ADAT is already in the social security and veterans' acts. Simply, our amendments provide that, if it is not specified for carer allowance where the care is provided in the same home, it should not be specified for carer allowance where the care is provided outside the home. Our amendment (1) makes it fair for everyone.

Our second amendment goes to the heart of what we find a more concerning element of the bill. Proposed section 954A(3) gives the minister a disallowable instrument which can be used to specify that certain types of care or disabilities can be exempted from the carer allowance, even if they have passed the ADAT. As I said earlier, carers in Australia should be very concerned. This is quite a tricky provision which will allow the minister or the delegate to, at a whim, simply put in a class of disability or care to override the ADAT and reject or cancel carer allowance. For example, the minister could determine that showering a person is no longer a type of care which qualifies for carer allowance. It enables the minister now or in the future to determine that the preparation of a person's food, for example, no longer qualifies as care. The minister will be able to make that determination regardless of the adult disability assessment tool.

Not many of us here today, I think, would willingly go to another person's home every day of the week for 20 hours in total to shower, bathe, dress and feed an elderly or disabled person. Carers do just this and they often spend many hours travelling, which are not counted in the 20 hours criterion. Yet here we have the minister giving the authority for that care to be discounted. One can only imagine how this might be used. The ADAT was instituted to take the subjectivity out of determining care needs. It was introduced so that public servants, including Centrelink officers, could make decisions based on clear medical determinations by medical practitioners. The introduction of a disallowable instrument allows public servants and the minister to override the findings of a medical practitioner. That a medical practitioner might have treated a person for years and have an intimate knowledge of their care needs no longer matters; the disallowable instrument allows the minister to decide that certain types of care or certain conditions just do not count.

Our amendment (2) simply takes that power away from the minister and away from public servants and leaves it in the hands of the medical practitioner to decide whether the person's disability or age means that they need care for bodily functions. It is a sad day when carers who selflessly devote hours of care every day to assist another person or sometimes several people with basic bodily care, all for the grand sum of $45.05 a week, might now be used by the government as a target for money savings. The Australian Democrats do not want to see the minister using carers in an unreasonable way to implement that kind of policy outcome. Our amendment (2) means that there can be no such disallowable instrument and that the minister cannot decide to exclude, for example, showering, bathing or feeding as types of care.