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Wednesday, 31 July 2019
Page: 1380

Senator SIEWERT (Western AustraliaAustralian Greens Whip) (19:34): I rise tonight to talk about a very important issue, and that is grandparent carers across Australia. Grandparent carers are those taking primary responsibility for raising their grandchildren. There are many reasons why children could be living with their grandparents, including the death of a parent, parental drug or alcohol abuse, mental health issues, incarceration and family violence. Very often children experience, in fact, an intersection of all of these issues.

I want to recognise the vital role that grandparents play in providing a safe and loving environment when raising their grandchildren. Without them, there would be thousands of children stuck in out-of-home care, removed from links to their family. Grandparent care is the fastest growing form of out-of-home care for children in this country. As at January 2018, half of all children in relative or kinship placements were living with their grandparents. Recent research out of my home state of Western Australia shows that grandparent carers are predominantly single older women living on low incomes and raising, on average, three grandchildren.

Grandparent carers face unique challenges in their role as carers, and these challenges require a specialised approach. I have received many letters from grandparent carers living in Western Australia. Their letters describe the financial stress they experience, the lack of legal security, personal health issues and their difficulties meeting the complex care needs of often traumatised grandchildren. Several of my constituents spoke of the significant financial stress they faced caring for their grandchildren, especially whilst struggling to get by on income support payments.

We know from the emerging research that children have significantly better outcomes in kinship care compared to those in foster care. It is critical that we find ways to support grandparent carers to continue in their roles. One way that we could better support grandparent carers is by ensuring that they are exempt from participating in the activity requirements attached to Newstart and related payments. Regardless of whether they have a court order or not—and that's a significant problem for those who don't actually have a court order, despite caring for their grandchildren—grandparents are already going above and beyond to raise their grandchildren. They shouldn't be subject to harsh mutual obligations and threatened with having their income support payments cut.

Unfortunately, service providers and the broader social security system often don't acknowledge the role of grandparents. This is further complicated if there is an absence of any legal recognition of the caring arrangement, which often there is not. Grandparents usually don't have access to the same financial assistance and income support payments available to foster carers. It is critical that the government fixes this two-tier system to ensure that all grandparents raising their grandchildren are able to access adequate financial assistance and essential services, including Centrelink and Medicare. This is not just a state issue. Please, Commonwealth government, don't just fob it off to the states. The Commonwealth is responsible for some of the key issues, such as those around Centrelink and Medicare.

Grandparent carers understandably find it difficult to navigate service and payment systems. I strongly support a review into the number, geographical location and allocation of Centrelink grandparent advisers to ensure that needs are being met in high-demand service areas and in rural and regional Australia. Grandparent carers provide significant social and economic benefit to the wider community, often at the detriment of their own health, finances and relationships. We have recently formed, in this place, the Parliamentary Friends of Grandparents Raising Grandchildren. Through this group, I look forward to working with stakeholders and my parliamentary colleagues to work on and promote issues important to grandparent carers across this nation.

Senate adjourned at 19 : 38