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Thursday, 28 June 2018
Page: 4323

Senator CAROL BROWN (Tasmania) (13:00): I rise to address the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Payments for Carers) Bill 2018. This bill will introduce an income test for the carer allowance and the carer allowance (child) health care card from 20 September 2018. The income test will be set at a threshold of $250,000 per annum, affecting approximately 6,900 or one per cent of carer allowance recipients. The minister has indicated that the government will be reinvesting these savings into the Integrated Carer Support Service. After consultation with stakeholders in the sector, including Carers Australia, who support this change, Labor has decided to support this bill. Children and Young People with Disability Australia have also indicated that they do not have an issue with the proposals in this bill, as the means testing of payments and healthcare cards is an established practice.

Carers Australia and other carer service providers have indicated that they have been working with the Department of Social Services to design a more integrated and nationally consistent model of delivering services to carers across Australia. Commitment to provide help to carers before they reach crisis point is vital. We do, however, hold concerns about the Integrated Carer Support Service reform, because not only is the total amount of funds allocated towards these services unclear but the implementation of the first phase has already been delayed from July to October this year, with the second phase to be rolled out by September 2019. It is not clear at this stage how the funding has been calculated nor how it will be allocated across the country. However, it is welcome that current providers have had their contracts extended until November 2019. Moving towards an early intervention model of carer support will help those who can access online and digital services, and it will help alleviate the burden of anticipated shocks. But it is unclear how the government, with its reliance upon online and digital services, will adequately service areas with poor internet connection or telephone services.

Labor continues to hear concerns from the sector that the total funding allocated to the Integrated Carer Support Service will fail to meet the needs of the carer community, especially as the Australian population ages and demand for carers increases. One of the concerns expressed is about the funding allocated to emergency respite, and the government is yet to clarify the funding available for this service. The ICSS must ensure that there is equity of access to services. There are 2.8 million carers across Australia, over one-third of whom provide 40 hours or more of care per week to people with disability, chronic or terminal illness or mental health challenges or who are frail aged. A 2015 Deloittes Access Economics report quantified that carers provide 1.9 billion volunteer hours of support, significantly boosting the health and wellbeing of Australians in need of assistance. Supports and services must meet carers' needs and expectations so that they are able to participate in the community and the workforce and look after their own wellbeing whilst continuing their caring role. Carer respite and a broad range of different carer services to suit Australians from diverse background will be essential for meeting the needs of Australia's growing carer demand. Labor will continue to advocate for appropriate support for carers, knowing the invaluable contribution they make each and every day to Australia.

Labor values the critical role that carers play in our society and understands how demanding it can be, personally, physically and financially. In 2009, it was Labor that increased the carer payment by $30 a week, and in 2014 it was Labor that opposed the Abbott-Turnbull plan to cut the indexation of the carer payment. If the government had succeeded in cutting indexation, the carer payment would have been cut by $80 a week over 10 years. Labor blocked this cut because it is Labor that stands behind the carer community. It is Labor that stands for adequate funding of carer support services. Many carers have not forgotten this cut and remain wary of any changes proposed by this government.

Nonetheless, Labor will be supporting this bill today. We support the introduction of the income testing set at the $250,000 per annum threshold for the carer allowance because it will, ultimately, lead to better services for carers through the introduction of the integrated carer support services. I commend the bill to the Senate.