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Wednesday, 13 August 2003
Page: 18474

Ms JACKSON (9:52 AM) —Carers make a tremendous contribution to the lives of the people for whom they care and to the economic and social health of our community. Yet, for all their giving, carers are the forgotten partners in this government's so-called welfare reform. The Howard government demands that all welfare recipients fulfil their mutual obligations; however, neither he nor his minister has asked what obligations the government has to carers. The needs of carers are largely ignored by the government, leaving many carers feeling unconsidered, undervalued and isolated.

The Prime Minister has been content to run down our health and support services, shifting the burden of care to the shoulders of those who already do more than their fair share. It is time to stop and think about what carers give. Their unpaid contribution is conservatively valued at $16 billion per year, but it is worth much more than that.

We have been talking a lot about heroes in recent weeks. Carers are Australian heroes—ordinary people doing extraordinary things. The government should be providing them with more support in recognition of, and appreciation for, the invaluable work that they do. But how is this government treating them? It is requiring large numbers of carers to justify their entitlement to carers allowance. It is absurd that families caring for a family member with a disability are continually required to justify their entitlement. The latest fiasco by the Minister for Family and Community Services, Senator Vanstone, concerning the so-called review of carers allowance paid to people caring for child with a disability demonstrates the mean spiritedness of this government's approach to carers.

I would like to share the reaction of two of my constituents who care for children with a disability to the media reports concerning the review of the carers allowance. One says:

Is it true, as I have been hearing Amanda Vanstone is going to cut the carers allowance? What nerve this woman has! We do not receive the carers allowance as we earn too much apparently. It would be nice if politicians and rule makers could live as we have to. My husband works 60 hours-plus per week and we both have part-time jobs and do volunteer work to try to pay for our son's therapy for his autism. It is currently costing us about $30,000 a year. My husband only brings home $40,000 per annum, so work that out. You can imagine how we are living! What can we as parents do to make these people see sense?

Another constituent says:

I would like to say that as a one-income family we find it very tough already to make ends meet. The cost of looking after a child with special needs is an emotional one, not just a financial one, and this has in the past been made a little easier to cope with using the carer's allowance.

I use this money for such things as nappies at night, as he is still incontinent, to finance travel to and from forums to educate myself on how best to care for him and to prepare for his future, equipment, toys, books and various resources used in his therapy and also to give myself and other family members much needed respite.

I would hate to see the choice be made to cut the carer's allowance. It would make a tough life all that much harder for people like myself who already struggle with an extraordinary life that is looking after a special needs child! (Time expired)