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Tuesday, 19 June 2012
Page: 7082

Mr CROOK (O'Connor) (21:50): I rise today to speak about some very special people in Australia who deserve the respect, commitment and support of our government and community—people who I believe are being continually let down by the buck-passing of successive state and federal governments. The special people I am referring to are those grandparents who have assumed the role of primary caregiver for their grandchildren, also referred to as 'grandcarers'. Over the last year and a half, I have met with many grandcarers in my electorate. These grandcarers have come to be primary caregivers for a range of complex family reasons, including death, mental illness, substance abuse, incarceration or neglect. Despite a varied family background, these grandparents have one thing in common: an unwavering dedication and commitment to and love for their grandchildren, which exists notwithstanding the lack of proper financial support from the government.

One such inspirational family lives in Albany, in my electorate of O'Connor. This constituent is a proud grandmother of 23 grandchildren and great-grandmother of four great-grandchildren. Sadly, one of the constituent's daughters has a serious substance abuse problem and was no longer capable of looking after her son. When my constituent heard that her grandson was being left in a room with marijuana smoke and being fed painkillers to be kept quiet, she went directly to the house and rescued him. On the day she arrived, her eight-month-old grandson's nappy had not been changed for a lengthy period of time. The child was underweight and suffered from serious malnutrition. He is now four years old. My constituent, who is on a disability pension, lives in a one-bedroom house with her husband. In recent years, they have been forced to use their lounge room as the bedroom for their grandson. These grandparents manage the various behavioural difficulties which stem from his challenging childhood, which include a severe case of separation anxiety. Despite the grandfather being well due for retirement, he continues to work to financially provide for the young child. This income negatively affects my constituent's disability pension; however, they have no other option. These grandcarers point out that if their grandson was being cared for by foster parents, those carers would receive regular payments. Family tax benefits A and B amount to $170 per week for this family, and this is simply not enough. Many other grandcarers are unable to get either legal guardianship, or formal consent orders from their children, leaving them without any Centrelink support at all.

Since meeting with many other families who are part of the vibrant network of grandcarers in Western Australia, I have been lobbying both state and federal governments to improve support for grandcarers. I have written to state and federal ministers, as well as to the Premier of Western Australia. Sadly, all responses have been empty and have been indicative of the buck-passing that continues to leave grandcarers unsupported. For example, in response to my most recent letter to the responsible federal minister, the minister stated:

Primary responsibility for supporting children, who cannot live with their birth parents, including grandparent care, lies with the state and territory governments.

In response to my most recent letter to the responsible state minister, the minister referred to my request for proper financial support to grandcarers and said, 'Such decisions are the responsibility of the Commonwealth government.' These responses showed warm words of concern but no commitment to policy change.

I note the member for Canning's statement in this place on this topic in March last year. However, no progress has been made since that time. Government has done very little to address the significant financial as well as non-financial challenges grandcarers face, despite the federal minister calling this issue a 'national priority'. There are various aspects of the current system which should be improved. For example, the current framework distinguishes between informal and formal care arrangements, to the detriment of unique grandcaring roles. The current rules do not acknowledge the difficulties grandparents may face in establishing their eligibility for traditional benefit payments. Many grandparents are beyond working age and are simply unaware of the entitlements.

I note that in late 2010 six grandparent advisers were established through Centrelink. However, given there are 16,000 families identified by the Australian Bureau of Statistics as having grandcarers, this is unlikely to have any real impact. Thankfully, some community organisations, like the WA based Wanslea Grandcare program, work hard to fill the role that our government should be filling, and I thank them. I also wish to send my deepest thanks to the many grandcarers who have shared their personal stories with me. I believe these grandcarers should be held in at least the same financial category as foster carers. They should not have to spend their hard-earned retirement funds on raising their grandchildren. It must be a joint effort to ensure appropriate assistance to these grandcarers, and the funding models must be flexible enough to deliver these results. Our grandcarers must be supported. (Time expired)