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Select Committee on Work and Care

BROOK, Ms Alison, Chief Executive Officer, Carers Australia

ELDERTON, Mrs Sue, Director, Aged Care Policy, Carers Australia

GOURLAY, Mrs Kelly, National Director, Policy and Strategy, Carers Australia

McMURTRY, Ms Diana, Lived Experience Carer, Carers Australia [by video link]

CHAIR: Welcome. Would you like to make a short opening statement before I invite members of the committee to ask questions?

Ms Brook : We would like to thank you for the opportunity to meet with you today and to outline some of the issues about work and care that create barriers to employment for Australian carers. By 'carers' in this context I refer to those unpaid carers who are family or friends of the person for whom they provide care; we're not referring to salaried care staff. I am the CEO of Carers Australia, and I am accompanied today by Kelly Gourlay, our director of policy and advocacy, and Sue Elderton, a senior policy officer with us. We three are also concurrently carers of family members. And joining us on screen today from Brisbane is an extraordinary carer, Diana McMurtry, who provided the carer voice on the lived experience panel at the recent Jobs and Skills Summit here in Parliament House.

Carers Australia represents more than 2.65 million carers who provide unpaid care and support to family members and friends with a disability, a chronic health condition, a mental illness or disorder, drug or alcohol misuse or a terminal illness, or who are frail and aged. An evaluation on the value of informal care undertaken by Deloitte Access Economics estimated that a total of nearly 2.2 billion hours of unpaid care would be provided in 2020—this was before the pandemic—at a replacement cost of around $77 billion.

As we remarked at the beginning of our written submission to your committee, Carers Australia, and the network of state and territory carer organisations, has been advocating for more than 30 years to improve carers' prospects of combining work and care. The benefits of being able to do so can be significant and include that work can reduce social isolation experienced by so many carers and can provide a break from caring. A current work history and continuing attachment to the workforce is very important to carers if they wish to be employable and employed and improve their standard of living once the period during which they are providing care decreases or finishes. Most importantly, the ability to combine work and care helps alleviate the financial distress experienced by so many carers and their families. In 2018, 60 per cent of carers relied on a government pension or allowance for their personal income. Of the 2.65 million carers identified in the 2018 Australian Bureau of Statistics Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers, 861,600 were primary carers—that is, those who provided the most care and support. While seven in 10 of all carers were in the labour force, only 55 per cent of primary carers of working age were employed.

In our submission, we've identified that three key pillars are needed to effectively support Australians with unpaid care responsibilities to be able to concurrently participate in the paid workforce. The first of these is access to more carer inclusive workplaces. In the 2021 Carer Wellbeing Survey, results showed that the longer a person is a carer, the less likely it is they will participate in the paid labour force. Forty-seven per cent of those who had been a carer for five years or more were employed, compared with 61 per cent of those who had been a carer for less than a year. When asked if their employer was understanding of their carer obligations, 17 per cent reported that they were not very understanding and 41 per cent reported that they were somewhat understanding, which, as you can see, leaves a gap.

Carers leave is also an enabler to carer inclusivity within workplaces and the Australian community more broadly, and carers leave in Australia should be brought into line, in our view, with that of comparable OECD countries whose entitlements are more generous. None of the comparable countries we have researched conflate carers leave with personal leave, also known as sick leave, as we do in Australia, and nearly all provide for long leave of from three months up to more than a year.

The Productivity Commission is currently undertaking an inquiry into extended unpaid carer leave, off the back of the aged-care royal commission recommendation. Carers Australia is strongly of the view that such leave needs to be made available to carers of all Australians, whether they're caring for someone under or over the age of 65. To confine it to carers of the aged would be inequitable and illogical and would unnecessarily and unhelpfully create two tiers of carers.

With respect to extended carers leave, we note that some submissions to this inquiry and to the Productivity Commission inquiry oppose carers leave on gender equity grounds. They argue that women carers will have to sacrifice superannuation benefits during this time, so it's not a good idea, in essence, and thwarts the larger gender equality agenda. We find this argument lacks understanding of the circumstances many carers face when they have to reorganise their lives and, in many cases, the lives of those they care for, where they're driven to quit their jobs because the challenges for their immediate future are too daunting for them to continue working as well as caring. It also removes an option. It wouldn't be a requirement for a carer to have to take such leave, and the whole notion of carer-inclusive workplaces aims to minimise situations where the only option is to have an extended period out of the workforce. Carers leave would add another option on the table when people are deciding, often in crisis, what's best for the person they care for, their wider family and their own needs and would best facilitate retention of staff in the long run.

As we pointed out in our submission, the 2020 National Carer Survey identified that 44 per cent of respondents had to quit paid work and, of these, 35 per cent had taken early retirement. Losing the opportunity to regroup through extended leave while remaining in employment is likely to have a much more deleterious impact on both carers' long-term income and their superannuation than taking extended unpaid leave. This is especially the case when the caring journey begins or intensifies when a carer is over the age of 50 and, the statistics tell us, their employability diminishes. In addition to improved access to paid leave, flexible employment arrangements can make a big difference in being able to combine work and care. These arrangements can include but are not limited to staggered hours and days of work, job sharing and working from home. We acknowledge the immediate action within the outcomes of the Jobs and Skills Summit is a carer-friendly workplace framework, and we look forward to working with the government on this initiative.

The second pillar is the availability of adequate substitute care. While the NDIS and aged-care home based programs have made some difference to the capacity to combine work and care, they're not always adequate to enable carers to enter into employment or maintain existing arrangements. For example, according to the latest NDIS quarterly report, more than 85 per cent of family carers who say that they're unable to work as much as they'd like to say that the available alternative support arrangements relating to the person for whom they care prevent them from doing this. Similarly, aged-care home-care packages and day care programs can assist carers to return to work, but in many cases they do not provide enough replacement care, and access to services is limited in many places. Nor do any of these programs allow for flexibility to manage casual work or roster based employment.

The final area for reform is around conditions applying to carer payments. At a time when people of age pension age can earn more before it impacts on their pension, the same is not true for disability support pension and the carer payment if you are below age pension age. We believe that the recent announcement, after the Jobs and Skills Summit, of a one-off income credit to enable seniors to earn an extra $4,000 this financial year without losing their payments should be extended to carers of working age, to assist in addressing the carer-noncarer divide in Australia as well as addressing the nation's skill shortage. Moreover, the impact of what's known as the 25-hour rule, which restricts people on the carer payment from engaging in employment, education or volunteering for more than 25 hours a week, including travel time, makes it harder for carers to supplement the carer payment and to retain engagement to the workforce over time. We support a Productivity Commission recommendation that the rule should be changed to 100 hours per month, which provides more flexibility.

As outlined in our federal election platform, 13 years on from the 2009 Who cares…? report on the inquiry by the House of Representatives committee into better support for carers, carers are still not recognised or embedded within reform. We again thank you, this committee, for the opportunity to raise these issues. Carers Australia is seeking a coherent and flexible approach to address barriers and long-term impacts on carers' financial and economic security. This includes that the government asked the Productivity Commission to undertake a broad review of economic and financial support for carers, including to model the costs and benefits of providing retirement solutions such as a superannuation guarantee or carer pension credits to people who have reduced employment opportunities to provide continuous care and who rely on the carer payment; to review the carer payment and carer allowance and recommend ways to incentivise carers to participate in the workforce, education and training without affecting carers who cannot work; and to conduct a cost-of-living caring and living analysis of carers to examine implications for short- and long-term financial security and economic outcomes across caring roles, with a particular focus on women, single carers and young carers. We also note this Labor government's commitment, in our pre-election survey, to re-establishing a national carer strategy in its first term, given the last national strategy lapsed in 2014. This strategy needs to be cross-portfolio and include issues that impact on employment and education opportunities. This is a brief overview of the issues we have raised in our submission and we're happy to explore these matters further with you.

CHAIR: Thank you, Ms Brook, for those useful opening comments, and thank you very much for your submission and for your and your team's time today. I remember Ms McMurtry at the Jobs and Skills Summit very clearly. For me personally, her session—the personal experience one—was the most powerful session in the whole summit. Senator White will lead off.

Senator WHITE: Are there any initiatives you would recommend to support relinquishing carers back to paid work?

Mrs Gourlay : Yes, I actually think Diana might be a good one to start there because Diana has been through a program that you might be referring to. Diana, did you want to give your experience?

Ms McMurtry : Thanks, Kelly, and thanks to the committee for having me. I was part of a program called Your Caring Way, run through a carer organisation in Queensland—Carers Queensland. The purpose of that program is to facilitate carers returning to the workforce. The steps of that are working with someone to identify your skill set, your goals and appropriate workplaces for you as an individual, allowing for the value that your caring experience brings. I went through career-coaching training and support in finding employers that were carer friendly or were willing to learn how to be carer friendly.

Senator WHITE: Thanks. What do you think are the biggest barriers for carers in maintaining or returning to paid work?

Ms Brook : One of them is access to effective respite care that is flexible and allows people to have time away from caring responsibilities to be able to participate in the workforce.

Mrs Elderton : There are a number of barriers, particularly if you've been out of the workforce for a very long time. It's like any other job, you may have no current referees, your skills may be out of date, you've probably lost a lot of confidence regarding your employment and employability. People want to know why you haven't been working for the last 10 years, and if you say, 'I was looking after my mum' or 'I was looking after my child'—or whoever you might have been looking after—they go, 'Oh, yeah'. They're not very competitive when they come to finding new jobs, and the jobs they used to do may no longer be available.

Mrs Gourlay : I think another key point is that there's a lot of underemployment. Often we hear carers say that they can get a job but they're overqualified or it's not the job that they used to do. While they might be able to get a job in hospitality or the care economy, that's not necessarily where they would like to have a job or where their skill set lies, but they're often the only jobs that are available because there are a lot of them. So it's a double-edged sword, where they can often get employment but then juggling the flexibility et cetera is another issue. But just to get that first step in the door, they often have to take jobs that wouldn't be their preference or even in their thinking if they weren't in that caring space and had that time out of employment.

Mrs Elderton : One additional comment: Your Caring Way is one program, which is also run by Carers South Australia and by Carers Tasmania, but there are other programs run by carers associations to help carers get back into the workforce, and we've mentioned them in our submission. However, a lot of carers may not know about carers organisations and won't know about those programs. Some years ago, when the government was looking at replacing jobactive with a more effective service, which has become Workforce Australia, we put in a very strong submission saying that carers are likely to need additional supports to get back into the workforce. As matters stand at the moment, we don't know whether Workforce Australia provides any special consideration for carers, as it does for some other groups, like people with disability. We don't know if they help out carers in the same way.

Ms McMurtry : I will just add that I do think that's an extremely valuable point, Sue. I think those of you who heard my story at the summit will know I was quite reluctant and too defeated to try returning to the workforce, because I had been given such negative feedback from other employment supports, who let me know that my current commitments as a carer were not conducive to me returning to the workforce. Part of my barriers had been that I wasn't facilitating and continuing the training I'd been participating in, again due to the fact that I wasn't offered flexibility as a carer. That wasn't seen as something valuable enough to accommodate those needs. It meant I was experiencing barriers to further education and also to returning to the workforce with support. I think it's a really important point to bring up that there is that specialised need. For me, that meant that program understood the challenges that can sometimes arise in your role as a carer.

Ms Brook : I think we need broad knowledge through a public education campaign of what skills a carer develops through the caring process—being able to plan ahead, manage time, manage priorities, handle emergencies and juggle eight items at once. I think they're such applicable skills in a workplace. Rather than the eye-roll when we talk about flexibility for carers, I think we could turn that around and show that, in fact, what this means is this is an incredibly skilled person who's going to add such value to our workplace. That attitudinal change is a soft barrier, but I think it's relevant.

Senator WHITE: I think the point you make is that caring is regarded as something that inhibits work, when it's an enhancement to work. I think that's what you're saying, isn't it? Probably many women can multitask as well. But, as you say, if you've got to do caring, it's even more. Just on that, the health and care sector is one of the fastest-growing employment sectors. Should they be doing more to attract carers and relinquished carers into their workforce? How could it be better positioned to attract carers to do that work—or do you think that if you've been a carer you'll want to go to some other sort of work?

Mrs Gourlay : It is a good question, and it is something that we've been discussing quite a lot lately. It goes back to my previous point. I think it's a valid option, and it's a wonderful career pathway for many people that choose to have it. A lot of the comments I'm making will be generalisations, of course—with the diversity, breadth and depth of caring relationships and roles, it's hard to make one opinion—but there are a number of carers that have spoken to us that don't want to go into the care economy, because they're already caring at home. In going from caring for an older person at home to then caring for an older person or a person with disability at work, there is no respite—if we can use 'respite' in that way—from being that responsible, even though there is the paid-unpaid difference. It really then takes the spotlight off what they're doing at home. The other thing, I guess, is we do see the workforce as a break from caring. Again, there are a lot of carers that would go into those roles and be absolutely wonderful. There are a lot of carers that volunteer, to have a break from caring, and volunteer in the care economy. They'll go in and volunteer within aged-care facilities or disability support accommodation, palliative care, because that's the nature of the person that tends to take on a caring role.

I think there is opportunity because of—we heard representation this morning around the flexibility and the part time and all of that, but it would have to be looked at really carefully to make sure it was inclusive, in terms of you need longer lead times for rostering; it can't change the week before. There's often not the opportunity to just get called in on the spur of the moment or do double shifts, because you've got to have those responsibilities. So I think, with any rostering or part-time economy or opportunities, it's about looking at the individual employee and what supports they might need.

So it's definitely not a no, and I think there is great opportunity, but I don't think we can assume that carers will want to go into that role. If they do, it is figuring out what else can be there to support them if they need that extra.

Mrs Elderton : Having said that, some carers may feel that's their only career option left, and some, having had a caring role, may want to continue that in paid work. Carers Queensland, for many years, has run a program in training carers, in a carer-friendly way, in a way that they can manage in certificate IIIs and certificate IVs, if the nomenclature is up to date—I'm not sure anymore—for caring work. One observation that's come out of talking to people who run that program is carers sometimes think, 'Maybe I should, maybe I'll learn something to help me care for the person I'm caring for,' but it takes a while for them to realise it's not exactly the same job as they've been doing. They will get holidays. They will get sick leave. They will get weekends. The emotional connection can be strong to people you're caring for but it's not the same as caring for a family member. It's not as stressful.

Senator WHITE: You mentioned the OECD countries, that you've done a review of that, and the OECD countries have got better carer provisions. Is that paid or unpaid carers leave, mostly?

Mrs Elderton : It varies, and it's not all OECD countries. We did look at all OECD countries and we came up with 11 or 12, which were comparable countries to us, similar economies, similar care demographics, all that sort of thing. Most of them offer both short- and long-term extended leave, which varies between three months, six months, a year or more. It's kind of paid. What I mean by that is most of those countries have social insurance systems, so they're paid in that way.

In Australia, whenever that comes up, you tend to get the response, 'But we're totally different; we've got universal social security systems.' But there are parallels with what we've got. We have got a carer payment. It's difficult to survive on. It's sort of the same but not exactly the same.

Senator WHITE: Can you point me to who submitted to the Productivity Commission that you shouldn't have longer leave because it'll affect superannuation?

Mrs Elderton : Am I allowed to name those—

Mrs Gourlay : There were a number of submissions from—

Mrs Elderton : A number of employer organisations or organisations that were large employers, even if they're in the community sector. Also, to this inquiry, you've got the ANMF submission. That's the first one that comes to mind; I think there are a couple of others too but I'm not sure. I notice the employers organisation didn't focus so much on carers leave to this inquiry.

CHAIR: Can we go to your submission on page 5, where you talk about a range of workplace law reforms that you would like to see? I wonder if we could work through them. We have talked about an extended unpaid carer leave available to all who are carers. Is this the thing we were just talking about that some employers are opposing?

Ms Brook : Yes.

CHAIR: They're opposing it because if you put super on it, it will create a super cost. Is that their main concern about it—employers and some unions you've said?

Mrs Elderton : No. They are running with two arguments. One is we don't want carers to have extended employer leave. We've got our own reasons for that. It's especially difficult for small business. Then they run the next line that it's probably not very good for carers either because they will lose superannuation.

CHAIR: I also heard a gender argument that it will lock women in to doing the care.

Mrs Elderton : Yes. And women will be most affected because they're the largest number of carers by far.

CHAIR: We did some media yesterday on the ABC about this inquiry. I immediately got a very moving communication email from an older woman in Victoria whose son has just resigned his full-time job as a librarian and had a two day week job now in the town where she lived. She was struggling with accepting his care but she decided to. Her husband had died and she needed his support. He had been working as a librarian for 18 years—you can imagine the income loss—and was now applying for carer income support. She was talking about how it felt as a mother to receive care. It was very interesting. I think that embodies a whole lot of the issues, doesn't it? He's lost to the labour market—we don't know for how long. He's certainly lost a lot of income. He's a man—probably unusual for many circumstances, perhaps. It will probably affect his lifetime earnings quite considerably. He'll certainly lose superannuation. And there she was trying to struggle with reconciling the love of her son and the care. I thought that was a very powerful example. It's what you are talking about. We're always caught, aren't we, as women, between accepting time out of the labour market and all the penalties that means and the consignment of that work to women. But the alternative is someone doesn't get cared for and you're stressed so much. Anyway, I digress—

Ms Brook : I think that's an important point actually, Senator. If you replace the cost of providing this care across the country, by all these people who are unpaid, who do it out of a sense of love—but there are such other costs to them: the emotional cost, the drudgery, the thanklessness, the embarrassment, whether you're the carer or the person receiving the care. It's hard to maintain that purity of good spiritedness in the everyday drudgery of providing the care—and doing it from a position of poor mental health yourself, social isolation, financial disadvantage. We're really asking a lot. I think that removing some barriers to employment and having a nuanced discussion about what that could look like is an important conversation to have right now.

Mrs Gourlay : The other important point is that often when we speak to people they seem to envisage carers as this perfect person over here. It's important to highlight that around 30 per cent of carers themselves live with disability. Some carers need to be cared for themselves in certain situations. Actually, there's a large proportion of men who are carers. There seems to be more men who are carers as young carers—and the older people as well. There are a lot of barriers to break down. Carers in general have poorer mental health, not just the carers of people living with mental health. There are carers of the aged. There are also carers of the aged who are aged themselves. It's very interesting to see that when we're talking about a carer it's not a person who doesn't need supports for themself. Often there is an issue with recognising that you are a carer to begin with, particularly for the situation that you just spoke about. If that gentleman could have 12, or even six, months of leave from his job to go and be with his mother, sort out what needs to happen and just have some time to really think about that, without having to make a kneejerk reaction, and then maybe go back to that job part time or see how it could work online, that would be valuable, and he wouldn't be missing out on that superannuation and that. So all we're asking for is more choices and more options. Whether it's an impact on someone's super or earnings or time out of the workforce, that's still a choice for them to make, but at least the option's there, whereas at the moment there's nothing.

CHAIR: And let's not lose sight of the Deloitte estimate of the $77 billion that this care is worth to our economy.

Mrs Gourlay : Yes.

Ms McMurtry : For me—speaking as someone who has lost significant years of super—it would have been valuable to have the option to take a supported break and come back with open arms instead of having to make that choice. I have a fabulously flexible, supportive employer, I'm very, very lucky to work at Empower Autism. However, situations do change. I will happily speak to the challenges that come with adequate substitute care from my experience. So I know that the parameters that sit around that mean that I may need to take a break, and that break may look like I leave employment, even with the support of my employer, because we don't have parameters in place for that. I will then, again, be coming back from a break, and I will be impacted by that when I look for future work. Again, my super will be impacted.

CHAIR: Yes. Just on superannuation and retirement income, you're recommending a credit—a superannuation carer credit. Have you given much thought to how that might work?

Mrs Gourlay : We would like the Productivity Commission to look broadly at the options available in other countries. Obviously, there's a lot to think through, and we don't for a moment consider that there isn't impact on business and economy, but we think that there are a lot of options that could be looked at. We did a study, which we released earlier this year, called Caring costs us. It looked at the impact on superannuation and lifetime earnings for those on the carer payment and carer allowance, and that found that, on average, a primary carer will lose around $390,000 in lifetime earnings and around $175,000 in superannuation. To put it in a more everyday way, for every year that a person is a carer, they will reduce their super by $17,000 and their lifetime income by $39,000. That's the average. There are, of course, a lot of outliers and people with differing incomes et cetera.

The impact may be, of course, that they either don't get back into the workforce and they go onto another form of pension and still are reliant on those services. But there are also a lot of carers who don't want to have those payments. They don't want to be involved with Centrelink. There's shame or there are cultural issues, or they don't need to be—which is wonderful—but they still want to be in employment, and superannuation is still an issue.

So we would like the Productivity Commission to look at the broad options for superannuation as well as more flexibility with the payments so that you could potentially get income support or allowance at the same time as you increase your retention at work, or something like the leave. It's such an entwined and multipronged issue. If we look at one thing in total isolation, it's going to impact over here. So we really think that there needs to be a much broader look.

The Productivity Commission's carers leave inquiry at the moment is looking at leave for carers of the aged. The implications are massive for those carers who aren't caring for the aged. A lot of aged-care carers are aged themselves, so they are not of working age, and there are carers who are in the casual sectors and may not be eligible for the leave that they might be looking at. It's a false sense of the actual impact that carers leave could have, so that's why we would like it broadened out to look more at superannuation options. I might ask Sue if she has any comments on that—on the superannuation guarantee and credits.

Mrs Elderton : No, I think you've covered it. Once again, when the Treasury did an inquiry into retirement, our organisations and many others advocated that carer credits should be available and mentioned overseas countries where they are, and the response of Treasury was once again, 'Oh, yeah, but they've got social insurance systems, so we won't look at that, because that's not Australia.'

CHAIR: We've dealt with that in relation to, for example, paid parental leave. Recognising we don't have a social insurance system and there's no appetite for establishing one, how do we give someone a rest at the moment of a child's birth? We have a public payment. We're talking about other forms of care which lend themselves to being met in the same way.

Mrs Elderton : That's what we were advocating for, mainly for people on the carer payment, for a very long period of time.

CHAIR: The issues that we are discussing are very relevant to Treasury, as you mentioned. You're really encouraging us to think about care in a more holistic, joined-up way. It's not just about whether you're old. Care can hit at any age, in different ways. It affects women more than others. It has a big effect on revenue-raising possibilities. We need to be looking at systems that treat the care economy more holistically and comprehensively. That involves Treasury. Is that what you're saying?

Mrs Elderton : Absolutely.

Ms Brook : What we'd like to do—and we have already started going about trying to have those meetings—is the modelling that was done in this Caring costs us report. As an example, if you had a superannuation component on top of your carer payment, especially if you're young and have the compound interest over a lifetime, then there's a benefit in terms of reduced aged-care pension payments well down the track. I'm not an economist, but you can see what I'm trying to say. If you front-end here, you have a reduced liability later. We'd like to show that in some other modelling we are going to have done to progress that idea a bit more with Treasury. We think there is a lay-down argument there that's pretty compelling.

CHAIR: It also makes me think about the taxation benefits that flow to people around their superannuation contributions. What you're talking about is a sizeable cost, presumably, but we're already making a sizeable contribution out of public coffers in forgone revenue, most of which flows to people on relatively higher incomes and to men.

Mrs Elderton : Yes.

CHAIR: So having some sideways innovative thinking will be helpful. You talked about an enhanced entitlement to paid personal leave, as recommended by the Human Rights Commission. We have had submissions today about separating personal leave from carers leaver. In that argument, it was suggested that we need to have an equivalent expansion of leave to two separate categories. Is that your view? It would be two lots of 10 days. Is that what you're suggesting?

Mrs Gourlay : I think we need a differentiation that separates the carer component from your own personal sick leave so that you can look after yourself. Purely from a data point as well, having all of this conflation of leave means you don't get an adequate picture of why people are taking leave. So I think it's important to separate it out. That's in line with recognising carers per the Carer Recognition Act as well and would help the community. How many days it would be or what it would look like is for government to decide, but anything would be better than where we're at at the moment. You are never going to have anything that fits everybody, of course. But I wouldn't oppose that, being a carer myself.

CHAIR: Some workers must have a very strong view that their sick leave should not be reduced, however.

Mrs Gourlay : Yes.

CHAIR: I don't think that will help carers.

Ms McMurtry : I also think it's quite relevant to reference something there. I have recently had a few carers who are working in rostered work reaching out to me and advising me that they are being required to request leave prior to a shift actually being rostered because of that flexibility. Rather than them requesting to not be rostered on that time, that's actually been requested to be booked as leave, which undermines the reason why they're going into that flexible work in the first place. Often those appointments are to assist in that carer role of the partnership, of accessing appointments and supports for the person who is requiring support at the time. So I think it's really important as well to look at the element of load that can come from that for someone when they're using up their leave purely to ensure they're available to give support.

Mrs Gourlay : I think it's important as well that there are so many wonderful workplaces that really are supportive. A big issue for carers is that, first of all, they need to recognise that they are a carer. Then they need to have the confidence, or the inclusive workplace, to be able to have that discussion with their employer. I think that's a barrier in itself, whether it's coming from the employer or from the carer not wanting to ask. I think there are a lot of employers out there that would be flexible, but they don't know. Particularly when we're talking about carers for those living with mental ill health or drug and alcohol misuse, the stigma around that and the double-edged sword is that once you discuss your caring needs, you can often—as is the case for a lot of more vulnerable groups—be looked over for opportunities or have it be assumed what you're able to do and what you're able to handle, like, 'Maybe we shouldn't offer you that extra shift.' Sometimes it's coming out of a good place, but you're still making an assumed decision for somebody else without giving them that opportunity.

I think that creating carer inclusivity and having the ability to have conversations without fear of retribution, and without having to explain why, is really important. 'I just need to take this afternoon off' shouldn't be met with, 'Why? Do you have appointments?' Having to delve into that is so tiring. Most people, if they're going to have the afternoon off, don't get asked why. They're having the afternoon off for whatever reason. I do want to shout out to the workplaces that are very friendly, but it is a really difficult discussion to have, particularly if you've had a negative experience in other areas of your life. Then, sometimes, you do have to drop everything and leave, and that's really hard to explain, especially—if we're going back to the carer economy—if you are in that kind of situation and you have someone that you're being paid to care for, and you have to leave everything because the person that you care for is in a crisis situation or something's happened. What do you do there? You're not going to want to leave a vulnerable person that you're being paid to care for, so that's another tricky situation.

CHAIR: Yes. I'm reminded of your contribution, Ms McMurtry, at the Jobs and Skills Summit. I felt like you were pointing to the need to shop around for the right employer and how when you're lucky enough to find a fabulous one you're welded on for life. I think Dylan Alcott made a very strong appeal to employers to not be the exception but to adopt a more common standard of supporting working carers.

Ms McMurtry : I absolutely agree with Kelly. There are so many valuable employers out there that are committed. I guess one of the things that I've been privileged to hear is that employers are reaching out to ask what my employer has done to make me feel safe, and part of that is also making the employers feel safe. I think often they're a bit concerned about saying the right thing or asking the right questions in a way that's not creating conflict, putting them in a vulnerable position or putting their staff member in a vulnerable position. I do think there's definitely opportunity for growth there, as we understand the role of a carer as that partnership of supporting someone to navigate their wellbeing equitably in our community and offering that support in an empowering way. At the same time, yes, it's definitely about finding that employer that values the skills that Alison referenced. I was shocked when I returned to work by how good at I am at processes now, because everything in my world needs to get allocated into an adequate process so that it can work and things can function.

CHAIR: I want to go to the right to request, which is the last of your industrial suggestions: a positive duty in relation to the request for workplace flexibility to be created. I wonder about an appeal mechanism. What's your view about that? We've heard some views that there should be one. At the moment there is no appeal if you get knocked back. To your knowledge, does this right to request work as it exists, and does it need strengthening with a right to appeal?

Mrs Elderton : We've always argued for the right to appeal under the Fair Work Act. As you say, there isn't one. I think under the Fair Work Act the employer has to respond in writing. I'm not absolutely sure.

Unidentified speaker: There are certain timelines.

Mrs Elderton : So they respond in writing and say, 'No, it's all too difficult,' and then you've got nowhere to go.

Mrs Gourlay : I think that goes, again, to creating the dialogue to start with around why, but then not having to go so far as to give a detailed dossier of your caring role and everything around that. I know that in a lot of other situations you wouldn't be asked. You're not asked when you get a medical certificate: 'Why were you sick? Exactly what diagnosis do you have?' et cetera. So why do you need to know exactly? I think there has to be trust both ways on that, but definitely the right to ask is important. I don't think a lot of carers are aware of that or have the confidence, again, to do that.

I think it also differs depending on the care relationship you have or the type of caring role you have. It's often perceived by people that, if you have a child with disability, of course you ask. But if you have an adult child with disability, that's different, because they're an adult child: 'Should I ask? Does that apply to me now?' If you're caring for someone with a chronic condition that does require care: 'Well, it's not a life limiting illness and it's not a disability. It's a chronic condition. That wouldn't apply to me.' I think it's about a bit of awareness raising as well, but it's also about that space and those dialogues and just being able to start the conversation somewhere and knowing how to request and knowing how to ask.

CHAIR: Thank you. That's clear. To wrap up, I have a couple of final questions. Is there anything you would like to say about what's distinctive with First Nations issues and the caring questions that you and your organisation want to bring to our attention? And are there issues around men as carers that also perhaps need to be highlighted?

Ms Brook : I might just say something. It doesn't quite go exactly to the workplace issue, but, as I'm fairly new to the carers space—I've only been in this role a few months—one of the things that strikes me about First Nations carers is that culturally it's harder for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to understand or identify that they are in a caring role. There's an assumption that we're family, and, of course, that's what we do. So, in terms of thinking through issues around employment and caring and so on, I think there's a different paradigm around that because of the cultural difference. When I look at the numbers of Aboriginal carers, instinctively I think it's a bit low, because it's not a name that they would particularly find relevant to what they're doing right now. It doesn't just apply to First Nations people; there are other people from different backgrounds who may also have an assumption like: 'I'm a family member, and, therefore, I care'. I wanted to make that point about the employment issue with First Nations people.

Mrs Gourlay : I think there are so many barriers for our First Nations people to begin with as well. From the caring perspective, there are a lot of barriers around the substitute care being culturally appropriate. Again, there is that confidence to have conversations—on top of having a conversation about what other supports you might need, you're bringing in the caring role. I think there's a lot more vulnerability in having those conversations and, to be frank, they're already looking at so many other social determinant issues that adding in the caring role as a factor—like Alison said, even recognising that they're a carer—is different. It's very complex and it's something we're looking at trying to delve more into with First Nations people. We think the Carer Recognition Act, which we would love to be reviewed, doesn't quite fit First Nations people in terms of how we go about advocating for carers per the act, because it doesn't allow for that flexibility and those broader social determinants—the idea of wellbeing and wellness, and what a family and community is.

In terms of your question about men, I think there are some differences. Our Caring costs us report did show us that men who take a caring role and leave employment are often worse off because of the income that they had to start with—not in the long term, because of the superannuation; they've often got some form of super. But of course young male carers are more impacted. I think fewer men than women would identify as being a carer. There is a lot of shame that comes with that, as well. It's very different for a man to become a carer and have that difference in their role in the relationship they have with someone, and to identify with that and seek external supports. So maintaining employment would be so important from that social perspective as well. Male carers are a particularly hard-to-reach group for us, recognising that they can have that role and supporting them, and they're wonderful at it and they often will do it. But it is another tricky one for us.

Mrs Elderton : One thing that we have found in our research into First Nations people is that it depends a lot on where you live. Eighty per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders live on the east coast of Australia, and a very large proportion of those live in big cities. You do get real differences, both culturally and in terms of how people are faring, compared to some regional areas, especially outer regional areas and then remote areas.

CHAIR: So some of it's about geography—

Mrs Elderton : Yes.

CHAIR: but some of it is not.

Mrs Elderton : Some of it is about culture.

Ms McMurtry : Just in reference to men, our experience is of significant challenges to maintain support workers. So that I can maintain employment, my husband and son have stepped up as secondary and subsequent carers to support our family. While we're working through that, my youngest son in particular really struggles to identify as a young carer, even though he schedules his roster around being able to help support his brother to attend appointments.

Given how passionate I am about carers, I think it's important to speak to that in terms of our First Nations people; in terms of men, as was so eloquently mentioned; and also in terms of individuals who are supporting people with substance-use challenges and mental health challenges. We have a wealth of members of our community who are out there supporting a person experiencing those challenges, in partnership with that person. Without access to the community, they tend to end up like I did, with significant stressors. Both my mental and physical health were significantly impacted due to the load.

As you mentioned, I do feel a responsibility to make sure that my son doesn't feel responsible for my caring role. I want to make sure that he's advocated for and that it is never a disempowering thing for him that I choose to and passionately support him. I think that's something that many, many carers are experiencing. I feel a responsibility to him, to my employer and to the other carers around me, because that isolation is so overwhelming when you're out of the workforce. Even if you do not identify as a carer, you still feel isolated when your ability to engage in that part of society is impacted.

Mrs Gourlay : I think Diana raises a good point. Often the focus is on primary carers, and often they are women—that's what the statistics tell us—but it's the whole family unit. Because of the nature of caring, depending on the intensity of care that needs to be provided, the whole family in essence are secondary carers and need to provide support to each other, particularly when the primary carer might be unwell et cetera. So there is an extra impact if you're a single carer or a carer without a community around you, whether that be family or friends. I do want to make the point that carers within the LGBTQI+ space face specific challenges related to who family and friends might be perceived as. So it is a good point that it is the whole family unit, and we can't just look at the one person. And employment, of course, in particular, has an impact on the household income and the household financial sustainability and things. Young carers also need to be supported to stay in school and then get employment and want to maintain their caring role and are wonderful, wonderful people, as young as 12, who are just doing such amazing things for us all. I think it's really important that we've had this opportunity.

CHAIR: Thank you very much. If no other senators have anything extra to pursue, I want to thank you, on behalf of us all, for your submission and for bringing your experience and all of your data and reports to us. They are very much appreciated. If there are any questions that you've taken on notice that you want to follow up with, we'd love to hear from you before the end of September. Thanks for your time and for your submission and for being here.