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Monday, 25 May 2009
Page: 4158

Ms ANNETTE ELLIS (8:48 PM) —On behalf of the Standing Committee on Family, Community, Housing and Youth, I present the committee’s report, incorporating additional comments, entitled Who cares…? Report on the inquiry into better support for carers, together with the minutes of proceedings.

Ordered that the report be made a parliamentary paper.

Ms ANNETTE ELLIS —I am very pleased to present this report, Who cares…?, on behalf of the Standing Committee on Family, Community, Housing and Youth. Just over 12 months ago, the committee received a referral to inquire into the challenges facing carers and their support needs.

The basic questions were: what can we do to ensure that carers get the recognition they deserve, and how can we ensure that carers get the practical support they so desperately need? To answer these questions, the committee was keen to hear from the experts—that is, from carers themselves. And carers responded.

The committee received over 1,300 written submissions. The majority of these came from carers. Additionally, over 250 witnesses gave evidence at public hearings held across Australia. It is thanks to the generosity and the candour of so many carers that the committee was able to gain an insight into their daily lives. As I said just recently, they allowed us to see into their homes and their lives in a most intimate way.

Over decades, the shift from institutional care to care in the community, along with continual gains in medical science, has increased society’s reliance on care provided by family and friends. As a result, pressures on support systems for carers have been building and, with an ageing population, these pressures are projected to increase.

There are already an estimated 2.5 million carers in Australia. Of these, almost half a million are primary carers. We know that, as a group, carers are seriously disadvantaged financially, are frequently socially isolated and have one of the lowest levels of collective wellbeing. In view of these facts, one might ask why anyone would become a carer. The answer is that becoming a carer is not really a choice. In anyone’s life, at any time, they can be thrust into the role without warning. Some people find themselves in this situation after the birth of a child with an illness or disability. Others become carers following a traumatic event or accident involving a loved one. And, while every caring situation is unique, in essence what carers want are choices—choices about their lives and the lives of their families.

With this in mind, the committee has made 50 recommendations to assist carers. Key recommendations include: increasing financial assistance for carers; providing adequate access to quality services which will allow carers to have time out of the caring role; and streamlining the current maze of carer support systems. To provide immediate financial relief to carers, the committee has recommended increasing the base rate of carer payments and reviewing the means testing thresholds. In the longer term, the committee has also recommended restructuring financial assistance given to carers to better reflect the level of care provided. The committee has also recommended an urgent increase in the supply of community care services. This is particularly aimed at respite care services and in-home or domestic assistance.

The complex and fragmented service systems are a source of confusion and frustration for many carers. To address this, the committee supports reforms being undertaken by the Council of Australian Governments to provide service systems that are seamless. The committee has also made specific recommendations to encourage nationally consistent and streamlined supports and services for carers.

Obviously, although government is yet to make a formal response to this report, the recent federal budget includes measures which indicate government’s support for carers. Notably, carer payment recipients will receive the pension increases announced in the pension reform package. For a single carer receiving the full carer payment, this will provide an additional $32.49 a week. Also, to replace the one-off bonuses for carers the government has introduced a permanent carer supplement. The supplement will provide $600 per annum for carer payment recipients and an additional $600 per annum for carer allowance recipients for each eligible person in their care. While these budget measures are a welcome start, I hope that the recommendations contained in the Who cares …? report will provide a robust platform to progress the reform agenda for carers into the future. I also hope that this is the beginning of an attitudinal shift across the whole community, a shift which will answer the question ‘Who cares?’ with the response that we all do.

In concluding, I wish to extend my sincere thanks to the deputy chair, the member for Pearce, to members of the committee and to all the carers and organisations who have contributed to this inquiry. We have endeavoured to make this report your report. I would also like to thank members of the committee and the secretariat for their efforts throughout the inquiry process, in particular James Catchpole, Alison Clegg and Siobhan Carrigan, supported by Leila Jordan, Belynda Zolotto, Gaye Milner and Tarran Snape. I commend the report to the House.