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Monday, 25 May 2009
Page: 4159

Mrs MOYLAN (8:53 PM) —I am pleased to join the chair of the committee in addressing the issues in relation to this inquiry. Depressed, desperate and isolated—when we asked carers how they described their role that is what many of them had to say. There were common concerns amongst carers regardless of what kind of caring role they undertook. They were united by their problems and the challenges that they faced. Not enough is being done to care for carers. That was the clear message that came out of this inquiry. The 50 recommendations made in our report, Who cares …?, represents their many stories, but our response cannot finish there. These recommendations are empty promises if they are not acted upon. Along with the chair, I look forward to receiving the government’s response to this inquiry and to the recommendations.

As deputy chair of the committee, like the chair and other members of the committee, I was personally touched by the stories of ordinary Australians doing what can only be described as an extraordinary job of caring. Their lives and their challenges are inextricably linked to those they care for. It became clear that there is simply not enough assistance to go around. Time and time again the committee heard stories from carers who were under extreme financial or emotional stress. It is intolerable that those who give up so much to care for others should be subject to such pressures. Financial hardship is a major ongoing concern for many carers, and the report recommends a significant increase in the base rate of carer payments. We have also asked that the Treasurer consider easing the tax burden of carers. It is no wonder that carers are under financial stress, as any payments they receive may be quickly consumed by specialist medical services, medication and/or equipment required by those they care for.

Financial isolation of carers is further exacerbated by employment difficulties. Currently there are significant disincentives for carers to earn supplementary income because it is quickly, at quite a ferocious rate, taken from them. This report recommends that these disincentives are eliminated to allow carers an opportunity for a greater standard of living, independence and the ability to accumulate savings or superannuation. Many carers also reported a lack of flexible working arrangements, which hinders their ability to engage in the workforce. That further socially isolates this group of people. The report recommends that the right to request flexible workings arrangements be extended to accommodate carers.

Carers should be able to look to the future with at least some degree of certainty. The unavailability of accommodation for both carers and those they care for, particularly parents in the older category who are still caring for members of the family, is a concern. They are afraid of dying and of not having anywhere to put those family members. It is a significant issue. Commonly these carers ask, ‘Who will look after the person I am caring for if something happens to me?’ Many older carers experience that not unrealistic concern or anxiety. A dramatic increase in funding is required so that accommodation is available for those that need it the most.

I know that the government has put aside money for social housing and it is my belief, and I think that I attached that to the addendum to the report, that some of that money should be directed to this group of people, who are deeply concerned about what will happen to the person they care for when they fall sick or pass away. As I said, it is not an unrealistic concern or anxiety. Clearly there is considerable work to be done.

I would like to thank the committee chair for the very professional way in which the hearings were conducted and to all members of the committee for their contributions. This report asked the question: who cares? If we are to answer: ‘We care,’ then we need to confront head-on the issues facing carers, match rhetoric with the reality and exercise our political will to ensure a better future for carers.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr KJ Thomson)—Does the member for Canberra wish to move a motion in connection with the report to enable it to be debated on a future occasion?