BILLS - Social Services Legislation Amendment (Payments for Carers) Bill 2018 - Second Reading

20 June 2018

 I rise to support the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Payments for Carers) Bill 2018. This bill makes sensible changes to the carer allowance by introducing a family income test of $250,000 a year for the carer allowance and the carer allowance (child) healthcare card. While Labor supports this bill, more must be done to support carers in our community. Means-testing, whilst a legitimate mechanism to target funding to those who need it the most and one that is well understood by the Australian community, will in this instance deliver considerable savings to the government. The minister has said these savings will be put forward and put toward paying for extra services to carers, but any announcements about these services and what they entail are months behind schedule. So, whilst we support this bill, we will hold the government to account and make sure they deliver on this promise of extra services to carers.

As we've heard in this House, the work carers do is invaluable. I know this very personally. I am one of nine children. We were 'the three boys, the three girls and the three babies', or the 'littlies' as we are referred to. I am the in the middle of the littlies. My immediate older sister, Honnie, is the eldest of the littlies, and she has an intellectual disability. She is completely adored by all of us and she actually lives the life of Riley.

Her disability is such that she has a high level of function. She knows her own mind very well. She has definite opinions. For example, she infuriatingly barracks for Collingwood when the rest of us are staunch Richmond supporters. But it does mean that, for the rest of her life—and for the rest of us—she will require care. Living alone for Honnie, my sister, is simply not an option. She has always been cared for by the family. She lived with my mother until Mum died. She then lived with and was cared for by my brother and his children for a couple of years, until he, sadly and suddenly, died. This was a tragedy for my sister as well as for the rest of us. The poor thing came to me on my brother's death, put her arms around me and said, 'Geddy, I just can't take a trick.' She was deeply affected by her mum's death and our brother's death.

There was then, for us, a conundrum about what to do with Hon. We all have incredibly busy lives, we work long days, we travel for work, we have our own children and busy households to care for. And while we often share, if you will, Honnie's care, moving her from house to house is not like having a home. As we all know, having a home of one's own is incredibly important for one's wellbeing, for one's mental health and for one's stability. Enter my elder sister Trish, whose circumstances had led her to move back to Melbourne from Sydney. Luckily, her family had grown, her children had moved on and she was in a situation where she could dedicate her time to become my sister's carer. We were all incredibly grateful for this.

Trish moved into a house with my sister Honnie. They live a modest but comfortable life: close to family; close to where my sister attends her adult training centre; close to public transport, which my sister has learned to use; and close to the shops, where she loves to have a coffee and take herself shopping. She's actually a bit of a shopaholic. This means that she can call her place her own. She has a home where my sister lives with her, provides all her care and takes a great deal of responsibility for all her needs—from daily showering and meals to sorting out her NDIS applications and her medical appointments, and even taking her to see her beloved Collingwood play. It is no mean task to take this on. It is a big responsibility, and I do not underestimate what my sister has offered to do for the family. We are all very grateful for Trish, and we do not take her commitment lightly. The rest of us still help out, giving respite here and there and giving them a break from each other. But without Trish, I know we would have struggled to give Honnie the quality of life she deserves. Carers like my sister Trish are unsung heroes, and we've heard tonight that there are millions of people just like her.

For so many the stress of holding down a job and providing care for a loved one is extremely difficult. Without financial support, that can become almost impossible. The little carer's allowance that they get can make a huge difference, and is important beyond measure both to carers and to those in their charge. We also know that the value to the community of unpaid care was around $60.3 billion in 2015, according to a report by Deloitte Access Economics, and that there are around 2.7 million unpaid carers in Australia. Of course when it is your family and your sister, these statistics do not mean a lot. All we want for my sisters, both Hon and her carer Trish, is for them to have fulfilled lives where they are loved and can live their lives out with dignity and quality.

The majority of unpaid carers in this world, like my sister, are women. They are less likely to participate in the workforce than others who do not have caring responsibilities, making the sacrifice they make even greater. I'm sure that at times my sister wishes she had continued her career. I'm sure that at times my sister wishes she could just get on a plane and travel. I'm sure she wishes that she could do a lot of things that she cannot do now because she has dedicated her life to Honnie. Caring is hard work. It is a commitment. And often it is simply not recognised. As I have seen from my sisters though, it can be incredibly valuable and fulfilling.

Carers deserve the savings from this measure to be allocated to the extra services for them and the ones they care for. They deserve the very best that we can give them. They should already know what the integrated carer support services will provide and when they will be introduced. Labor calls on the government to provide this information and to make the services available. For people like my sisters Trish and Hon, it could mean the difference between having a good quality of life and not. It can mean the difference between my sister Trish being able to provide the health care that my sister Hon needs, and to make sure that she can go on outings on her own, feel independent, do her shopping when she wants to and make sure that she is able to attend her adult training centre where they provide much needed services for Hon. They are the ones who have taught her to get on trains, taught her to get on buses, taught her to go out and earn her own little bit of money that she can in adult training centres, to make sure she can get the coffees when she wants, and that my sister Trish feels confident that she can help Hon achieve all of these things. This bill is important—I know that—but so are the savings and the direction that they will be taking. The savings will be incredibly important to making sure that the services are there for people like my sisters Trish and Hon.