Senator FIFIELD (Victoria) – I rise to speak on the Carer Recognition Bill 2010 and, in so doing, I wish I was rising to speak to a bill that gave carers a better deal.
I wish I was rising to speak to a bill that did more than just recognise and one that actually delivered.
This is not such a bill.
The coalition will not be opposing this bill because the bill does no harm and does contain sentiments that we wholeheartedly agree with.
Who could argue with the idea that carers deserve recognition? Who could have a problem with that?
But carers need more than recognition.
Over a year ago the government announced its response to the report of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Family, Community Housing
and Youth inquiry into how to improve support for carers.
The committee report entitled Who Cares…?: Report on the inquiry into Better Support for Carers tabled on the 25 May 2009 contained a recommendation
to develop a nationally consistent carer recognition framework comprising national carer recognition legislation, which complements state and territory legislation, and also a national carer strategy.
During Carers Week in October last year the Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs announced the government would develop a carer recognition framework and introduce legislation to parliament in 2010.
The Carer Recognition Bill was introduced into the last parliament but lapsed due to the election and the bill that has been reintroduced is unchanged.
As I mentioned the coalition will not oppose the bill.
The bill sets out a statement for Carers Australia. The statement does not create rights but instead will establish key principles to provide guidance on how carers should be treated and considered by public service
agencies and associated providers.
The bill establishes a legislative framework to increase recognition and awareness of informal carers and acknowledges the valuable contribution they make to society.
And, as I have mentioned, it is the first element of the development of a National Carer Recognition Framework.
But the important thing to emphasise with this bill is that it is purely symbolic. It does not contain any practical measures to assist carers.
I made reference to the Statement for Australia’s Carers which is at schedule 1 of the bill.
At point 1 of that statement it says:
All carers should have the same rights, choices and opportunities as other Australians …
All carers should have the same rights. Yet in part 4 of this bill it says:
This Act does not create rights or duties that are legally enforceable
in judicial or other proceedings.
So the first statement of the schedule for Australian carers is that all carers ‘should have the same rights’, yet the same bill says that this act ‘does not create rights or duties that are legally enforceable’.
And it goes on to say:
A failure to comply with this Act does not affect the validity of any decision, and is not a ground for the review or challenge of any decision.
So I just think it is very important that we keep this particular piece of legislation in perspective.
Yes, we are all in heated agreement that carers deserve recognition, but let us not pretend that this piece of legislation conveys or confers any new rights on carers despite what the act says at its opening, because later in the act it makes it clear that it does no such thing.
It is because this bill is purely symbolic that we think it is very important that practical measures not be neglected.
That is why the coalition developed some practical policies for the last election to give real support to carers.
For instance, the coalition promised to establish a Young Carer Scholarship program so that some 400,000 Australians under the age of 26 who care for a person with a disability or long-term illness could be considered for this particular scholarship program.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics data show that 6.6 per cent of carers are aged 18 years and under and many of these young carers are missing the chance to further their education or to take part-time work to help them through secondary school or university.
The coalition’s Young Carer Scholarship program would assist young carers through their secondary, TAFE and university studies.
Under this program at least 150 annual scholarships valued up to $10,000 would be awarded depending on the level of education involved.
The coalition has also announced a plan to establish a Commonwealth Disability and Carer Ombudsman to give carers a real and independent voice and to be a policy activist within government for carers.
These are just two practical initiatives which we would hope the government would take up so that what this particular administration does for carers is more than symbolic.
Symbolism is important, recognition is important, but we also have to make sure that there are practical measures that assist carers.