Senator MOORE (Queensland) (19:30): This week is National Carers Week where we get a chance in the community to show that we care for the carers in our nation. Every year, someone will make a speech about that, but we need to. Throughout our community, every day, ordinary Australians freely give their time, money, capacity and care to help others. Many of our social welfare programs-the ones on which the community depends-would fall apart without the role of people who care. They are really unsung heroes, and because of that we can easily forget their outstanding contribution to our quality of life. Our carers can be especially invisible, so this week it is particularly important for us to recognise the incredible and invaluable contribution they make.
People may not realise but in Australia today there are around 2.7 million unpaid carers who provide unpaid care and support to family members and friends with a disability, mental illness, chronic condition, terminal illness or who are frail and aged-people who actually need care. There are 300,000 carers that we know of who are under the age of 24 and 150,000 that we know of under the age of 18.
This week there was a launch for Carers Australia here at Parliament House, which I think is appropriate because we as a parliament get a chance to acknowledge this work. Parliamentary Friends of Carers, which is a cross-party group that has been working in this parliament for many years, had the chance to host Carers Australia and their supporters. Ara Cresswell, the CEO of Carers Australia, introduced me to young carers from the ACT: Hannah and Chantelle. These young women are part of ANYCAT-the Australian National Young Carer Action Team. It is made up of young carer representatives from carers associations in every state and territory. ANYCAT reps catch up once a year to provide advice and feedback on the Young Carers program, something that has operated over many parliaments and which gives particular attention to the needs of young carers, because we know-and after talking with Hannah and Chantelle-that being a young carer can be a particularly tough job. It often means more responsibilities at home. You miss out on time with your friends and you can miss out on doing the kind of fun stuff that other young people are doing. But you do it because you know one of your family needs your help.
There has been a particular acknowledgement that young carers need some support to ensure that they complete their education. The Young Carer Bursary Program, which has been around for a number of parliaments, particularly identifies that. I want to congratulate the people at Carers Australia who do the amazing work which involves talking with young carers, assessing their needs and also having the task of acknowledging who would then be able to receive a scholarship. They know that it has been tough and they know that they can give some support. Young carers like Hannah and Chantelle are both caring for their mums. We were really lucky at the launch earlier this week to meet Chantelle and her mum together because they could show that they represent people in the community who are ill, who need support and who get the amazing support that someone in their family provides for them.
We also note that young carers show that caring can be a positive experience. We know that the research indicates that when people are without support their own health, mental health and wellbeing can be seriously impacted. That is why we in the community have the opportunity not just in Carers Week but throughout the process to provide help and support and to show that we care for carers.
I am particularly aware of this issue because my mum was a carer. In fact, most of her life she was a carer. When I was very young, she actually looked after my dad full time at home because dad had had a car accident. We only knew that this was her job. She was doing her job as a mum and providing support to all of us through this process. This was before there were payments through the social welfare system to acknowledge this particular work. Mum's experience was not unlike that of so many other people in the community. However, what made her a little different was that she had taken on this carer's role for dad but when she was young-much younger than I was at the time-she had the responsibility, as the youngest daughter in an Irish family, of looking after her mother who became ill. So, for that period of her life from about 13 to her early 30s, her major work was caring for her mum at home.
She epitomised the kind of experience that now Hannah and Chantelle share with us, but what was not available in the past was the kind of identification and support to allow continuing education and options for work. Those chances were not provided to people in the last century but they are now. We need to protect services for carers. I am very proud to be part of a Labor Party that in 2009 delivered the National Carer Recognition Framework, which involved the Carers Recognition Act and the National Carer Strategy Action Plan. That is what was put into our strategy to ensure that there is recognition for carers. We also have the carer payment and the carer supplement, which provide financial support for carers which they desperately need.
Disappointingly, on the eve of Carers Week-in fact, just last weekend-the new Minister for Social Services identified that there was a blow-out in the amount of money being spent in this nation on carers payments and also on disability. It seems pretty ironic. We are at a time when we are calling upon our community to acknowledge the extraordinary work of unpaid carers-work which has been identified quite recently by a Deloitte economics report which quantified the amount of money in our budget which is actually saved by the work of unpaid carers
At this time, National Carers Week, there is another layer of insecurity and worry being placed on our carers because they are now on notice that their government is actually looking at what it calls a blow-out, an expansion of the amount of money which is spent on carers payments.
In terms of the message for National Carers Week this week, it is important to acknowledge the care and important to acknowledge the support networks such as Carers Australia, but also I think it is important for this parliament to be part of the acknowledgement of carers and to ensure that their needs are understood, that their needs are identified and that, through our payment system, there is effective acknowledgement of the work of unpaid carers and that allowances and payments which have been particularly designed in the system to give support to carers are maintained. Should there be decisions made about different ways of operating-and of course the system is dynamic-we must actually engage the carers in those decisions. This means, in the true words of the consumers' network, 'nothing about us without us'. If we are going to be looking at any change for carers, we should be engaging with carers because they engage with the people who need help in our community. In National Carers Week, we have the chance-and in fact we have the responsibility-to show that we care.