February 29, 2012  |  Second Reading Speech

Carers Recognition Bill 2012

It gives me great pleasure, and I am actually very grateful, to be able to stand and speak to the Carers Recognition Bill 2012 and to emphasise that Labor does not oppose this bill. It builds on the great work that Labor has done, and I would like in particular to mention the Victorian State Disability Plan as well as the Victorian charter supporting people in care relationships.

This bill is important because it provides a formal recognition of the relationships between caregivers and those whom they care for.

I will outline briefly the main purposes of the bill, which are to recognise, promote and value the role of people in care relationships; to recognise the different needs of persons in care relationships; to support and recognise that care relationships bring benefits to the persons in the care relationship and to the community; and to enact care-relationship principles to promote understanding of the significance of care relationships.

It is really important that we define and distinguish between those people who perhaps provide an important caring role but in a minimal way and those that the National Carers Coalition refers to as those who provide care that ‘is so great that it overrides their caregivers’ entire existence’. I would put myself into that category, as I am the carer of a child who has autism and an intellectual disability, and who is non-verbal and presents with rather challenging behaviour. I think I am in quite a unique position to speak on this bill.

I would like to acknowledge the presence in this chamber of the member of Gippsland East, and I look forward to hearing his contribution to the debate. I would also like to say that, with some exceptions, carers are overwhelmingly women, and it is important that we remember and acknowledge that we are talking about a gendered position.

While there is undoubtedly a lot of joy around caring, there is also a lot of burden related to that care. There are a lot of challenges, there is much grief and trauma. The Productivity Commission has stated that carers have among the lowest levels of wellbeing of any group of Australians. Caring for a person with a disability can be physically, mentally, emotionally and economically demanding. I would also throw into that mix socially isolating. I would like to mention the higher than usual rate of breakdown in families where caring comes into the relationship. Again, this is something that I have experienced.

In terms of caring being physically, mentally, emotionally and economically demanding, I can certainly relate to that and I am sure everybody in this chamber would have spoken to carers in their electorates who may have presented with those very issues.

Just last week I had to visit the doctor because I had some recurring pain in my left arm. After many x-rays and ultrasounds it was discovered that there are three points of injury. That would be what I would refer to as a carer-related injury, because until my child went into care at the age of 15 I spent a lot of time restraining him with my left hand whilst protecting the other children with my right. I made a conscious effort to do that, knowing that my right hand was the strongest and would be the better one to protect them. However, this meant that the left arm took a bit of a battering. Whilst this is not life threatening and will not stop me from doing anything, it serves as a reminder of 15 years of strain, trauma and injury.

On the subject of caring being economically demanding, which is an understatement, my own career was curtailed somewhat in that I had to work around always having to be available for my child.

If he was showing quite challenging behaviours at school or in respite, I would have to go and get him, so it was quite difficult for me to hold down a job. For most of my working life I was able to work sometimes for one day a week; sometimes I could not work at all, and sometimes I could manage full-time work. There was certainly no stability and no way I could plan financially for my future.

I would like to say that I was in a situation where — thank goodness — bond assistance was available to me, otherwise I do not know what I would have done. I do not know how I would have secured housing for myself. Thank goodness also for organisations like the St Vincent de Paul Society; that organisation, when I had three children in nappies and a broken-down washing machine, delivered an old washing machine to my home. Thank goodness for organisations like that; I commend them. Good old Cash Converters helped out at times. I know there are a lot of people in my electorate who also face those challenges. Some of them are carers, and some are not.

You turned up at therapy, you turned up at playgroup and you talked to your peers, usually mums, who were there and all had their stories — ‘My back has gone’, ‘My arm has gone’, ‘My washing machine has gone’ or ‘My other kids are playing up’. You try to cushion your other children from the difficulties of caring, and sometimes that is pretty hard to do. So when we talk about recognising carers we also need to acknowledge that siblings come into that mix as well. Siblings often take on greater responsibility than they would normally take. On each of my kids’ birthdays I thank them and apologise for the additional responsibilities they have had to take on and the things they have had to see which perhaps they probably should not have had to. That is the life of a carer.

I absolutely do not oppose this bill.