Speech by Senator the Hon Mitch Fifield

Speech at the Parliamentary Friends of Carers event

Location: Parliament House, Canberra

E & OE

Well thank you so much Ara, thank you Aunty Agnes for your welcome to us today. Can I acknowledge Sharon Claydon and Andrew Southcott, the co-convenors of the Parliamentary Friends of Carers. As I think is often commented one of the great things about this area is the willingness of colleagues to work as the Americans say, across the aisle. And the Parliamentary Friends of Carers are really the physical and visual embodiment of that. Karen Cook the President of Carers Australia, who in terms of Carers Australia really is the volunteer in chief, she and her fellow board members don’t receive any compensation for the work that they do. So through you, if I can acknowledge Karen and your team members on the board. Ara Creswell, I’m an unabashed fan of Ara. She is for those of you that know her a force of nature. And when Ara asks you to do something you shouldn’t treat it as a request, you should treat it as an order, and you should just say yes because it will save time. Great to also have colleagues Claire Moore and Shayne Neumann here and if Rachel Siewert isn’t here, she’s here in spirit I know. And Lynne Pezzullo from Deloitte Access Economics, we’ll hear a little more about the important work that’s happening there.

This is an important occasion for us to pause and reflect for a moment on the contributions that carers make. It’s important that we periodically have events such as this to do that, to pause and to reflect. We know that there are close to 3 million informal carers in Australia today. And we know that their combined contribution represents close to 2 billion hours a year. And that it is an enormous economic contribution. We hear statistics a lot. We can’t hear those statistics too often. As they often say, it’s only when you’re sick and tired of repeating statistics that maybe people are starting to hear them. So you’ll have to bear with us for a while yet on that.

We all know of the programmes that successive governments have put in place to support carers. We know the income support programmes which are good and appropriate. There are a range of other programmes which successive governments have put in place. But I think each government needs to seek to build on the efforts of previous governments, and we need to continually look for ways that we can better support carers. And that’s why I’m very pleased that one thing we’ve been able to do is introduce young carer bursaries. So that individuals who have carer responsibilities, who are young, who are juggling a part time job and study and care, don’t have to make that difficult decision where they’ve got to drop out of their study. It’s something small, but it’s something practical.

I’m also pleased that we are working on a Carers Gateway to make it easier for people who are carers to access the information that they need. And Ara is co-chairing a Gateway Advisory Group. And we want this to be something that is built for carers, on the advice of carers.

Also important that we never lose sight of the issue of employment, when it comes to carers. When their caring responsibilities come to a conclusion, how can we better help people who had caring responsibilities get back into the workforce? There’s a lot more work that needs to be done there and I know that’s something that Carers Australia is very commited to.

Finally, this isn’t the only opportunity over the next couple of months that we will have to pause and reflect. We will have a week to pause and reflect, from the 11th to the 17th of October, for the National Carers Week. And we very much look forward to that again as an opportunity to focus and highlight the contribution that carers make to Australia. Thank you very much.