Speech by Senator the Hon Mitch Fifield

Opening Address to the National Carer Conference 2014, QT Hotel, Surfers Paradise


Thank you so much Karen and it’s great to be on the Gold Coast, even if my final destination today is Canberra. Friends I am probably the only person in south east Queensland wearing a suit today, which probably means walking down the street people though I was a real-estate agent.

It’s great to be here and with the fabulous President of Carers Australia Karen Cook, the wonderful Ara Creswell, the CEO of Carers Australia, and our host here today Deborah Cottrell, the CEO of Carers Queensland. Can I also acknowledge here today those people who work in organisations that support older Australians, that support people with disability, that support people with mental and other illnesses and those who support people who face extra challenges in life.

But mostly, I want to acknowledge the carers.

The unpaid carers, the family and friends who, because of circumstances usually not within their control, do the things that need to be done. We are here today as a gathering to be with you and to support you and so that you can connect with each other.

About a month ago we had a great opportunity as a nation, with Carers Week, to pause and reflect and to recommit as a community to do whatever we can do to support carers.

As a time to pause and a time to reflect, it was a time to think about the things that are good, but also to think about these things that are a challenge. We know that being a carer can be rewarding, but it can also be isolating. That why it’s great that the conference over the next three days is focused on connecting carers. It’s a great chance to share your experiences.

There are many things that Ara has done brilliantly, but one of them is that Ara has absolutely drilled into us all the statistics about carers in Australia. All of us, when we first wake up in the morning, know that there are over 2.7 million carers nationwide. We know that about two thirds of carers look after someone who is younger than 65 and another third care for a person over the age of 65.

We also know of the concept of the Carer Triangle, where there may be a person caught between the generations and caring for both an elderly parent and a child. And sometimes ageing themselves as well.

This is a source of fulfilment for many, and we know it’s an affirmation of family. But being a carer can be physically demanding and emotionally demanding.

Ara has also drilled into us that just about all of us will be a carer at some point in our lifetime. And stats show that this will mostly occur between the ages of 35 and 65. And as you know these are the prime income earning years. And that does take a toll. An additional toll on financial resources and a toll on employment options.

And one of the things that we reflect on as we gather, is how do we help carers to remain connected with the workplace. How do we help carers get back into work when their caring responsibilities are at an end.

Employment for Carers

There are many pieces to that puzzle. Obviously respite is part of the puzzle. A big piece however is having employers that are flexible enough to take on carers and work with them in their particular situation.

Employers who will have an open mind. And if they do have an open mind, they will realise there is an incredible talent pool, that comprises carers in Australia, that they are currently in large measure denying themselves.

We who know carers know that carers who are given the opportunity to work alongside their caring responsibilities are great employees.

One thing I say to employers every chance I get, is that carers are great multi-taskers. Carers work to competing deadlines, they balance deadlines. They balance all sorts of things, because that is what they have to do as a carer. And that is a great asset, that is a great skillset that you should avail yourselves of.

So that is certainly a missing piece of the puzzle.

I want to share with you two things that I think are good news. That is two nationally significant projects that I have been working on with the NSW Government.

The first is a new National Carers and Employers Network.

This will bring together a voluntary network of employers who will champion the case for employing and retaining carers. The network will also promote strategies to break down barriers and make it easier to hire carers.

It will initially be a Commonwealth and NSW initiative, but I’d warmly welcome other states and territories to be part of this Network. We want to change the national culture of employment and benefit every carer looking for work.

Our second joint initiative is to create an app for carers to document and then translate their carer-related skills into training and employment competencies.

The new app will help carers to demonstrate the skills that they have obtained to help them look for jobs to showcase the array of new skills they have gained by virtue of being a carer and those skills they already possessed.

These are just a few of the practical steps to try to improve the prospects of people who are carers when it comes to employment.

Young Carers

We also have the issue of non-working age carers – of younger carers. Outside of this room, it’s not as appreciated as it should be that there are 300,000 or so younger carers in Australia, of school age and university age who juggle their study, their caring responsibilities and maybe some part time work. Invariably something has to give, and too often its study.

We will be privileged a little later in this conference to hear from several young carers the experiences they have had – as they have had to juggle just that.

That session is being facilitated by the great Professor Tim Moore, Senior Research Fellow at the Australian Catholic University . I don’t know about you, but I always feel better when Tim Moore is in the room. He always makes everything feel that little bit better. So that will be a great session.

Tim ran our focus groups earlier this year, which were part of bringing about the Young Carer Bursary. That’s a commitment we made as a government about a year ago. It’s an opportunity for about 150 young carers each year to receive up to $10,000 a year to make a small contribution to helping them stay in study.

Tim’s work has been great in helping to craft that. And the Young Carer Bursary – governments aren’t always good at rolling things out – so we’re doing that in partnership with Carers Australia.

Applications have closed and before they did close, Ara would call me every couple of days saying that there’s more coming in, which is a great thing – it’s a good problem to have.

National Disability Insurance Scheme

I thought I might just give an NDIS update for those of you who might be carers of someone with disability.

We had three new trial sites start on the first of July this year. So we now have trial sites in every state and territory except Queensland. In Queensland it’s a slightly different approach. We have NDIS staff who are embedded with the Queensland Government who are working on readiness and preparation for full state-wide rollout.

In this initial phase, there’ll be about 34,000 people with disability who get supports auspiced by the NDIS. At full rollout, that’ll be about 460,000 people.

We have to make absolutely sure in this trial phase – where we’re trying to learn lessons and make adjustments before full rollout – that we do take fully into account the needs and situations and perspectives of carers. It’s something that the NDIS Agency has been developing and improving on, and I’m sure that they will improve yet further.

I want to make absolutely clear to you that the NDIS – yes it’s great, we support it, we will see it fully rolled out – but I want to make it absolutely clear to you that we do not see the NDIS as the answer or the avenue or the mechanism through which all supports for carers will be provided.

Yes, the NDIS will make the situation of many carers better, because people with disability will get the support that they deserve. But we do need to continue to have – and we will continue to have – stand-alone support for carers. It’s important that we do separately assess the needs of carers.

We do as a community, and through the government on behalf of the community, do a bit for carers. I don’t want to mention programmes or dollar figures because whenever a minister mentions dollar figures it tends to leave the impression that somehow that’s government money, which it is benevolently bestowing upon people, when it’s nothing of the sort. It’s the money that you have paid in taxes, are paying in taxes, or will pay in taxes. So there’s significant support by the community through government.

But I think that we can do better, and we do have the opportunity to do better. The reason I say that is because we have now brought together in one department, in one portfolio and under one minister, responsibility for ageing, for disability, for carers, for community mental health. All of those elements are now in the one portfolio.

That gives us a much greater and a much better opportunity to look at the needs of carers in a coherent and a consistent way. It’s still relatively early days in terms of the Department of Social Services having all of those elements together, but I do hope to have some more positive things to say about how we do that. And it’s great that Karen Wilson from my Department will be speaking to you later in the conference about some of the things that we’re doing to try to bring together those elements to better support carers.

Message from the Prime Minister

Friends, before I conclude I should convey the apologies of the Prime Minister. He would have loved to have been here, but there’s this small gathering down the road called the G20, which just happens to be on at the same time as this conference.

He is someone who has developed a terrific relationship with carers and with Carers Australia as an organisation. I’d just like to share with you a message that he asked me to bring along from him:

I am pleased to provide this message for the 2014 Australian National Carer Conference.

This event brings together carers and representatives from health, government, business and academia to focus on the needs of the carer community.

There are almost three million carers in Australia. They are people who give of themselves for others.

The great thing about carers is that when they see an issue, they roll up their sleeves and do what is necessary to help. I pay tribute to the care they give to family and friends who have a disability, illness, or who need extra support.

These are difficult endeavours, but not thankless. Australia’s carers have our community’s gratitude and respect.

The Government is committed to supporting people with specific needs, particularly those requiring aged care or disability support.

We are ensuring our aged care system is sustainable and affordable. This year, we are providing more than $15 billion for aged care.

The Government has started a new Young Carer Bursary Programme to support young carers so they can combine education with their caring responsibilities.

We are committed to delivering the National Disability Insurance Scheme. The NDIS now has trial sites operating around Australia and will ensure that people with disabilities, their families and carers receive the support they need.

For many years, I have participated in the Pollie Pedal bike ride and raised funds for good causes. There is no better cause than Carers Australia and this year, Pollie Pedal raised over $750,000 for this organisation. I am pleased that Pollie Pedal 2015 will again raise funds for Carers Australia.

I congratulate the work of Carers Australia to make this event possible, and I send my best wishes to delegates for productive conference.

– The Hon Tony Abbott MHR, Prime Minister of Australia


Friends, I feel incredibly privileged to be the minister for carers, for ageing, for disability. I didn’t have a great exposure – before I took on the responsibility of shadow about five years ago – to people who have serious caring responsibilities, or to people with significant disability.

It has been a wonderful experience for me. I have met some incredibly impressive Australians through that role as a shadow minister, and now as minister. I want to make clear to you that this is a portfolio that I want to be in. That I want to stay in. For my part, I hope that I have been able to make a small contribution in this area. What we’ve started together, I want to see through. It’s a great opportunity to contribute.

Thank you for what so many of you have done by way of educating me, by way of helping me to be a better Minister and a better servant of you. Can I say thank you again, have a wonderful conference, and I look forward to working with you in the days, months and years ahead.