Speech by Senator the Hon Mitch Fifield

Speech at Carers Week Launch

Location: Parliament House, Canberra.


Thank you so much Ara. Can I acknowledge the outstanding leadership that you provide for Carers Australia. Most importantly of all if I could acknowledge the carers who are here today. Thank you for your presence, it really is appreciated and it’s been great to have a brief chat to you.

I’m in the very fortunate position of having had an opportunity in my previous incarnation as the Shadow Minister for Disabilities and Carers to get to know Carers Australia as an organisation over about four years and also to meet a lot of carers around Australia. One of the terrific opportunities that I’ve had to do that has been through Mr Abbott’s annual Pollie Pedal charity fundraising bike ride. But I must confess, I have never donned the lycra. At each stage of the Pollie Pedal bike ride over the past two years Mr Abbott has met with carers, met with people with disabilities and organisations that support them. And I’ve been along to meet with those important Australians. The Pollie Pedal bike ride has raised over $500,000 over the last two years, and Mr Abbott as Prime Minister has committed that next year the Pollie Pedal bike ride will again commit to raising funds for Carers Australia. I think it’s a terrific opportunity for a leader of a major party, and now for the Prime Minister of the nation, to take the time to meet with Australians who make a really important contribution.

We’re here at the launch for Carers Week, which will go from the 13th to the 19th of October. The theme this year is to be ‘care aware’. In workplaces around the nation there are many people who have family caring responsibilities and we’re encouraging people to take a break at work to have a morning tea to acknowledge the work that family carers do. Almost every Australian at some point will have some family caring responsibilities. There are about 2.6 million carers at the moment. And the dollar value that’s put on their collective effort is about $40 billion a year.

It is also important to recognise that there about 300,000 younger carers below the age of 24 who have family caring responsibilities. They often have to juggle work, study and their caring responsibilities. Inevitably something gives. And too often what gives is study. Which is why the government is going to put in place a young carer bursary program to help young carers. And we’ll be working with Carers Australia on the details of how to give effect to that.

The NDIS I think we all know has started to be rolled out through the country in a series of launch sites. That will provide some support for carers because if people with a disability receive the daily living supports that they need, that will in some circumstances make life a bit easier for carers. But it’s important to recognise that that is not the complete solution for carers. That we need to do other things. But it is part of the puzzle.

It’s my very great pleasure to launch television commercials to mark Carers Week. Advertisements that tell the stories of individual carers. And you’ll see from these advertisements that the circumstances of individual family carers vary widely. But these advertisements are a good way to raise the profile of carers, just as the annual Pollie Pedal is another way that we have sought to raise the profile of family carers. So, without any further ado, it gives me great pleasure to launch Carers Week and the television advertisements.


Minister, can you explain the importance of Pollie Pedal over the next twelve months and the Prime Minister’s commitments to that? Particularly around what benefits it can provide to young carers.


Certainly. Pollie Pedal is an annual charity bike ride which has been going for ten years. It typically goes over about 1,000km, and for each organisation that the Pollie Pedal has supported over the past ten years there’s been the opportunity to meet with members of the community who are involved with that particular organisation, who are supported by that organisation. For the last two years the Pollie Pedal has raised money for Carers Australia. It has raised about $500,000 to date. Next year the Pollie Pedal will also be committed to raising money for Carers Australia. And at each point along the route, last year, and the year before, and in the coming year, Mr Abbott has met with carers, has met with people with disabilities, has met with ageing Australians, has met with the organisations that support them. And last year there was a particular focus on young carers. Young carers from around Australia came to a couple of sites along the Pollie Pedal route to meet with me, to meet with Mr Abbott, and they had a real impact on Mr Abbott. And I think one example of that is that a group of young carers were invited by the Prime Minister to Kirribilli House to meet with Prince Harry. There were a range of extraordinary Australians who were invited to Kirribilli House, and young carers ranked among those Australians. So the Pollie Pedal has been a tremendous opportunity to spend some time with young carers, to hear directly from them about the challenges that they face, and also hear from them about some the things that the government can do to provide a bit of extra support. That was part of the genesis of the young carers bursary that the government will be introducing. And the young carers also expressed a very great desire that they again be bought together in a young carers summit, so that the government can hear directly from them about what can be done to help them.


Minister, one of the things of Carers Week this week is about making a message to corporate Australia. That they’re aware of carers in the workplace and maybe give them more flexibilities. Is there a message that the government has for corporate Australia when it comes to looking after carers?


There are carers in just about every workplace. Often carers don’t see themselves as carers, they think ‘I’m just being a husband, I’m being a wife, I’m being a brother, I’m being a son or daughter’. They don’t always see themselves as carers. So I think there’s a role for employers to say to these staff: if you’ve got caring responsibilities, let us know. If there are things that we can do as your employer to help, let us know. I think the best approach is for there to be a flexible arrangement that employer and employee work through together. That’s what we want to see is cooperation in the workplace. There are a lot of really good employers, but the message today, and over next week, to employers is: be aware that you probably have some carers in your workforce, and that it’s a good thing to get to know what their circumstances are, just as part as being a good employer.


How do you overcome people’s legitimate fears that if they tell their employer about their caring situation that they may not get promoted?


I can understand the fear that the carers have, carers have to juggle a lot and not everyone has a good understanding of the needs of carers. But carers are dedicated employees. Carers are used to multitasking. Carers are used to juggling all sorts of demands. And I think those skills make for a good employee. And that again is part of the message that we want to send to employers, is that carers are used to multitasking, they’re used to juggling, they’re used to having all sorts of deadlines that they have to meet. That’s the message that we want to send today.