It is with mixed emotions that I pen my last update as President of Carers Australia.
While I recognise there is much to celebrate there is still much to be done to achieve Carers Australia’s vision of creating an Australia that values and supports the contribution that carers make, both to the people they care for and to the community as a whole.
Over the past few years we have seen a growing awareness of carers and a deeper appreciation of the significant contribution they make to our community. So too have we begun to better appreciate the significant challenges and hardships they face. An example of this was the release earlier this year of a report by the Human Rights Commission, entitled 'Investing in care: Recognising and valuing those who care.’
In this important and striking report the Commission highlighted the financial insecurity many carers face and stressed the need for flexible working arrangements and for changes in the conditions under which income support is provided, so that they do not disadvantage carers for engaging in education, training or work.
As many of you may know, young carers are a particular passion of mine, and their continued need for support was highlighted in a recent report prepared by the Australian National University, focusing on the multiple challenges young carers face.
Many children and young people with caring responsibilities are living with great socioeconomic disadvantage, and much more needs to be done to ensure that they are given the same opportunities as their peers to participate in education, to develop friendships, to work and to enjoy their youth.
During Pollie Pedal, young carers across the nation who form the National Young Carer Action Team (ANYCAT) had the opportunity to meet with the Leader of the Opposition, the Hon Tony Abbott and the Shadow Minister for Disabilities, Carers and the Voluntary Sector, Senator Mitch Fifield, over breakfast. At this breakfast forum young carers were able to talk candidly about their caring experience and tell the politicians what would help them to better sustain their caring role.
In Youth Week I facilitated a forum with the new Parliamentary Secretary, The Hon Amanda Rishworth MP, staff from Carers Qld and young carers from across that state. Young people spoke passionately about their families but highlighted the need for both greater recognition and greater support for their loved ones, their families and themselves.
The last 12 months have seen great movement in our sector. The Living Longer, Living Better aged care reforms offer substantial benefits to older Australians, and the adoption and early implementation of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, now named DisabilityCare Australia, has the capacity to deliver real and lasting change to people with a disability, their families and carers by providing quality care and support. We congratulate the Parliament for passing the legislation to increase the Medicare Levy to help fund DisabilityCare Australia on 15 May – the same night as we launched our first Reconciliation Action Plan and formally celebrated our 20 year anniversary.
Carers Australia welcomes these reforms and will continue to work with governments so that they are implemented in a way that reduces the system’s reliance on carers and responds to their needs and aspirations, offering greater opportunities for work, for education and for social inclusion.
In the many consultations and roundtables that I have had the privilege of attending in my term as President, carers have shared stories of hardship and heartache and have made it clear that they cannot wait for these reforms to be enacted: the time for change is now. Carers Australia argues for client-centred, family and carer-responsive systems that break down silos and respond to the needs of all.
In this, Carers Australia’s 20th year, it is so very valuable to look back and see what we have achieved with commitment and focus. This reflection helps to reinvigorate our enthusiasm and renew our commitment to working towards improving the lives of carers so that all Australians will truly value and support their contribution, both to the people they care for and to the community as a whole.
I pay tribute to all those who have tirelessly fought for the rights of carers: to the early pioneers of the carer movement, to the Board Directors, staff and volunteers at Carers Australia and across the Network, and to the 2.6 million carers on whose behalf we continue this important work.
In closing, I am delighted to congratulate Karen Cook as the new President of Carers Australia.
I have worked closely with Karen over the past two years in her role as Carers Australia Vice-President. Karen will no doubt be a dynamic, enthusiastic and committed leader, and I wish her all the best.