For ACT Labor backbencher Suzanne Orr, watching her parents care for hundreds of foster children when she was a child instilled a deep appreciation for the work carers do in the community.
Thanks to new legislation she introduced in June that has now passed the ACT Legislative Assembly, the “invaluable contribution” made by carers will be formally recognised.
Ms Orr explained that the Carers Recognition Act 2021 will not only formally recognise the role of carers, but will help to promote their role in the community.
“[It] goes to things such as acknowledging the role carers have, making sure they’re included in information so they can do their caring, and also recognising carers as individuals with their own needs,” she said.
The Carers Recognition Act 2021 also puts in place measures requiring entities and organisations to consider and adapt business practices to support the care relationship that exists between carers and the people they care for, said Ms Orr.
She noted that “certain businesses will also have to provide an annual report, publicly available to actually enliven those principles”.
Organisations may also begin to roll out increased forums to engage with carers and thank them for the work they are doing, Ms Orr continued.
She described the passing of the legislation as a very proud moment, having not only watched her parents care for foster children, but also having spoken to many carers in the community.
“My lived experience has made me realise how important this bill is,” said Ms Orr.
She said speaking to her mother – who has been an advocate for carer recognition for two decades – before introducing the bill made her realise how much work still needs to be done.
“There are still places where carers are invisible, but putting it into legislation changes this,” said Ms Orr.
As a child, she didn’t understand the full extent of how much her parents were giving in their role, but it has certainly become clear from her conversations with carers in her role as a MLA.
“Carers are some of the most selfless people in our community who work very hard supporting those in need,” said Ms Orr. “It’s about time they were better recognised in the ACT.
“Sometimes you need to ask carers how they are going.”
Until now, the ACT has been the only jurisdiction in Australia not to have an act intended to formally recognise the contribution of carers.
While Ms Orr acknowledges the ACT has been lagging behind in this regard, she said it has allowed the Territory to analyse the legislation in place in other jurisdictions and use the best components.
“Even though we’ve waited a long time, there’s been a lot of talking with the community and learning from other jurisdictions,” she said.
It’s believed more than 50,000 people in the ACT are currently in what is considered a care relationship.
Carers ACT CEO Lisa Kelly thanked the many carers who have advocated for the Carers Recognition Act 2021 for many years. She said recognising them in the act is the “smallest thing the community can do”.
“In our daily conversations with carers, we often hear how they feel invisible, isolated and overwhelmed by the responsibilities related to their caring role,” she said.
“The Carers Recognition Act will ensure carers’ needs and voices will be better considered in employment, health, education, community planning and service delivery.”
Ms Kelly said the work of unpaid carers saves the Federal Government an estimated $77.9 billion annually. She noted their workload had grown significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ms Orr agreed and said it is a particularly pertinent time for the legislation to be passed given the recent lockdown and the associated impact on carers.