DELIVERED IN THE FEDERATION CHAMBER
I rise tonight to grieve for some particular cohorts in my electorate of Greenway who are doing it tough. An article in the Herald Sun earlier this year noted that the sixth edition of The Australian Oxford Dictionary, which was released in 2017, included over 2,000 new words to reflect the evolution of the English language in our country. The article said:
Alongside millennial newcomers … was the "sandwich generation", a term used to describe the group of people caught between the responsibilities of caring for ageing parents and adult children.
I think that it would be more accurate there to say that it is not only adult children but young children as well. As I go about my community, I am struck by the number of middle-aged Australians around my age. I knock on their doors and speak to them or they approach me at mobile offices. They're not asking for much; in fact, in many cases, they're not asking for anything other than to be heard. These are people who are raising their own children but, through circumstances, are also caring for elderly parents—in many cases, elderly parents who have, or an elderly parent who has, a degenerative disease such as dementia. They are living in the same home as their children, so there are three generations living in the one home, which is, I think, a great thing.
It's a great thing to be around a large family, but it does include many challenges that have been made known to me by this particular cohort. It's a growing issue and it's a story that many more Australians are familiar with, and more familiar with than we might think. Belonging to the sandwich generation can include providing financial support to one's parents or assuming the primary responsibility for their health care. That may include taking time off work for doctors' appointments and covering out-of-pocket expenses and the costs of some medications. For some, it can mean leaving the workforce altogether to become a full-time carer.
As my constituents would know, since my electorate has such a large percentage of households where two parents in the home are working, the logistics of life are hard enough as it is. This generational interdependency, which is becoming increasingly prevalent amongst families where an older member is living at home with a degenerative illness, unable to continue living independently, is a real challenge for many families.
Just flicking through some of the media courage, I see that, in May this year, there was a suggestion that there are around 1½ million Australians in the sandwich generation. This reporting apparently relied on 2013 data, so it's highly likely that the figure is even higher today. Interestingly, a number of media articles note that the Australians fulfilling this role are mostly women. Whilst these women wouldn't change it for the world, giving voice to their struggle is really an issue. I note an article on 9Honey, where an individual said, about caring for young children and elderly parents:
In my case it wasn't financial - certainly emotional and physical - I was 36 when I had my son. He's now 13 and my mother was 36 when she had me which meant by the time I had an infant, my parents were 72.
With these challenges, more than anything we need to listen to people who are in this situation. Given their dual responsibilities, we need to understand what the consequences will be in the immediate and long term. Around one in three people from the sandwich generation will retire with substantial debt. That's according to a REST Industry Super report from 2017. With an ageing population and with waiting times for aged-care home care packages increasing under this hopeless government, it's only going to get worse.
I'm frequently contacted by local residents who are desperate to continue living independently, but too often, with the time spent waiting, after lodging an application, for its assessment, approval and delivery, they are forced to rely on the support of their children who are in the sandwich generation. When you have the cost of everything except wages going up, it's no wonder the cost of living continues to rate as the top issue for so many Australians.
As parents and children ourselves, people my age understand these dual pressures. When tasked with the decision to support either your elderly parents or your children, I don't think many people would bat an eyelid; they'd support both. But it doesn't mean that we need to accept that they'll be financially worse off as a result of making that decision.
My colleague the member for Fenner very eloquently summarised today how, after six years of this government, the economy is floundering. Australians are struggling. This government has no plans to turn things around. Economic growth is the slowest since the GFC. Wages are stagnant. There are almost two million Australians looking for work or more work. Living standards and productivity are going backwards. We've got collapsing confidence and weak growth as the inevitable consequences of a government with a political strategy but no economic policy.
A situation like that is not going to provide the solutions that the sandwich generation needs. I think it's very important that we recognise the plight of Australia's young people, the plight of people who are in this situation, and address, for example, the issue of unaffordable housing in this country. We need to have a real wages policy, to get wages moving again and to help young people to live independently. Also, we need to address the astronomical waiting times for home care packages, to help older Australians to continue to live independently. We should also seriously address pension deeming rates, to increase the amount of money in the pockets of older Australians. I think it's a shame when we have a situation where our older generation, who have done so much, and middle-aged people like myself, who are still in the workforce raising families and are doing it tough, are not given a voice in this parliament. As I said, when I speak to and listen to these people on a regular basis they are not asking for much. They are not asking for much. More often than not what they are asking for is some recognition.
With those comments, I want to end by talking about, again, what is a very serious issue affecting families in my electorate and that's the state of health care. It was reported only last week that the New South Wales Liberal government issued a directive to the head of the department of surgery at Blacktown and Mount Druitt hospitals to cut the total number of elective surgery sessions carried out in 2020 by 400—400! In an email circulated to his staff the head of surgery said:
I have no doubt that if such changes are introduced, many patients will experience significant breaches in waiting times.
Despite this, a decision has been made to reduce activity. It's well covered in the media that elective surgery waiting times in New South Wales are only getting longer. These surgeries are not luxuries. It's disappointing to say, at the very least, that the New South Wales Liberals think that they are right for cutting as part of their cost saving agenda. Procedures in areas such as general surgery and orthopaedics will be affected, including hip and knee replacements, and procedures affecting the stomach, breasts, liver, gallbladder and appendix. In the same email the head of surgery also said, 'We do not support any reduction in elective surgery services at all. What was explained to us was that if we did not sort out how to do this as a department it would be done for us by hospital administration.' This is a callous and cruel directive. It is absolutely astounding. Here we have compassionate Western Sydney doctors and healthcare professionals who do not support this decision, and have gone public saying so, because of the adverse impacts on patient outcomes, being forced into cutting procedures in the interests of saving money. And if they don't co-operate it will harm their patients.
In terms of its population, the Blacktown local government area is one of the largest in all of Australia, and it is still growing. Despite these trends, the Liberals' approach to health care is to cut local services. The mind absolutely boggles. When questioned by the New South Wales opposition, the New South Wales Minister for Health laughed and joked with his colleagues. This is not a laughing matter. Nor do I or my colleagues in this place, or the residents who represent who will be impacted by this decision, think that this is a laughing matter, and the minister should be absolutely ashamed. Even more frustrating is the fact that the Liberals continue to overpromise and underdeliver when it comes to health care. In the lead up to the 2015 election the New South Wales Liberals promised a new hospital in Rouse Hill. We still do not have that delivered. Not only did they not deliver it, they have announced a site and so-called hospital, a hospital with no beds and no emergency ward. Western Sydney deserves better.