Public First Program


Shane Elson


email Shane

+61-3-5952 5780

+61-4-1349 7828

May 2008 # 2

(Right Click here to download Audio - MP3)

Back to Editorials 2008

Carers, Get a Life

Did you see 4 Corners on the ABC last Monday night? It was about the plight of the grief stricken carers and the burden they carry looking after their disabled loved ones. What a bunch of whingers? I mean, lets do a reality check here. But first some facts, drawn from the most recent federal budget. 

According the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, there are 483,550 people in Australia who are cared for by someone in their immediate family or who qualifies as someone needing care. There are only 439,600 people who actually receive a carerís payment. That means there is a shortfall in the carerís workforce of 43,950. In other words, there is a real skills shortage in the home based carerís Ďindustryí. I will return to this later. 

In the 4 Corners program there was very little reference to the captains of industry who, if we believe the media, government spokespeople and other spin, are the real drivers of the Australian economy. These hard workers survive in a very competitive market. There are few who can do what they do, increase wealth like they do and who sacrifice so much for our economy. But do we hear them whinge? No! Of course not. They get lobbyists to do that for them. Lets have a look at the real differences between what carers have to do and what our CEOís have to put up with. Firstly, lets look at the benefits each enjoys.  

How many CEOís get to spend the whole day, every day with those they love? I would think none. They donít have the opportunity to slack around the house in their pyjamas and grab a coffee whenever they feel like it. Our hard working CEOs are woken by reminder calls at 5:00am and have to get out of bed and take a shower, dress in their suit and make their way downstairs to where the cook has prepared breakfast for them. At 6:10 their chauffer picks them up and drives them to the airport where they are met by their PA who escorts them to the Flight Club. After checking their emails, they board the plane and take their seat in First Class. The first contact they have with their family is when the nanny sends them an email, via her Blackberry. When the CEO arrives at his destination he is met by a limousine and ferried to his first meeting. By the end of the day he has had four fifty minute meetings, lunched at the most exclusive restaurant in town, been helicoptered to at least one meeting and is now reclining in First Class sipping on a scotch. By the time he gets home his children will be in bed and his wife will probably not get home from her fundraising meeting until after he is asleep. Given that this is only Monday, he probably wonít see the tin lids and the missus until Sunday, the week after next, as he is due to fly to London tomorrow to close a new deal. And he does all this for a measly million dollars a year plus $20 million in share options as compensation. Now letís look at the carer. 

She too is up at 5:00am looking for the intubation tube because little Freddy seems to be fitting again. All the noise he causes wakes her husband whose first response is to shout for her to close the door to Freddyís room. By 6:00am she has had her first coffee and her daughter is up watching the tele because she has learnt that mum is not at her best before school. Hubby is up and getting ready for work but remains silent as usual. She makes sure his lunch is packed and his soup in the thermos Ė with the lid on tight (he blew his stack when it leaked all over the ute floor yesterday). At 7:00am she puts a bowl of corn flakes before her daughter, kisses her on the cheek and wishes her well at the school sports day. She does this because for the next two hours she will be bathing, changing pressure sore bandages and feeding her son. At 14 heís getting heavier to lift and she reminds herself that she must make an appointment with the masseur. At 10:00am she is still in her pjís as she puts out the daily washing. ďAt least the sun is shining.Ē She thinks to herself. By the time her daughter gets home from school at 4:00pm she has had to change out of her pjís as Freddy had one of his projectile vomiting attacks and she, along with what seemed half his room, was plastered with the sticky, smelly contents of his stomach. Hubby gets home at 6:00pm and sits down to his dinner. He seems chatty and she realises that he must want sex because thatís the only time he asks her how her day was. And, because she loves them, she is content with the $50.00 a week carer allowance. 

Now, having established the facts, who would you rather be? Easy isnít it. The carer. Youíre home all day, get to see your family when they get up, get to be with them when they go to bed and best of all you donít have to get out of your pjís until someone throws up on you. Other benefits include not having to travel, being able to instantly fix any problems around the house and being able to enjoy the sunshine rather than being stuck inside climate controlled conference rooms all day. OK, you have to forego the big dollars, but surely being able to spend every waking minute with those you love is priceless. 

I mentioned earlier that there are 43,950 people who need caring for and whose carers donít receive the carerís allowance. This means they are scabbing off the rest of the carers and putting them out of work. In a market where there is a shortfall in workers for a particular industry, the wages of those in that industry rise. Its simple demand and supply economics. Its how the CEOs work. There are more businesses that are willing to pay them multimillion dollar compensation packages than there are CEOs. So, naturally, they have a closed shop and ensure their compensation deals are lucrative and huge. I suggest the carers take the same approach and get off their high horses and stop expecting tax payers to give a toss. 

Firstly, the carers need to organise. They need to ďoutĒ the scabs who are preventing them from progressing up the corporate ladder. The 40 odd thousand who arenít part of their collective are making them look bad. This group are doing it for nothing. Imagine what would occur if CEOs suddenly decided that they would work for nothing! Or even worse, take a pay cut! The carers should write to the government and ask that a special task force be established to root out these bludgers and get them on the $50 a week allowance immediately. 

Once they have achieved that, they need to hold a convention in which they invite high profile celebrities to run workshops on how to retain your beauty when youíre starring in a period piece set in the grimy 11th century. After the convention they can take their butcher paper notes and produce a glossy booklet on the jobs they do and how they can still look good even if theyíre covered in something resembling the contents of a pigs stomach. Finally, they should engage a high profile PR firm to sell their message to the rest of us. It could be along the lines of ďlook what we can do for love Ö and save the rest of you a fortuneĒ. 

I also think itís about time the carers recognised that most CEOís sacrifice more if not as little as they do. Besides, itís not a competition. Just like the CEOís the carers have chosen their lot. They could have paid a high priced lawyer to relieve them of their contract and taken up a new opportunity. Instead they chose to stay. I say to the carers, stop your whinging and get a life. You donít know how well off you are. Besides, not only are you saving us money, you are ensuring that the grief you constantly feel doesnít interfere with your or our CEOís productivity. 

(Shane has a son with a disability and is a long time advocate for carers).

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