Inch by inch: Queanbeyan respite centre makes progress

The years-long push for a respite centre for young people with a terminal illness in Queanbeyan has inched forward during the Eden-Monaro election campaign, with Labor candidate Kristy McBain promising to use her voice to open doors for the project if she is elected.

Queanbeyan locals have been pushing for a respite centre for younger people with chronic and terminal illnesses for years, a project that was inspired by the tragic experience of Yvonne and Joe Cuschieri’s son Steven, who died at age 53 while in an aged care home.

At the time it was the only option for respite care for Steven, who was being cared for by his parents after being diagnosed with brain cancer.

Since then the fight for the respite centre has been powered by a desire for no other family to have the same experience.

Paul Walshe, Mrs Cuschieri and others have made major breakthroughs in recent years, with funding commitments from both NSW and federal governments to build the centre, and the allocation of a piece of land by the Queanbeyan-Palerang Council.

Architectural designs have also recently been completed, showing how the facility can have six rooms with the potential to expand to nine. Recent meetings have left Paul Walshe, one of the locals behind the project with no doubt that it is needed.

He estimates there are more than 4500 unpaid carers in the Queanbeyan-Palerang region.

The last piece of the puzzle is ongoing funding, something that neither state or federal governments have committed to. Respite care is now generally funded through NDIS plans, but many of the people who would be assisted by the centre wouldn’t be eligible for plans under the scheme.

Mr Walshe has contacted both major party candidates in the Eden-Monaro byelection to make the case for the centre and call for a commitment to ongoing funding.

Labor’s Kristy McBain has committed to be an advocate for the project if she was to win the seat on July 4, to work with different levels of government to find funding options.

“If we can get this model up and running in Queanbeyan, then hopefully it can be replicated in other areas,” Ms McBain said.

Ms McBain acknowledged there would need to be changes to the NDIS system if it was to be funded through that avenue.

“The other avenue is working with the Health Department because it does straddle federal and state responsibilities, and we need to bring people to the table to make sure there is funding operationally.”

Mr Walshe spoke to Liberal candidate Fiona Kotvojs during the 2019 federal election campaign, when she as candidate secured a funding promise for building the centre. He has contacted her again since she was named candidate this year, and they are set to meet in coming days.

On Wednesday Dr Kotvojs also said she had been a committed long-term supporter of the project.

“When Paul approached me in 2019, I was able to secure Morrison Government funding to help build this project,” she said.

“If elected, as a member of the government I will work with Paul to coordinate federal and state support for this important service for the people of the Queanbeyan community.”

While the commitment from Ms McBain is still short of a concrete commitment to operational funding, Mr Walshe said it felt like “a shot in the arm” for the campaign.

“I have come to the conclusion the current NDIS system does not meet our needs and that’s been pretty well confirmed by the Health officials I’ve spoken to in the last week or so,” Mr Walshe said.

Like a dog with a bone, Mr Walshe has been contacted representatives at all levels of government, including state member John Barilaro and Senator Jim Molan. Mr Barilaro has previously shown support for the project through initial funding.

“I’ve felt disheartened,” he said about the lack of response and assistance from elected local MPs on operational funding so far, but was hopeful after speaking to Ms McBain.

“Some politicians and senior bureaucrats need to get out of the Chairmans Lounge and and get into the community an find out what’s going on down there.”

Published in The Canberra Times on 25 June 2020