House debates

Monday, 10 September 2012

Statements on Indulgence

Fred Hollows Foundation

4:47 pm

Photo of Michael McCormackMichael McCormack (Riverina, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

'Every eye is an eye. When you are doing the surgery there, that is just as important as if you were doing eye surgery on the Prime Minister or a king'. The philosophy of ophthalmologist Fred Hollows is exactly why the foundation is marking 20 successful years of eradicating avoidable blindness and improving the eye health of more than a million people. That was his philosophy.

Fred Hollows was born in New Zealand in 1929 and dedicated his all-too-short life—he died at the age of 63, and you sometimes wonder why it is that somebody with so much to offer, so much more to give, dies at such a relatively young age—to improving the overall health of Aboriginal Australians and the eye health of others in developing countries. He was a man with a vision: a dream to eliminate avoidable blindness by 2020. While much work remains to be done, 80 per cent of blind people can be treated for their condition, and the work of the Fred Hollows Foundation is going a long way to helping those afflicted people.

Fred Hollows was not only passionate about restoring sight and increasing eye health but was equally passionate about improving the health outcomes of Aboriginal people. According to Joy McLaughlin, who heads up the foundation's indigenous program in Darwin, Aboriginal people have six times the rate of avoidable blindness—six times—and vision loss as the rest of the population and a life expectancy is 10 years lower than other residents of Australia.

Fred Hollows wanted to see Aboriginal people help themselves to maintain the same level of health as the rest of the population. So in 1971 he set up the first Aboriginal medical centre in Redfern in Sydney. However, his wife Gabi feels her husband would be disappointed at the current status of aboriginal health. His widow says, 'I think he would have liked to see more improvement by now, but he would still be beside himself with joy to see how many Australians from all walks of life have made the foundation a success.' Since 1992 his foundation has restored sight to more than a million people and established intraocular lens factories in Eritrea and Nepal, where, according to the Fred Hollows Foundation website, more than five million low-cost lenses have been manufactured. That is a great achievement.

'The most expensive little bits of plastic in existence,' Fred Hollows was often heard to remark. However, as I say, he has made a great achievement.

The Rotary clubs of Australia also contribute to the Fred Hollows Foundation. I am proud to say that, in my electorate of Riverina, among those clubs which contribute largely to the Fred Hollows Foundation are the Wagga Wagga Sunrise and Temora Rotary clubs, whose members donate very valuable funds to helping eradicate and eliminate unnecessary blindness.

According to journalist Tony Magnusson, the Fred Hollows Foundation is now working to eradicate avoidable blindness in 19 countries. Just last year, they performed 300,000 operations and treatments, trained more than 10,000 staff, built or renovated 50 facilities and donated more than $3 million in equipment. The most common cause of blindness is the cataract. Fortunately, it can almost always be treated with a simple surgical procedure which utilises the intraocular lens. Just last year in Nepal, the foundation performed more than 8,000 cataract operations and 21,000 sight-saving or -improving procedures.

It was in the early 1990s when Fred Hollows realised that producing soft lenses in Asia and Africa would not only help to reduce eyesight problems in those countries and on those continents but would also help local economies—ever the businessman! He would be proud to know that the foundation was able to fulfil his dream of establishing lens factories in Nepal and Eritrea, which have produced millions of lenses which are distributed around the globe. Not only was this increasing eyesight outcomes but also, as Fred Hollows realised, it would improve the economies of these countries. He was also very keen to see that happen. He would be even happier that both those factories became locally owned and operated, exemplifying his belief that developing countries have to run their own shows.

Sadly, Fred never lived to hold a lens in his hand and say that it had been made in one of the poorest countries in the world. Former Deputy Prime Minister and Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade special envoy Tim Fischer returned in June 2012, after visiting the eastern African laboratory in Eritrea. A longtime supporter of the Fred Hollows Foundation, as with so many other great causes, Mr Fischer described his visit to the laboratory and the importance of the work done there as an exemplar of the good things that can be done in very isolated parts. The former Nationals leader said the establishment was momentum-building, and that Fred Hollows would be proud, as it was something he had always envisaged.

Millions of people worldwide are also able to celebrate their health and eyesight, thanks to a man with an extraordinary vision. In the words of Fred Hollows, 'I believe that the basic attribute of mankind is to look after each other', and that is exactly what is being done.

I will conclude by quoting from the article by Mr Magnusson in the QANTAS in-flight magazine, the Australian Way, which really summed up the great work that Fred Hollows is doing:

Practical solutions were what Fred Hollows was about. "He wasn’t one to sit back and wait for the bureaucrats to decide what they wanted to do," says McLaughlin, who believes that if Fred were alive he’d be angry about Indigenous health status. "I think he would have hoped to have seen more improvement by now." Gabi Hollows agrees that there’s no silver bullet when it comes to Indigenous health. "Unfortunately, we still have third-world conditions in a first-world country." Even so, she says Fred would be "beside himself with joy" to see how Australians from all walks of life have made the foundation such a success. "He would have nothing but thanks."

4:53 pm

Photo of Jill HallJill Hall (Shortland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It gives me great pleasure to rise to speak on the motion before us today. Last parliamentary sitting week, I, along with many members of this parliament, attended the launch of In Fred's Footsteps: Twenty Years of Restoring Sight, where both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition spoke about the great work and the legacy of Fred Hollows.

Over the past 20 years, the Fred Hollows Foundation has developed from the initial ideas of Fred Hollows and Gabi, and all those who were associated with them at the time, and has continued to work towards restoring health services, providing eye surgery and looking after the sight of Indigenous Australians and of those people in developing countries.

I was recently fortunate enough to visit Pakistan. In Pakistan, we visited the hospital where the eye program is being run in conjunction with the Fred Hollows Foundation, AusAID and the Pakistani Dr Rubina Gillani, who has been one of the leading advocates and workers in that area. She has been out to Australia; she met with John Howard when he was Prime Minister and she has really promoted and followed through on the philosophy of Fred Hollows. We also met with Professor Carr, a leading Pakistani ophthalmologist. We were very taken with the work that is done there. The hospital we visited was in Lahore, but the work does not start and finish in Lahore. They are training health workers so that they can go out into rural and remote communities within Pakistan. We saw young women being trained to work with young women, and we saw young men being trained. We learned about the philosophy of the program in Pakistan.

The Fred Hollows Foundation in Pakistan works with the most disadvantaged people—people who, in the past, would have had a sentence of blindness for life. They are working in removing cataracts and dealing with issues such as blindness associated with diabetes. I do not know whether members who are present know that in Pakistan 18 per cent of the population suffers from diabetes. The program is raising awareness about diabetes and is getting the message out about how people can look after their eyes. It has transformed the district eye care system by allowing doctors to perform high-quality cataract services efficiently and quickly. This is providing services in the community and services to those people who in the past would never have been able to access those services.

The foundation started work in Pakistan in 1997. About two per cent of the population there, which is over three million people, were blind, with about 70 per cent of those cases being due to cataracts. The Pakistani ophthalmology community is strong and well trained. It has been based in urban areas but, as I mentioned, it is the people in rural areas who are missing out on ophthalmology services, and that leads to even greater disadvantage. Of course, if you cannot see, you cannot work, and you cannot get the food that is required for living in a country such as Pakistan.

It was in 2001 that the foundation also received some AusAID funding, and we were particularly interested to see how our AusAID money was working in conjunction with the Fred Hollows Foundation. I do not think that there was a person who visited that hospital who was not convinced that the money that was being spent in conjunction with the Fred Hollows Foundation was well spent. There are 25 district hospitals that were in the initial group. That has expanded and will continue to expand.

I have spoken about Pakistan, because I was privileged to visit that hospital to see those young people training, to learn about how the services are being delivered, to learn about the problems with vision that people in Pakistan are experiencing and to learn how, through the Fred Hollows Foundation, people are having their vision problems addressed. It made me even happier to learn that AusAID was involved in it.

That partnership between Fred Hollows and AusAID—not only in Pakistan but in developing countries throughout the world—is something that has benefitted millions of people. It is something that really fits with the philosophy of Fred Hollows and follows In Fred's Footsteps: Twenty Years of Restoring Sight, the book that was released. I have talked of Pakistan, and generalised that to activities in developing countries, but we can never forget that Fred Hollows started his work, working with Indigenous people in Australia—and the work that he did there equally changed the lives of the people. He was totally committed to helping those people that were disadvantaged and needed assistance with their sight, a commitment that I think every member of this parliament welcomes.

As an individual, I donate to the Fred Hollows Foundation and I would encourage other members to do the same, because it is a charity, it is an organisation, that delivers real results on the ground here in Australia and in developing countries. Congratulations to all those involved with the Fred Hollows Foundation. It is an organisation that is delivering on its goals and objectives.

5:01 pm

Photo of Kelly O'DwyerKelly O'Dwyer (Higgins, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I associate myself with the remarks made by the Member for Shortland and the Member for Riverina just before me. One of the most rewarding parts of my job is to stand in this chamber to speak about remarkable Australians who have made the lives of their fellow Australians that much better. Today we get a chance to pay tribute to the life, the work and the enduring achievements of Fred Hollows AC.

His is a legacy that is felt not only in this country but around the world. Fred Hollows was a pioneer. His advances in ophthalmology and his application of that work in some of the most underprivileged parts of the world has given sight to millions of people transforming lives and futures. From humble beginnings Fred Hollows followed in his father's charitable footsteps and sort a life of service for those most in need.

Born in Dunedin, New Zealand, in 1928, Fred grew up in a traditional household and like most Kiwi boys loved his rugby. Having a very religious upbringing, Fred joined a seminary before a summer job at a mental hospital changed his perspective and his life's ambition—and thank goodness for all of us for that. Fred dropped his divinity studies and took up psychology and chemistry, yearning to learn how the brain worked and what it was that made people so unique.

Fred was then offered a place in the Otego University Medical School—a challenge he accepted without hesitation. After practicing for many years as a general practitioner—something he found particularly demanding—Fred saved up enough money to travel to London where he embarked on a diploma from the Moorfields Eye Hospital/UCL Institute of Ophthalmology. In 1965 Fred moved to Australia to become Associate Professor of Ophthalmology at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. From 1965 to 1992 he was head of the ophthalmology department, overseeing the teaching at the UNSW and the Prince of Wales and Prince Henry hospitals. In his first year he set up a small eye unit at the Prince of Wales Hospital and performed the hospital's first cataract extraction. In the mid-1970s, Fred was the driving force behind the establishment of the National Trachoma and Eye Health Program. Under this program eye care was provided to many people in remote Aboriginal communities with Fred visiting more than 460 communities himself.

Fred dedicated his life's work to those less fortunate than himself. He travelled the world using his skills to make life better for those in need by returning sight where otherwise it would have been impossible. He trained locals in countries like Nepal, India, Sri Lanka and Eritrea to perform much-needed surgery and eye treatments. He also found a solution to make surgery a realistic option for very poor people for the first time by manufacturing a lens for cataract surgery for $7 rather than $300.

No matter how poor or how remote the community in which he performed surgery, Fred was guided by the attitude that, 'Every eye is an eye. When you are doing the surgery there, that is just as important as if you were doing eye surgery on the Prime Minister or the king.' Here is a man who saw everyone as an equal. No one person was more deserving than another, and he applied his services with these values as his guide.

While Fred was born in New Zealand, we were formally able to claim him as one of our own when he became an Australian citizen in 1989. As an Australian, he was honoured for his life's work in 1990 when he was named the Australian of the Year, and in 1991 when he was made a Companion of the Order of Australia, Australia's highest honour. In setting up the Fred Hollows Foundation 20 years ago, he was able to ensure that his life's work would be able to be continued beyond his life—that his legacy might be continued.

In conclusion, I would like to call on my colleagues in this place to commit to the vision that Fred Hollows articulated when he established the foundation. I quote again:

Our vision is for a world where no one is needlessly blind, and Indigenous Australians enjoy the same health and life expectancy as other Australians.

Anything less will be a failure and, as was said of the US space mission—it also applies to this vision—failure is simply not an option.

5:06 pm

Photo of Jane PrenticeJane Prentice (Ryan, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today to acknowledge the amazing work of the Fred Hollows Foundation as they celebrate 20 years of restoring people's sight. I was pleased to be part of that recognition recently on 23 August at the official launch of In Fred's Footsteps: 20 Years of Restoring Sight, a new book that charts the foundation's impact and achievements over the last two decades, and the following week, at a photo exhibition and event hosted by the Premier of Queensland, Campbell Newman.

For the past 20 years, the Fred Hollows Foundation has been working to restore vision to millions around the world, as well as teaching people in developing countries to undertake cataract surgery and manufacture eye lenses for themselves. Indeed, since 1942 they have worked with blindness prevention organisations in 42 countries throughout Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Australia and the Pacific region.

Over the last two decades, the foundation has never lost sight of Fred's central vision of helping people in Indigenous Australia and developing countries to help themselves. It has learnt and grown through the passion of its people and supporters, both in Australia and in developing countries, who are committed to Fred's dream of equity in eye health. The book In Fred's Footsteps charts the foundation's impact and achievements over its first two decades, including the early breakthroughs of building intraocular lens factories in Nepal and Eritrea, and training eye surgeons in developing countries to perform modern cataract surgery, and its later work in building sustainable eye-care systems and lobbying on the world stage for resources for eye health.

Fred Hollows believed that everyone, everywhere, should have access to the best that modern medical knowledge can provide. As Fred once said: 'Every eye is an eye. When you are doing the surgery there, that is just as important as if you were doing eye surgery on the Prime Minister or the king.' As Brian Doolan, the CEO of the Fred Hollows Foundation said in the book's introduction:

Fred Hollows was not a charity worker in the sense of handing out goods and cash. His way of working was not to go into a community, fix a few eyes and then walk away. Fred was a social activist who saw the answers to people gaining access to world-class eye health care as a matter of rights, of justice, and of requiring broad social change if that dream were to be realised. He worked with people, beside people, building local capacities, local systems and structures, training local people to take control.

A number of Fred's key beliefs can be traced back to his work leading the National Trachoma and Eye Health Program in the Australian outback in the late 1970s. Fred spent three years visiting Aboriginal communities to provide eye care and carry out a survey of eye defects. More than 460 Aboriginal communities were visited and 62,000 Aboriginal people were examined, leading to 27,000 being treated for trachoma and 1,000 operations being carried out. As well as doing whatever surgery was possible, Fred and his team would never leave a community without providing a detailed report with statistics and an action list for GPs for glasses and any other referrals needed.

Following visits to Nepal in 1985, Eritrea in 1987 and Vietnam in 1991, Fred started to work towards reducing the cost of eye health care and treatment in developing countries. Fred organised intraocular lens laboratories in Eritrea and Nepal to manufacture and provide lenses at around $10 each. The foundation continued Fred's overseas work and, following his death, the foundation initiated a training program in Vietnam for surgeons in collaboration with the Vietnam National Institute of Ophthalmology. Since Fred's initial visit, the foundation has helped train and equip hundreds of doctors to perform modern sight-restoring cataract surgery and has expanded its support to cities and provinces throughout the country, in close partnership with local eye-care service providers.

I recently attended the amazing photo exhibition Fred Hollows: A global vision at Parliament House in Brisbane. Featuring photos from a range of renowned photographers, the exhibition covered nearly two decades of Fred's work in Aboriginal communities and overseas. Many of the images captured Fred's driving force to empower the communities he and his team were helping.

The Fred Hollows Foundation now operates in more than 20 countries. In the past five years alone, nearly one million sight-restoring operations and eye treatments have been carried out, which is approximately one every 2.6 minutes. The foundation has successfully developed a clear five-point strategy that is highly aligned with the international VISION 2020: the Right to Sight. Basically, that strategy is to (1) treat the disease, (2) ensure the local people are trained, (3) give the workers the tools to do their job, (4) build political will, and (5) ensure organisational strength.

Over the past 20 years, more than 220,000 Australians and 10,000 organisations have put their hands in their pockets to support the work that Fred began. The Fred Hollows Foundation is a truly extraordinary organisation—indeed, it is a development organisation, not a medical charity. I commend the foundation on its 20th anniversary and urge all Australians to help it to continue its vital work both in our own communities and overseas. As Fred himself said in 1992:

What we are doing is revolutionary, something the big health organisations aren't doing. They send eye doctors. What we are doing is giving these people the chance to help themselves. We are giving them independence.

The world is a better place thanks to the aspirations of Fred Hollows and the ongoing work carried out by his widow, Gabi, and the Fred Hollows Foundation.

5:13 pm

Photo of Warren SnowdonWarren Snowdon (Lingiari, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Defence Science and Personnel) Share this | | Hansard source

When I first arrived in the Northern Territory in the 1970s, it did not take long to hear about and understand Fred Hollows and the work that he had been doing in communities right across remote Australia but particularly in the Northern Territory. Other speakers have spoken at length about the history of the Fred Hollows Foundation and of the man himself. I just want to talk about my own knowledge of people who have been engaged with and benefited from the work of Fred Hollows and the foundation.

It is very easy to take for granted the things that we have. You, Madam Deputy Speaker Vamvakinou, wear glasses; you have had access to an optometrist et cetera. Many Aboriginal people in Australia and many people from Third World countries do not have that access to eye care by way of primary check-up—just to check their eyes and provide glasses—let alone the ability to address that huge issue of poverty: cataracts.

Fred Hollows really was a man before his time but a man who made his own time and made something very special for all of us. Without his vision, without his own tenacity and pugnaciousness, without his abruptness and abrasiveness from time to time, we would not be talking about the successes that have flowed from his magnificent work.

I have know many people who were involved in the Hollows campaigns in the 1970s, some of whom live in this town and have become prominent in other areas of life. I recall that Jack Waterford, who is a journalist with the Canberra Times, spoke very fondly of his work with the Hollows foundation, following Fred around. There are so many others. When Fred passed away the mantle was taken up by his wife, Gabi. She drove the Hollows foundation under its first chair, Ray Martin. It was their ability to secure the support of so many good people that built upon the work and ambition of Fred.

I have a personal experience of being the patient of one of the doctors who does work with Aboriginal patients in Central Australia. This is part of what the Fred Hollows Foundation does in and around Central Australia, working through the Alice Springs Hospital and working with Dr Tim Henderson and his team. Their objective is to make sure they can give as many people sight as possible through the cataract surgery they have been providing. It just so happens that I have had cataracts removed from both of my eyes by Dr Henderson, who is a remarkable individual himself, having an enormous commitment to his craft but also a passion for improving life outcomes for Aboriginal people. He has been very successful in doing so. But they have done it in partnership with a number of organisations, and the catalyst in many ways has been the Fred Hollows Foundation, the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress from Alice Springs, the Anyinginyi Congress Aboriginal Corporation in Tennant Creek, the Northern Territory public health system through the hospital in Alice Springs, and of course Dr Henderson and his team.

When you see the outcomes of this work, it is very hard for those who do not suffer from poor sight or who are not blind to really understand the impact of seeing. I was just flicking through a document which relates to Dr Henderson in Alice Springs called The Fred Hollows Foundation: Saving Sight in the Red Centre, where Tim says:

We treat lots of eye conditions, but cataracts take up three-quarters of the surgery, partly because this procedure can have the biggest positive impact for patients.

City colleagues visiting to help with the surgery weeks have commented on the high concentration of difficult cases and reported that what they would usually see as a one-in-50 case is more like one-in-five in Alice.

It's difficult to over-emphasise quite how much of an impact it [eye surgery] can have, particularly with Aboriginal patients, because of the role of the elders within the community ... generally, the patients you are restoring sight for are often responsible for retaining the cohesiveness and function of the community, and passing on all the men's business and women's business and maintaining the culture. And if they can't see to do that they can't show important areas and sites. So that's where you really get far more than just the normal impact you would get for someone with poor vision. You are actually impacting the whole community.

Our patients go from darkness one day to full sight the next—it's as dramatic as that. And the reaction after surgery is priceless, with people grinning from ear to ear.

Recently I was in Siem Reap in Cambodia. Those of you who have read Fred's book will know, if you turn to page 107, that it refers to 'Cambodia: Eyes on the Future'. I was in Cambodia on a holiday with my family. I was walking through the streets and I saw this hospital called Fred Hollows. I thought, 'Hello! What's happening here?' So I rang my good friend Brian Doolan, who is CEO of the Fred Hollows Foundation, and said: 'Brian, would there be any chance I could make a visit to this hospital? I don't want to put anyone out, but Elizabeth, the kids and I would love to go and just say hello and become acquainted.' A short while later, Brian rang back and said, 'Yes, when would you like to go?' I said, 'How about Friday morning? Would that suit?' I was thinking we would go along, have a cup of tea and a bit of a chat.

We rocked up at the appointed time and there was an enormous banner out the front welcoming me and my partner, Elizabeth, to the hospital, and all of the staff were lined up for us to meet. The person responsible for that was the Cambodia Country Manager, Sith Sam Ath, who is a wonderful, smiling, lovely person responsible for the Hollows foundation's activities in Cambodia.

It just so happens that we spent time in that hospital, met the staff and had a long conversation but also met some of the patients. I referred before to the statement from Dr Henderson about the impact that restoring sight has on individuals. I know that when we had the launch of this document here in the parliament recently, some stories were told about how individuals reacted when their sight was returned.

In the waiting room of this hospital was an old lady with her granddaughter. The old lady was sightless because of cataracts and was due to have the operation the next day. I asked her granddaughter what the impact would be upon the life of this woman as a result of this operation. It was made very clear to me that, as well as her being able to see, this would have an enormous impact upon her family, because this young granddaughter was unable to attend school because she was her grandmother's carer, as her grandmother could not see. So the immediate impact of having her sight restored was to enable her granddaughter to go to school. When we think of the secondary impacts of these operations and what they mean to communities, it is very important to acknowledge that the impacts are far more than we might at first think.

There is no doubt that the operation, which, thanks to the work of Fred Hollows, can now be achieved for around $25 in these communities, is a very simple operation. Indeed, from my own experience the operation took about 20 minutes. It is very sophisticated and obviously you need artisans to do this work, but it is a comparatively simple operation. To be able to provide this operation to so many thousands of people around the world—millions of people, really—and to restore their sight is to do a very good thing, a magnificent thing which has an enormous impact not only directly on the individuals but on their families and communities, as is outlined by Dr Henderson in his report.

When you wander around the bush, as I do, what you know most certainly is that, if you can improve people's capacity to see and do, they will get better life outcomes.

There are many great Australians who have been involved in this activity since Fred's time, and we ought to acknowledge the work of those people. I want to particularly acknowledge the work of Gabi and her family, the people on the board and the wonderful people that work for the Fred Hollows Foundation under the stewardship of Brian. Gabi herself is irrepressible—there is really no question about that. Without her drive and determination, we would not have this organisation as it is. The people who work for the organisation are absolutely committed to the best possible outcomes they can achieve for Aboriginal people in the case of Australia and for those in other nations where they work.

It is a great privilege and a great honour to know these people and to see the product of their work on such a regular basis. For those of us who are not in medicine—and, clearly, I have no knowledge of medicine, except to say that, when you are crook and someone can fix you, you are doing pretty bloody well—when you can go to an optometrist, who can help you with glasses, or an ophthalmologist, who can do an operation that restores your sight, you know you have got some pretty incredible people. To those people who are involved in this work, let me just say thank you and to the Fred Hollows Foundation I say on and ever upwards. There is no question that this organisation and Fred's life have caught the imagination of the Australian community. As result, they have been able to achieve the support of a great many ordinary Australians for their daily work. Let me just say thank you to the Fred Hollows Foundation for the magnificent work they do.

5:26 pm

Photo of Greg HuntGreg Hunt (Flinders, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Climate Action, Environment and Heritage) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to support the acknowledgement of the 20th anniversary of the Fred Hollows Foundation. I want to do it through reference to my own experience in this space with the work of the foundation across different countries. There are really three areas: Australia, Eritrea and Cambodia. Let me begin with Australia and not with grand statistics but with a human story, because ultimately sight is about a succession of human stories and each life touched is transformative.

One of the stories which comes from the foundation is of Reggie Uluru. Reggie is 72. He is from the Mutitjulu community at the base of Uluru. On his left eye he had an eyelid which had turned inwards, began to scratch and scar the cornea, and this caused a form of blindness. Similarly, he was facing full blindness because he had a cataract developing on his right eye. With the support of the Fred Hollows Foundation, he travelled to Alice Springs and visited the Barkly integrated eye health program, which is a subprogram of the Fred Hollows Foundation. The ophthalmologist, Tim Henderson, examined Reggie Uluru's eyes and he decided to operate the next day. He made a transformation in terms of one eye, with more to be done in terms of cataracts subsequently. Reggie got his sight back. That is one story of one man in one community, but it is also a story of the Fred Hollows Foundation.

Many years ago, my work at university included, among other things, the evolution of an independent state in Eretria. As I was doing the work and doing the study and engaging with people from Eretria—which at that stage was not an independent country but was on a pathway to independence—one of the extraordinary things I found was that there had been this Australian larrikin called Fred Hollows who had done work in Eretria, which was at that stage a site of ongoing civil war in the struggle for independence. He made Eretria one of the centrepieces of his work, because it was a sub state in Africa with virtually no support. After his passing and after the independence of Eretria, the foundation continued Fred's work.

I will just give some figures, knowing that each one is critical.

Across the entire country, the work of the foundation doubled the annual number of eye surgeries and screenings in Eritrea over the past seven years. One organisation led to a doubling of eye health care actions. They created an intraocular lens factory in Asmara, the capital, that produced more than two million lenses for this one country. The Fred Hollows Foundation contributed $1.2 million to building an outpatients department at the Birhan Eye Hospital, again in Asmara. It is not the money; it is the fact that this entire operation, this entire process, this entire network of eye health care came from one larrikin Australian who helped create a lot of cooperative Australians and then brought in people from around the world. Perhaps most significantly, they launched an initiative to help prevent and treat trachoma.

But then you move from Eritrea to Cambodia. When I was in Cambodia in 1998 taking care of the Australian election monitoring mission, one of the things I came across was the legacy of Fred Hollows. If Eritrea has been through a difficult half-century, Cambodia may have been through the most difficult. Of all the countries in the world there are a few that have seen the legacy of complete state breakdown, genocide, dysfunction and human suffering. Into that environment came Fred Hollows and then the foundation. What did they do? I saw the legacy when I was there in 1998. People were talking about the work of this Australian larrikin. That was the way he was perceived—as a classic Aussie who just did amazingly good things.

The foundation established the Ophthalmology Residency and Refraction Training Program, which doubled the number of ophthalmologists and refractionists in Cambodia. That is about teaching how to fish, not giving a fish—and that is the ultimate form of aid. It is creating capacity in its deepest form in a state where otherwise it would not exist. They have trained 19 ophthalmologists and 24 refractionists, and upgraded the skills of 30 basic eye doctors and more than 2,800 eye health workers. These are the people who go out into Svay Riang and Preh Veng and the kampongs of Cambodia. They confront people, they work with people and they treat people who have never seen an eye health worker before. What a figure; what an example! From 1998 to 2012 the prevalence of blindness in Cambodia decreased from 1.2 per cent of the population to 0.38 per cent. In other words, eight out of every 1,000 people got their sight back as a consequence of the work of the Hollows Foundation and its broader reach in Cambodia. Eight out of every 1,000 people could see at the end of that period as opposed to beforehand. The foundation supported 28,500 cataract surgeries, screened 163,000 people, built five new eye facilities and renovated 10 eye units. That is what happened in Cambodia. I remember visiting a treatment centre for people with blindness whilst I was there and it seemed like a big task but, boy, they achieved it.

That then brings me to the third country, and that country is Australia. The work of the Hollows Foundation has focused on Indigenous Australia in particular. As part of that work I again saw what has occurred with the help of programs to eradicate cataract blindness amongst Indigenous people in Far North Queensland, clearing the backlog of eye surgery in Central Australia and helping to establish the Central Australian eye program. The Sunrise Health Service in the Northern Territory became one of the most effective in Indigenous Australia in dealing with eye health care because of the direct intervention of the Hollows Foundation.

But that work continues and, in our own country, it is unfinished. Two years ago I met with Professor Hugh Taylor. He was a mate of Fred Hollows and, indeed, was one of the people who said to Fred Hollows, 'If this work is going to survive you and me, there will have to be a Hollows foundation.' Hugh was one of the drivers behind the Fred Hollows Foundation and it is to everybody's great satisfaction that that approach was taken up. Hugh Taylor says that much work has been done but there are still thousands and thousands of eyes that can be repaired against avoidable Indigenous blindness. The task now—and this is the agreement I have made with Hugh—is not to rest until we have a VISION 2020 program for Indigenous Australia with bipartisan support and adequate funding so there is no effective rate of avoidable Indigenous blindness. Of course there will be cases of blindness, but it is where there is the difference between what occurs and what could be transformed that there is an absolute moral duty, task, responsibility and role for each person in this parliament. If we can complete that vision, we should do it.

My contribution to this is to recommit to the goal agreed with Professor Hugh Taylor, who in turn is carrying on from his work with Professor Fred Hollows, to work until we have a fully bipartisan commitment to a program which will, finally, eradicate avoidable Indigenous blindness in Australia by 2020.

5:36 pm

Photo of Janelle SaffinJanelle Saffin (Page, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I had not planned to speak to this debate, but, sitting here listening to all of the contributions, I felt driven to. I want to make a short contribution not along the lines of the comments we have heard so far, which I associate myself with, but really about Fred Hollows the larrikin. The honourable member for Flinders called him a larrikin a couple of times, and that is how people always think about Fred. He was a larrikin, but he was a larrikin who did enormous good. In doing so, he also had what I would call a disdain for officialdom and bureaucratic humbug. He epitomised secular goodness. It was something that Fred spoke about as well. He did good at home and he did good overseas. He was a good citizen and a good neighbour to our friends.

I want to share my experience of reading about Fred. Over the years I attended various functions and heard him talk and raise money, but I want to describe what I read in a book about Fred. I am just going on memory. It has been a long time since I read it, but it really epitomised how Fred operated. Fred decided that he wanted to get some of the army tents that you can use to travel in outback Australia and even carry out procedures and things like that—those good, secure army tents. Somebody said to him that you had to go through the procedure of writing to the minister and all the officialdom. Somebody wrote the letter and sent it off and, in the interim, Fred made contact with people who could actually liberate those tents and give them to him. He already had the tents. He waited months for the letter to come back. Of course, if you ask for things officially, we know that often you will be denied, and in that letter he was. The letter apologised to him. It came from the minister, duly outlining why Fred could not have the tents and so on. When the import of the letter was conveyed to Fred, the tents were already in outback Australia being used very well. That is just one story. Everybody has their Fred stories. They are the things that characterise his will to make things happen and his larrikin nature.

People probably forgave Fred a lot that they might not forgive others because of what he did and how he helped people. He restored sight to people—what a gift. That was my Fred story that I wanted to share.