House debates

Monday, 24 February 2020

Private Members' Business

Ovarian Cancer

11:00 am

Photo of Anika WellsAnika Wells (Lilley, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That this House:

(1) recognises that:

(a) February is Ovarian Cancer Awareness month in Australia; and

(b) 26 February 2020 is Teal Ribbon Day; and

(2) acknowledges that:

(a) ovarian cancer has the lowest survival rate of any women's cancer;

(b) every year, almost 1,600 Australian women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer;

(c) every year, approximately 1,000 Australian women die from ovarian cancer;

(d) in Australia, the overall five-year survival rate for women diagnosed with ovarian cancer is 46 per cent; and

(e) there is currently no reliable screening test to aid detection and prevention.

There are people you meet who put life in clear and proper perspective. I first met Kristen Larsen and her sister, Elsa, at the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital while they were advocating for more funding for ovarian cancer clinical trials. Kristen was diagnosed with stage 3C ovarian cancer in 2013, at the age of 21. Kristen was one of the most charismatic, zesty and articulate warriors I've met. She lived by the motto 'If your dreams don't scare you, they're not big enough.' Even while undergoing years and years of gruelling treatment, Kristen was the loudest voice in the room, bringing awareness to ovarian cancer and fighting for better funding.

Every year, approximately 1,000 Australian women die from ovarian cancer. To Kristen, this was 1,000 women too many. Kristen knew firsthand that funding for ovarian cancer research and clinical trials was going to be the only hope for the 1,600 Australian women who are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year. Kristen also passionately believed that she needed to be vulnerable and share her story so that other women diagnosed with ovarian cancer, especially young women, weren't alone. Kristen was the Brisbane regional coordinator of the Australia New Zealand Gynaecological Oncology Group program Survivors Teaching Students and she chronicled her experience living with cancer on her blog and podcast Ovarshare, where she interviewed fellow survivors.

In 2019 Kristen was deservedly a Young Australian of the Year finalist, and one of my proudest days was working with Kristen and Elsa, alongside the member for Maribyrnong, the member for Ballarat and the member for Paterson here to secure $2.3 billion in a cancer plan as part of the ALP's election commitments in 2019. Kristen's compelling address to Parliament House in 2019 was instrumental in securing $20 million for ovarian cancer research and $15 million for clinical trials into gynaecological cancers, the highest ever amount of funding secured.

Unfortunately Kristen passed away on 9 December last year. Kristen did not believe that death meant losing the battle or the fight. Cancer did not beat Kristen. Kristen beat cancer by living an incredible life. So today I stand in this place to carry on Kristen's work and to honour her remarkable life. While Australia's overall cancer survival rates are the best in the world, only 46 out of every 100 women are still alive five years after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer. With no screening test to aid detection and prevention, most women remain unaware they have ovarian cancer until it is at an advanced stage, with too little hope for a cure. Currently the best way of detecting the disease is to know and recognise the signs and symptoms. But the symptoms can be hard to pin down and are often hidden by women's tendency to be stoic in the face of pain and discomfort or mistaken for feeling tired or for going through menopause.

I commend the government for their $35 million commitment to funding ovarian and gynaecological cancer research and clinical trials, but it isn't good enough that Australian women currently must wait until they notice the symptoms of ovarian cancer as the best method for detecting something so deadly. We need early detection, we need treatment and we need the cure. We need them as soon as possible, because, like I said, 46 per cent of Australian women affected can't afford to wait five more years.

Kristen also spoke frequently about the hidden costs of cancer that not many Australians fully understand until they are faced with them head-on. Medical expenses and regular bills like utilities, school fees and groceries aren't paused or forgotten just because you're diagnosed with cancer. While your world stops on its axis, the world around you continues to spin. In Kristin's case, she ran out of treatment options in the public sector and had to go private. Even between her insurance and subsidies, the out-of-pocket expenses were a huge burden. Kristin spoke about one of her friends who was also diagnosed with ovarian cancer. They had the same doctor and they needed the same drug, but it wasn't yet approved on the PBS. Kristin was able to qualify for the trial and participate for free, but her friend did not qualify and had to pay $6,000 every three weeks to participate. She eventually made the unimaginable decision to stop the trial because she couldn't afford it. She passed away.

I would like to finish by speaking about Kristin's sister, Elsa. When Kristin was diagnosed in 2013, Elsa put her career on hold without hesitation to become Kristin's caregiver and give her the best life possible. Kristin and Elsa were inseparable. Kristin and Elsa were magical. Now we must all follow in their wake. To Elsa: thank you for every minute that you gave. And to Kristin: you will be missed. Together you two achieved great things.

Photo of Rob MitchellRob Mitchell (McEwen, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the motion seconded?

11:06 am

Photo of Katie AllenKatie Allen (Higgins, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the motion and I rise to speak on the member for Lilley's motion. With matters such as this we need bipartisan support. I'd like to note that February is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. Each year, over 1,500 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer. The devastating reality is that approximately 46 per cent of women will die from it within five years. With no early detection test, ovarian cancer is one of the deadliest female cancers. This is because symptoms are non-specific and are often ignored or misdiagnosed. It's so important that we educate women about the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer, which can include increased abdominal size or persistent abdominal bloating, pain, feeling full after eating a small amount, and needing to go to the loo frequently. As a young medical student, I was devastated to be close to someone who died from ovarian cancer. She didn't know that the symptoms of bloating were terminal. She didn't know that she was living with a time bomb. Unfortunately, many decades later, ovarian cancer remains a disease that's difficult to diagnose, difficult to detect. And we don't have good solutions.

That is why I was honoured to be asked to become an ambassador for Ovarian Cancer Australia along with the member for Paterson on the other side of the chamber and Senator Hanson-Young in the other place. To truly tackle diseases like ovarian cancer, we must have bipartisan support in government to make sure we are all striving for a common goal to reduce and eventually eradicate this terrible disease.

As we know, cancer has no rules. It doesn't always do what we want it to. The Ovarian Cancer Australia website is full of so many brave women who are willing to share their stories to help raise awareness. There are stories such as Michelle's. She tells us how she was diagnosed with stage 1C ovarian cancer at just 23. Katherine was just 22 when doctors found a cancerous tumour on her ovary. These women had symptoms that any of us could have.

Ovarian Cancer Australia is at the forefront of raising awareness and supporting those who've been affected by ovarian cancer and their families. Their vision to save lives and ensure no woman with cancer walks alone has been a huge support for hundreds of women. They work to ensure women living with ovarian cancer have a strong and united voice.

Over the last 15 years, we've seen a dramatic improvement in the survival rates of cervical cancer. Education about early detection and the wonderful cervical cancer vaccine that was discovered and developed here in Australia are things that we should all be proud of and have resulted in a significant drop in the rate of cervical cancer and a wonderful increase in survival rates. Now it's time to get those same results for ovarian cancer. And we are heading in the right direction. The Australian government has invested strongly in this area, announcing $20 million in grant funding specifically to look at the cause, diagnosis, treatment and, ultimately, a cure. This is on top of the $15 million dedicated for new clinical trials involving gynaecological cancers, including ovarian cancers. Scientists, researchers and doctors are ready. The science is ready to advance in this space, and the Morrison government is there, ready to invest, to give the scientists, to give the doctors and to give the medical researchers the opportunity to help patients not just here in Australia but around the world. Australia is already punching above its weight in medical research. We have some of the best research coming out of our universities, our centres for cooperative research and our hospitals, but we should be bold and brave and ready to help tackle the scourge of ovarian cancer head-on.

Ovarian Cancer Australia's advocacy work is to be commended. Teal Ribbon Day 2020 is in just a couple of days time on 26 February, and I encourage all in this chamber to pledge their support to raising awareness of ovarian cancer and its symptoms not just in the month of February but all year round. There's so much more that we can do, and ovarian cancer is one of those hidden, silent diseases. If you have symptoms, go see your doctor. Early detection is the only way forward.

11:11 am

Photo of Meryl SwansonMeryl Swanson (Paterson, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It's really a bittersweet feeling to stand here and talk about ovarian cancer today in Australia. Firstly, I'd like to thank very much the member for Lilley for raising this motion. Along with so many others, her advocacy on this important issue is something that I think we could all learn a lot from. It is just one of those things that not enough people know enough about. Ovarian cancer is the eighth most common cancer in Australia, yet it stills claims the lives of far too many women. More than half the 1,800 women diagnosed each year lose their life to this cancer—more than half. There is no reliable screening test to aid detection and prevention, but there are incredible advocates who are pushing for more research, technology and awareness.

Last year, I was approached by Jane Hill from Ovarian Cancer Australia, and I was delighted by the invitation to become an Ovarian Cancer Australia ambassador, along with Senator Hanson-Young and the member for Higgins, Katie Allen, who just spoke a moment ago. Ovarian Cancer Australia was founded by people directly affected by ovarian cancer who wanted to raise awareness of the disease and support those who had been affected. Over time, Ovarian Cancer Australia has built on its founders' aspirations to become a leading national body taking action for Australians impacted by ovarian cancer. As a proud member of this organisation, our vision is to save lives and ensure no woman with ovarian cancer walks alone.

Any life that is taken by ovarian cancer is, of course, one too many. That includes the life of a dear friend of mine, Jill Emberson. Jill lost her battle with cancer earlier this year. Jill and I had known each other since she first arrived in Newcastle over 10 years ago. She was a radio broadcaster and so was I. Whilst Newcastle is a thriving city, it's still a small town when it comes to the media market. I quickly became friends with Jill. We actually did one of the most rare things that neither of us thought we would ever do: we were asked to be in a 'women of the media' photoshoot in a very beautiful, glossy magazine. We laughed a lot that day, and realised just how out of our comfort zone we were. Jill and I just squealed every time they'd ask us to do something, and say: 'Don't you realise we're from radio and what we look like doesn't matter? It's just how we sound and what we say.' That was one of my fondest days with Jill; we had such a great day. She leaves behind two of the loves of her life: her darling daughter, Malia, and Dr Ken Lambert. She and Ken were only married fairly recently. She had to have emergency neurosurgery, and in recovery from that surgery she proposed to Ken. She wasn't a big fan of marriage, but she realised that he had probably saved her life. He said, 'Look, we'll just talk about it when you come round a bit more, shall we, Jill?' But obviously he did say yes and they were married.

Jill did an amazing job of being an ambassador for ovarian cancer. One of the big things she was so passionate about was the fact that we know so much about breast cancer—there's been some extraordinary work done there—yet we know so little about ovarian cancer. She said, 'It's time we took, literally, a bottom-down look at this,' and Pink Meets Teal was born. Rather than compete against breast cancer, she wanted to say to the women of Australia, to the medical profession, to the researchers: 'Breast cancer has obviously been a terrific awareness campaign. Now we need the teal side—the ovaries—to be looked at as well.'

Jill has certainly left an incredible legacy: her podcast, Still Jill; the work that she did helping to raise awareness not only here in this building but also through things like Australian Story; and the fact that she had a voice in the media. Rather than just curl up and look after herself, as she was more than entitled to do, she kept a very public life going amidst incredible battles. She really spoke to people on such a deep and human level, and she was able to communicate that message. She spoke at the Press Club with such passion; I'll never forget that day. She wrote to the minister, Greg Hunt, on her deathbed, two days before she passed. She asked him to allocate $20 million annually, reoccurring every year, to ovarian cancer. She didn't receive a response, but I hope that it will come.

The most important thing is that we care for each other and look after each other. In this month of ovarian cancer awareness, I say: vale Jill, and please go to your doctor if you have any of the symptoms which are well known.

11:16 am

Photo of Celia HammondCelia Hammond (Curtin, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for Lilley for raising this important motion and, more importantly, for putting ovarian cancer on the public record. I also acknowledge and thank other members for sharing personal stories about the impact of ovarian cancer. While I'm about to cite statistics—and we need statistics to inform policy expenditure—there is nothing like the human side; we must never forget the human side in any of these discussions. So I thank members for raising those human stories.

As previous members have outlined, every year over 1,500 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer and every year over 1,000 women die from the disease. It is estimated to be between the eighth- and tenth-most commonly diagnosed cancer in Australian women. It is the most lethal women's cancer and the sixth-most common cause of cancer death in Australia.

In Australia the overall five-year survival rate for women diagnosed with ovarian cancer is 46 per cent. That has to be compared with the five-year survival rate for cervical cancer, which is 72 per cent; for breast cancer, which is 91 per cent; and for prostate cancer, which is 95 per cent. While we celebrate the improvements we've made in those areas, we have got so much more to do when it comes to ovarian cancer. One thing is to start with early diagnosis. At this point in time, and as noted by the member for Lilley, there is no effective early detection screening test for ovarian cancer. Given the advances that we have made in other areas of health, and the talented medical researchers all over our country, the absence of an early detection test is not something we should accept. We need to invest in and support research that leads to improved diagnosis and treatment of ovarian cancer.

I'm pleased to note that the government is doing things in this space. Last year the government announced $35 million for ovarian and gynaecological cancer research through the Medical Research Future Fund. This includes $20 million for research grants, which will contribute to a greater understanding of the causes and underlying factors contributing to the development and progression of ovarian cancer. The government is doing this through subsidising medicines for ovarian cancer on the PBS and continuing to support improved access to medicines and treatments through the PBS and Medicare. The government has also provided $4.5 million to Ovarian Cancer Australia for patient support for the Traceback project and the ovarian cancer case management pilot. While I note all that the government is doing and commend the government on it, I would also urge the government to continue to prioritise investment in and expenditure on research to tackle ovarian cancer and to provide support for ovarian cancer sufferers and survivors. There is still so much more that needs to be done.

I would also add that there's a lot that we can do. One of the things we need to do, given that there is no early detection screening, is ensure that all women are aware of the risks, the signs and the symptoms so that they can seek help at the earliest possible time. To that end, I note that the risks include if you have family history of ovarian cancer or if you have family history of breast or colon cancer or if you have a mutation in one of several known genes. Other risks include increasing age, use of HRT, obesity, tobacco smoking and medical conditions such as endometriosis.

The symptoms, as noted by the member for Lilley, include abdominal or pelvic pain, increased abdominal size or persistent abdominal bloating, the need to urinate often or urgently and feeling full after eating only a small amount. As is evident from that list, and as was made clear by the member for Lilley, they are vague and non-specific. I guarantee that most women in this country could say at various points in their life that they have experienced all of those symptoms at some point. Women tend to put it down to something you just put up with. I think the word 'stoic' was used. Given the lethalness of this disease, any woman experiencing persistent symptoms should get them checked out immediately.

My message to all women in my electorate of Curtin and across Australia is: if you are concerned or have any suspicious symptoms, make an appointment with your local GP. Don't just suck it up and get on with things. My message to all Australians is: get on board with Teal Ribbon Day and Ovarian Cancer Awareness Day more generally to ensure that we continue to raise awareness in our communities, that we continue to support those who are suffering, that it continues to be on the national agenda and that we raise vital funds for research.

11:21 am

Photo of Sharon ClaydonSharon Claydon (Newcastle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm very pleased to speak on this motion on ovarian cancer today. I thank the member for Lilley for bringing it forward, and the member for Paterson—all members, indeed, including the government members, who've spoken on this bill and made contributions today. This is a diabolically deadly cancer for Australian women, and it is going to take the will of all in this parliament to make a change.

Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month and Teal Ribbon Day are, of course, great opportunities to raise awareness and understanding of this terrible and, as I said, truly deadly disease and to fight for increased investment into the research that we know is so desperately needed. Every day four Australian women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Over a year, that's 1,500 women who will learn that they have this disease. While there have been some incredible breakthroughs that have driven down the rates of other types of cancers, survival rates for ovarian cancer remain distressingly low. Indeed, 1,000 Australian women will die each year from ovarian cancer, with only 46 per cent of women surviving beyond five years. That is the lowest survival rate for any women's cancer. Compare that to breast cancer, which has a five-year survival rate of more than 90 per cent now. That's the benchmark we should be aiming for.

Part of the problem is that there's currently no early detection test—we've been hearing this in the debate this morning—and the symptoms are often very similar to a lot of other conditions. As a result, women can wait for many months for an accurate diagnosis, and often their disease has advanced significantly by that time. These problems are compounded by difficulties in treatment. It's a complex disease with multiple manifestations and characteristics. And, for those who do go into remission, the likelihood of that cancer recurring is high. But, despite all this—despite the multiple lethal challenges and grave statistics—ovarian cancer receives less than a quarter of the funding of other deadly cancers.

There is, however, a strong movement driven by some incredible champions of change who are fighting to turn this around. One of those champions has been Jill Emberson. She was a very special advocate and a woman of enormous strength from my home city of Newcastle. She was an ABC journalist and a community leader, who was recently named the Newcastle Citizen of the Year. But Jill's life was tragically cut short by ovarian cancer last December. After a four-year battle with ovarian cancer, she didn't make even her fifth year review period. But her life touched the lives of so many people, and she has left an enormous legacy for us all. She was, of course, the most precious of persons in my regard. She was a builder of communities. She knew how to find common ground, how to highlight injustices and how to build alliances and coalitions, bringing people together from all walks of life to commit to making our world a better place. For that we remain deeply indebted to Jill.

In her latter years, Jill took on a new role—that of an activist. She championed the call for fair funding for ovarian cancer research. She became a regular visitor to this Australian parliament, knocking on doors and presenting a powerful case for greater investment into research to better diagnose, prevent and treat the disease. I recall vividly the very powerful address that she and Kristen Larsen made at an ovarian cancer breakfast here in Parliament House just last February—less than 12 months ago. They pleaded for increased funding and additional funds for research. That both these amazing women are now dead is both diabolical and a stark reminder to us all of just how appalling the survival rate for this disease is. However, Jill's advocacy in Canberra—both in Parliament House and at the National Press Club—bore results, including the one-off boost of $20 million for ovarian cancer research which the Minister for Health, Greg Hunt, announced last year.

In her final days Jill wrote to the minister, thanking him for that money but making very clear that $4 million a year over five years was never going to be enough to cut this. So I'm standing here, joining Jill's campaign that she left for all of us—the Pink Meets Teal campaign that she kickstarted in Newcastle—and campaigning for what has to be really fair and adequate funding. The cause has actually gone on in Newcastle: Jill said $20 million a year and Pink Meets Teal says $50 million a year might go some way to making a difference.

11:26 am

Photo of Bridget ArcherBridget Archer (Bass, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

As we've heard, each year in Australia over 1,500 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Australia has made great progress towards improving cancer outcomes but there is still much work to do for ovarian cancer. The month of February is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, and in the lead-up to Teal Ribbon Day this Wednesday 26 February it is important for us to do what we can to help raise awareness of the disease, its symptoms and what the future looks like for the treatment of some 4,000 women living with ovarian cancer.

As we've heard, a significant challenge in the early detection of ovarian cancer is the fact that there is no early detection test available and that symptoms can be hard to spot. Some common symptoms are increased abdominal size or persistent abdominal bloating, abdominal or pelvic pain, feeling full after eating a small amount and needing to urinate often or urgently. Women often put any ailment down to being overworked and overtired, but I urge women, if these types of symptoms are persistent or if they think that something isn't right, to make an appointment to visit their GP, and always to seek a second opinion.

Currently, the five-year survival rate for women diagnosed with ovarian cancer is just 46 per cent. This is due in part to the lack of an early detection test and clear early symptoms, leading to a later diagnosis, when survival outcomes are poor. Research remains our best hope of defeating ovarian cancer and of developing more effective treatments that will prevent or control the condition. Since 2013 the government has invested over $43 million for ovarian cancer research through the National Health and Medical Research Council, and it's also committed to supporting life-saving medical research through the Medical Research Future Fund. Last year, the government also committed $1.6 million to Ovarian Cancer Australia for the Ovarian Cancer Case Management Pilot. This will trial the delivery of a psychosocial support case management model using telehealth to support ovarian cancer patients and their families, with a focus on women living in rural, regional and remote Australia.

In my own community, I asked my friend Caroline Brown if I could share her mother's story. Annette passed away recently after a prolonged battle with ovarian cancer, but not before doing what she could to raise money and awareness of the disease. Behind every number is a real person who means so much to those who know and love them, and I would like Caroline's own words to do the talking here.

My mum, Annette Bain was diagnosed in 2010 with stage 4 Ovarian Cancer after multiple trips to the doctor over six months to find out why she was unwell. Once she had her diagnosis there were surgeries to remove tumours and multiple rounds of chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Throughout her battles mum's unbelievable strength shone through and when she was feeling well enough, her mind turned to learning as much as she could about the disease, the ways she could educate other women and help raise funds to find a method of early detection and hopefully a cure. Ovarian Cancer is often called a silent killer due to the symptoms being so vague and once detected it is usually in later stages.

Mum was instrumental in holding multiple Afternoon Teal fundraising events during Ovarian Cancer Awareness month and encouraged me to take part in many Frocktober events, despite not being a great fan, at the time, of dresses. She encouraged awareness for the public in Launceston through numerous interviews with The Examiner and on local radio.

She became one of the state ambassadors for Ovarian Cancer Australia and through this position spoke with many groups including Rotary & Soroptimists, as well as taking part in the Ovarian Cancer awareness events held at the Launceston Black Pepper store.

We have many to thank for giving us extra time with mum—the Holman Clinic at the LGH, Dr Penny Blomfield, Dr Jeremy Power and their teams. Finally, to the amazing palliative care team at the Melwood Unit, especially Dr Zhen Lim.

Mum fought her battle like she lived her life—quietly, courageously, with dignity and grace.

Caroline continues:

There are many women still battling this disease and sadly many more will be diagnosed. Thanks to ambassadors like Kristen Larsen, who lost her battle at 27; Jill Emberson, who lost her battle 4 years after being diagnosed and my mum, who lost her battle in December last year, more people are now aware of the disease, getting themselves checked if they have any symptoms and helping raise the much needed funds.

11:31 am

Photo of Mike FreelanderMike Freelander (Macarthur, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I would like to congratulate the member for Lilley for bringing forward this motion on ovarian cancer to the House, and I would like also to congratulate the previous speakers on this motion. I'm speaking on this motion because, like many in Australia and around the world, my family has been affected by ovarian cancer. Indeed, we lost a very close friend to ovarian cancer in 2014. As has already been mentioned, ovarian cancer is a common cancer in women and the five-year survival rate is only 46 per cent—one of the worst for the common cancers. In most cases, ovarian cancer is diagnosed quite late, at which stage treatment is very difficult. This month is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month and in two days time it will be Teal Ribbon Day. Any donation made to Ovarian Cancer Australia will be matched by their sponsors. It's an incredibly worthy cause, and I encourage all members of parliament to consider donating.

The average age of women when they are diagnosed with ovarian cancer is 64. It's mainly diagnosed in women over the age of 50, but I myself have cared for a child aged 13 who had ovarian cancer. Thankfully, she has done very well. Ovarian cancer is described often as a silent cancer: the symptoms are vague and they often come on at the time of menopause or later. It is easy to ascribe the symptoms of ovarian cancer to menopause, so the diagnosis is often missed. As has already been mentioned, women are expected to be stoic, and often the symptoms are left for a long time before simple screening measures, such as a pelvic ultrasound, are undertaken, and the diagnosis is missed till late.

Every year about 1,600 Australian women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and approximately 1,000 women die from the disease. That is a really shocking statistic. There is no really early method of detection, and, as I've mentioned, many cases are diagnosed after the cancer has spread. Ovarian cancer in 2019 remained the sixth-most common cause of death from cancer amongst females. Unfortunately, there is no reliable screening test, but we do know that there are some risk factors—some of the BRCA genes are associated with increased risk of ovarian cancer, as are other things such as family history. There is no proven method of prevention, and that even includes removal of the ovaries.

The state of women's health in this nation is part of the issue. There has not been an overall, comprehensive look at women's health in Australia, and there's been a lack of investment in research for decades into aspects of women's health. I do congratulate the government on their $20 million package for research and management of ovarian cancer, but this is a drop in the ocean compared to what's required. There needs to be a comprehensive plan for the management of women's health, and in particular for ovarian cancer, going forward over the next 10 to 20 years.

In the last election Labor announced a $12 million funding increase to Ovarian Cancer Australia's national action plan, and that included creating a national ovarian cancer registry to track diagnosis and treatment and to help coordinate research. Clearly, much more needs to be done. The research pertaining to major breakthroughs in other areas of health is not seen in women's health, and that's something that wee need to foster: overall research into women's health and in particular ovarian cancer. We need major changes in awareness, and, whilst I do acknowledge the government's funding, much more needs to be done. Whilst we have seen some improvements in survival rates of breast cancer, prostate cancer, cervical cancer and ovarian cancer, the statistics are stark and there's been very little improvement in the last 20 years. We need also to Support Ovarian Cancer Australia's National Action Plan for Ovarian Cancer Research. This is a groundbreaking national action plan that needs to be funded properly and we need much more awareness of ovarian cancer and funding for ovarian cancer research.

11:36 am

Photo of Russell BroadbentRussell Broadbent (Monash, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I congratulate all the speakers, and I identify with what they've said. We've just heard reports directly from the doctor's mouth. He has actually dealt directly with these people. In 12 months time, 1,000 women will be dead because of this disease. We just heard the member for Macarthur say that there hasn't been an improvement in the last 15 years. You've heard all of the government's proposals outlined. You've heard it outlined that the current minister has put $20 million into further research. We thank him for that, and then we say, 'That's not enough.' Why is it that with ovarian and pancreatic cancer the moment we hear about it we throw up our hands? Well, obviously the health sector doesn't throw up their hands with any patient in Australia—not one. Everybody gets care. What an amazing country we're in where you immediately get care.

Isn't she beautiful? This is me last week at Sally's funeral. That's a photo of her as a young girl and another photo of her as a young girl on the back, with her devastated father and family. The marriage didn't work out, but she was an amazing person. She was absolutely incredible. She did her masters in environment in her later years and made a huge contribution. She did her work so quickly the public servants around her didn't like her very much, so she decided not to work for the Public Service anymore. She went out and worked for other areas. It was a story of a beautiful girl who died of ovarian cancer. This was the week that I was sitting there hearing this story and thinking, 'We must have worked out fairly quick that there was something wrong.' But it was said in one of the speeches—and the doctor said it then—that we don't actually expect Australian women to be stoic. They are. They are tough. People like my mum went for years with illnesses undetected and just put up with it, until they found out what it was. Women have been doing that in Australia since the tall ships arrived, and probably long before that, toughing it out and doing the right thing—'There's nothing wrong with me.' Have you heard the line, 'Oh, there are a lot worse off than me around the place'? Have you heard that line? 'I don't need to go to the doctor.' They accuse men all the time of not looking after their health by going the GP—true, true—but there are a lot of women who do the same thing because they are busy, because they are active, because they have grandchildren. That average age of 64 frightened me too because that is the age when people should be enjoying the best part of their lives. Sally was 54. She had the perfect opportunity. She looked after her mum; she was looking after her dad, who was over 90. She nursed her mum to death beautifully. She came home to look after them. There wasn't a problem with money—throw everything you like at it. Isn't she beautiful? Well, she's one of 1,000 this year and 1,000 next year and 1,000 the year after. We say to the government of the day, as a group of parliamentarians concerned about our response to ovarian cancer, 'There will be 3,000 people dead over the next three years due to this cancer.' If we had that in any other field, for heaven's sake, we would be saying, 'What are we going to do?'

You know, two months ago we were in here asking for more money for lung cancer. Not all lung cancer is connected to smoking. It can be connected to a whole lot of other things, which people have found out over time. Yes, we need to put more research into this. But, when we do that, we have got to remember they are real people with real lives, with real stories to tell and with real families who are broken-hearted. If we had the facilities and resources to have a real go at ovarian cancer, why shouldn't we be first in the world to come up with an early detection? Why shouldn't we be? Not why aren't we but why shouldn't we be the first in the world? If you want a nation that is looking forward, that can change the world not only for the rest of the world but for our women here, our families—our sisters and our daughters and our mums—we can do it. We just need the energy.

11:42 am

Photo of Pat ConroyPat Conroy (Shortland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for International Development and the Pacific) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak in support of this excellent motion by the member for Lilley. I associate myself with all of the fine remarks of everyone who has participated in this debate, especially the heart-felt contribution from the member for Monash. This motion recognises that we are coming up to Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. At the heart of this motion is acknowledgement that there is so much more that this country, the government, this parliament can do to support women who contract this disease. I hold an annual fundraiser for Ovarian Cancer Australia, and this year our morning tea was held last Friday at Belmont Golf Club. I am delighted to say that 150 people took the opportunity to join me for morning tea, where we enjoyed teal cupcakes by Vicki Brogan, Country Women's Association scones baked by Vicky Lovegreen and Aisla Stewart, and a fashion parade by Belmont boutique Uproar.

An honourable member: You will need a bigger suit.

I will, indeed, by the number of scones I ate. We also heard from guest speaker Cath Adams, a psychologist who works with cancer patients at Hunter New England Health. We paid tribute to a wonderful woman who was a guest speaker at last year's event, former ABC journalist Jill Emberson, who was such a fierce advocate for this cause. She sadly lost her battle with this disease on 12 December last year. I knew Jill well. She would demand that I pause right now to remind everyone she only had one symptom—that was, constipation. Other speakers have spoken about the challenge of this disease, and Jill's passing started with only one symptom. I previously have told this House of Jill's dogged determination to make her final years count and she did—speaking at Parliament House, rebuking every single member of parliament, helping gain a $20 million commitment for ovarian cancer research and a further $15 million towards women's reproductive cancer trials. Of course, more is needed.

I was so happy that through our one event last week we raised $4,000 for Ovarian Cancer Australia. I would like to thank Andrew Robertson of The Good Guys Warner Bay for donating the major prize; Carolyn Bear for selling her jewellery, which has raised $200,000. I know Meryl has joined with to her. Thanks also to Belmont Golf Club, Murrays Meats, Cafe Macquarie and Islas Canarias Tapas Bar.

There is so much more work that needs to be done. We know that in Australia four women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer every day and, tragically, three women will die of the disease every day. It has the lowest survival rate of any women's cancer. We know that less than half of all women diagnosed with the cancer will still be alive five years later. We know that there is no reliable screening test to aid detection and prevention.

Great research on this disease is being done around the world and in Australia. I want to highlight the contribution that is being made in Newcastle through the Hunter Medical Research Institute. In fact, Jill Emberson chose the HMRI to be the beneficiary of money she raised in her name. The result is a PhD scholarship that will build on important research already occurring. That work is being done by Associate Professor Nikola Bowden, who was also a guest speaker last year's Morning Teal. I want to thank her and her great team of researchers and congratulate them on their commitment to this vital work.

What these and other researchers throughout Australia need is more money. While the federal government committed $20 million to ovarian cancer research, we all need to do more. I want to encourage all my constituents and others throughout Australia to make a contribution, however small, towards Ovarian Cancer Australia's goal of raising $500,000 this month. Paint the Town Teal events are being held throughout Australia. If an event raises just $55 it will provide one woman living with this disease with an Ovarian Cancer Australia resilience kit to help them live as long as possible.

In the past 30 years great leaps have been made in awareness, funding and survival rates of other cancers—in particular, breast cancer and prostate cancer. In comparison to the 46 per cent survival rate for ovarian cancer, the five-year survival rate for cervical cancer is now at 72 per cent, breast cancer is at 91 per cent and prostate cancer is at 95 per cent. That is phenomenally good news, but ovarian cancer continues to be the most challenging of female cancers. It takes away our mothers, our daughters, our wives and our sisters. It is not going away. More funding is needed. Every dollar counts. I will always remember the passionate speech by Jill Emberson last year in which she challenged every single MP to do more. We must do more. I thank the member for Lilley for moving this motion.

Photo of Sharon BirdSharon Bird (Cunningham, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The time allotted for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.