Wednesday, 17 February 2021
Resolutions of the Senate
International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day; Consideration of Senate Message
I have received the following message from the Senate:
The Senate transmits to the House of Representatives the following resolution which was agreed to by the Senate this day:
That the Senate—
(1) notes that:
(a) 15 October is International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day, on which parents, families and friends memorialise babies lost through miscarriage, stillbirth and infant death; and
(b) in Australia:
(i) approximately one in four pregnancies result in miscarriage—103,000 every year;
(ii) in 2018, 2,789 lives were lost due to stillbirth or newborn death;
(iii) stillbirth rates have not changed in two decades; and
(iv) the rate of stillbirth and newborn death is higher in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples;
(2) congratulates the Government for implementing the Senate Select Committee on Stillbirth's recommendation for a national stillbirth action plan which sets an achievable goal of a 20 per cent reduction in rates of stillbirth over five years;
(3) extends condolences and sympathies to families who have suffered a miscarriage, stillbirth or infant death;
(4) recognises previous generations who experienced such a loss during a time when the subject was taboo, and families were given even less of an opportunity to commemorate and remember their children; and
(5) officially and eternally recognises 15 October as International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day.
The Senate requests the concurrence of the House of Representatives in this resolution.
Ordered that the message be considered immediately.
I'm pleased to support this motion from the other place. We should and we will officially and eternally recognise 15 October as International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. It is our task, as elected representatives of the people of Australia, to address issues that are sensitive and difficult, and pregnancy and infant loss are certainly two of those issues. For generations, miscarriage and still birth have been considered a taboo topic. The incredible tragedy of losing a baby was compounded by society-wide silence that saw mothers and fathers and extended families forced to quietly cope with their grief. Not only were parents suffering the unimaginable pain of having a baby born still not supported after the loss; research into the reasons why and policy action to prevent others suffering this terrible tragedy was not forthcoming. Today, I again extend my deep sympathy and condolences to anyone who has experienced such loss.
I first learnt about the issue of stillbirth thanks to the work of Claire Ford and her organisation Still Aware, which she founded after her first child, her daughter Alfie, was born still. Claire made it her life's work to ensure that other women, families and medical professionals know all about the risk factors involved in stillbirth and the simple steps that can be taken to keep an unborn baby safe. I was truly shocked to learn that women didn't know about these things and that many medical professionals were not communicating the simple things that women can do to keep their babies safe. Further, I was more shocked to learn that about 2,200 babies are born still each year in Australia and that rate has not changed for several decades. This number of babies lost, of babies born still, is about double the number of road fatalities in our nation, and, while we all know about what to do to stay safe on the roads, too many women and medical professionals still don't know what to do to keep unborn babies safe. There are very simple things that have greatly reduced the rate of stillbirth in other countries, such as encouraging women to sleep on their side after 28 weeks and also to monitor their baby's movements and to urgently seek medical advice if anything changes. These are the sorts of simple things women can do to keep themselves and their babies safe. I think probably one of the most important messages to all pregnant women and their partners is: if you are concerned about your unborn baby, do not wait to seek medical assistance; seek assistance immediately.
I'm really proud to have worked with colleagues, in this place and the other, to make sure that we communicate these messages to as many women, medical professionals and families as possible and that we have started the education awareness and policy and research processes that should have started decades ago. It was back in December 2018 that we announced our initial $7.2 million of funding to support stillbirth measures, including $3 million of funding for stillbirth education and awareness programs; $1.2 million for a research project to minimise preventable stillbirth through the use of biomarkers and ultrasound in late pregnancy; $3 million in research funding to expand the Safer Baby Bundle project, making it a national program; and $1.3 million for Sands Australia to deliver an intensive support service for families following a stillbirth. We have also provided $43.9 million over seven years for perinatal mental health and wellbeing, which also helps to support families who have experienced the grief of losing a child.
Late last year, on 10 December, I was immensely proud to be present when we released the National Stillbirth Action and Implementation Plan. This is the document that will guide us as decision-makers and help all of our policymakers, departments and medical advocacy groups around the nation to make sure we stay on track to take all the steps we need to reduce the number of stillbirths that occur each year in this nation. Our aim is outlined in the plan, and our aim is to reduce stillbirths by 20 per cent or more over the next five years, which would be a very important and remarkable achievement given that the rate has not changed in two decades. The plan also aims to make sure that every single family affected by stillbirth receives respectful and supportive bereavement care. Again, I do want to record my sincere thanks to Minister Greg Hunt for everything that he has done to make this happen, and also to the former shadow minister for health, Chris Bowen, who I know worked very closely with us all to get this plan up and running. Minister Hunt announced a further $11 million of funding when we launched the National Stillbirth Action and Implementation Plan, which will do things like support further stillbirth education and awareness initiatives and further extend and adapt the Safer Baby Bundle program. We'll develop new clinical care standards, and we're going to improve data and activities to enable long-term research on stillbirths, which is absolutely critical. We have committed money to develop a monitoring and evaluation framework for the plan and will provide funding for state and territory governments to take immediate steps to increase the uptake of stillbirth autopsies and investigations, which is again a really critical factor in trying to get to the bottom of why we lose these babies when they, for all intents and purposes, look healthy and yet are born still. We have also provided $1 million, through a National Health and Medical Research Council grant, to Monash University to conduct a trial of wearable low-cost devices to monitor fetal movements and prevent stillbirth. So I commend this motion. I thank our colleagues in the other place for presenting it and passing it, and I am delighted that the House is doing so as well.
I strongly support the move to recognise International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day in this building and, like the member for Boothby, thank the Senate for their consideration and for proposing it. I thank those senators who worked so hard on bringing this to fruition. Stillbirth has been in the dark for too long. It has been a silent tragedy for too long. It has been ignored for too long, and a proper and appropriate recognition in this building of the loss that so many Australian families have suffered and continue to suffer would be a very important moment in this building and in this country. We've all participated in the various ceremonies that occur around the building, recognising tragedies, apologising in the appropriate circumstances and commemorating, with the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition of the day coming together with all members to share in the loss that so many Australians have suffered. A day to mark stillbirth and pregnancy loss should be one of those days, and I believe it will be.
Many Australian families have for many years been dealing with the grief and with that grief not being recognised as true grief. Many people don't understand the grief of stillbirth and pregnancy loss. Still today, it is not commonly understood. With six stillbirths occurring in Australia each day, still today, and with the rate not falling over the last 20 years, we have much work to do. The member for Boothby referred to much of the good work that is occurring, with the National Stillbirth Action and Implementation Plan to bring those rates down—and I have some confidence that it will. But symbolism is important, particularly in this building. The symbolism of recognising the real grief of stillbirth is important. I was struck last year when I talked about my own family's experience—with my two brothers, of whom one died in infancy and one in stillbirth, and my mother, who went to hospital four times to give birth and came home with a child twice, and how her grief wasn't recognised and understood by doctors, by the medical profession and by society, which made her grief so much harder to deal with—by the number of people who contacted me, even though that happened a long time ago, and said, 'It's still the same today.' So we have a long, long way to go.
I want to thank those members and senators who have shared their own personal stories. Senator Keneally and Senator Bilyk have shared the stories of Caroline and Timothy respectively, and Senator Molan has shared the story of his grandchild who was lost to stillbirth. I know there are other members in the House who have suffered similar grief and haven't been able to talk about it publicly, and their grief should be acknowledged and respected as well. They know who they are, and I know who they are, and they grieve every day. They, I'm sure, will participate in the recognition of International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day in their quiet way and they'll make their own contribution, remembering their loss as well. They, I know, have reached out to people in their own way and shared the grief and the bipartisan—more than bipartisan: unanimous—commitment of both houses to ensuring that we shine a light on this problem, on this tragedy, and that we contribute to making those tragedies much rarer, much less common, so that mothers and fathers can go to hospital to give birth and come home with those babies and share the babies with their grandparents and their brothers and sisters much more than happens today.
The Senate inquiry has been a very good process. It's shone a light on many issues that need addressing in our First Nations communities where stillbirth is more prevalent and where there are very complicated issues around birthing in country and other issues which arise from that. We already know that expertise, education, knowledge and awareness is capable of reducing stillbirth. We know we can do it as a country. As a country we've achieved so much when we put effort into it. We've reduced the road toll. We're working on the suicide toll. Our public health campaigns have reduced death rates across the board and cancers. We can do it.
It's about time we did it with stillbirth and pregnancy loss. Holding an appropriate day where the House will come together with our Senate colleagues and share in memorialising those Australians who never had the chance to even leave the hospital they were born in will be an important step in ensuring that we make the same progress with the terrible loss of stillbirth and infant loss. Thank you.
I would like to acknowledge the contributions of the members for Boothby and McMahon, and thank those in the other place who have kept this issue alive. As the mother of two children who did not come home, the most important thing for us is to have our children remembered by our families and the wider community. It is really important because, if you don't talk about it, we don't fix these things, and doctors can't do research and make sure that it doesn't happen again.
I was lucky as I got to be with my children for some time before they passed. To have never been able to say that is awful. To have a baby that is still and know that in the last 40 years the same number of families every year are still going to have that loss is just awful.
I commend the Senate for acknowledging that in this place and I also acknowledge everybody here who every day in their own way, for parents who have people missing, puts an arm around us and makes sure that we are always thought about. Thank you all, because it makes so much difference to us.
Both the member for Boothby and member for McMahon have gone through the statistics. I don't think it's necessary for me to do that as well. However, I congratulate the Senate on this motion and I congratulate Senator Keneally for having the courage to be able to get up and speak. It's obvious that I can't speak about this without getting emotional and I am amazed at her strength and the strengths of others here. Thank you to all my colleagues for your support, and I commend the motion to the House.