House debates

Tuesday, 7 February 2023

Questions without Notice

Organ and Tissue Donation

2:18 pm

Photo of Bob KatterBob Katter (Kennedy, Katter's Australian Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Health minister, are you aware that bone marrow registration has shrunk, yet recently, $300,000 in private funding tripled registrations overseas for donor-tissue. Cheek-swab programs could be introduced here with publicity in uni colleges, military and the public service with a donor age up to 40. Minister, couldn't we save a thousand lives? Bonnie Black battles for her life in Charters Towers. There is 40-year-old Maggie at Cronulla. It's too late for 13-year-old Missy of Malanda. Four-year-old Robbie and his little sister pray to Jesus for their dad, Liam O'Brien.

2:19 pm

Photo of Mark ButlerMark Butler (Hindmarsh, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Health and Aged Care) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for Kennedy for his question on this very important health challenge that faces so many Australians. I also want to thank the member, first of all, for bringing this issue to my attention yesterday but also for arranging meeting that we had together with Liam and Josephine, as Liam faces a really difficult battle against leukaemia. Liam is not just in the fight of his life for his life; he and Josephine have also brought enormous energy, time and resources, doing fundraising and media appearances, to draw attention to an area of health care that, frankly, has moved too slowly in this country. I thank the member for his question today and for that engagement over the last 24 hours.

In his absence, I also want to acknowledge that the Chief Opposition Whip, the member for Forde, and I had a discussion about this issue in the chamber just yesterday afternoon. As the member knows and many others will, bone marrow donations provide the stem cells that are required for stem cell transplants, life-saving treatments today for people who are fighting leukaemia and a range of other blood cancers.

It's clear to me, though, that Australia has not moved fast enough to enable more effective matching of bone marrow donors with patients like Liam and so many others that the member for Kennedy mentioned in his question. It's also clear to me that our bone marrow donation system in Australia is too small—there aren't enough people on the registry—it's too slow, and it has not kept up with international standards, including on things like cheek swabs and age limits on donors. We know that cheek swabs are an effective and very economical way of bringing additional donors to the registry and giving people like Liam and so many others a different, better chance at life. Used across the world, this is not a system that has yet been introduced in Australia.

What isn't clear to me, though, is why Australia has moved so slowly over the past decade in particular, compared to some of the other countries that Liam, the member for Kennedy, and Josephine mentioned to me yesterday. It seems, as unfortunately is so often the case in health policy, that part of the problem is that no single government between the Commonwealth and the states and territories has sole responsibility or sole authority to make sure that Australia keeps pace with the rest of the world and with these advances in technology. Frankly, as the member knows and as I think all members know, in cases like this, that's just not good enough.

After my meeting with the member for Kennedy, Liam and Josephine yesterday, I'm writing right now to the chair of the Health Ministers' Meeting to seek their agreement to cut through some of this jurisdictional bureaucratic red tape—to do everything we can to clear the way—that is currently denying patients in Australia the best chance to access this life-saving technology.