House debates

Wednesday, 3 July 2024


Barker Electorate: Health Care

7:50 pm

Photo of Tony PasinTony Pasin (Barker, Liberal Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Transport) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to update the House on my fight to deliver radiation treatment services for the Limestone Coast. To recap, my advocacy in this space began in 2018, when the Radiation Therapy Advisory group, RTAG, began their campaign to raise the profile of radiation therapy across Australia to ensure it was adequately funded by government. The campaign highlighted to me the need for the then coalition government to bridge the radiation therapy gap that's clearly evident in rural and regional Australia, leading to suboptimal cancer treatment in many parts of regional Australia.

Australian studies show that the optimal rate of utilisation for radiation therapy is 48.3 per cent across all cancers, but the current level of utilisation in Australia continues to sit at between 35 and 40 per cent. Another way of looking at this is that 14.2 per cent of Australian cancer patients who would benefit from access to radiation oncology currently miss out. One in three cancer patients in Australia receive radiation treatment, but in Europe and North America that number is one in two. A key barrier to radiation therapy is lack of access, and distance from a treatment centre is one of the biggest contributors to this inequity. The impact of scarce clinical facilities means the choice and experience of Australians in cancer treatment is variable between those living in the cities and those living in urban or regional areas.

Back in 2018 my home state of South Australia was one of the very few states they didn't have a radiation treatment service outside its capital city, and today South Australia is the only state that doesn't have one of those treatment facilities in its regions. In 2019 the coalition government and the then minister for health, Greg Hunt, announced that $63.4 million would be allocated across 13 sites in regional communities, and I was thrilled that a diligent campaign run by my community saw Mount Gambier / Limestone Coast identified as one of those sites. Finally cancer patients in the south-east of South Australia had a light at the end of the tunnel.

Mr Speaker, you can imagine my utter dismay and disgust at learning that the promised funding allocated for Mount Gambier / Limestone Coast could not be delivered, because the South Australian state government said it wouldn't partner with the federal government. I make no lie of the fact that that decision was made under a Liberal state government. I acknowledged it at the time, but it makes no difference to me. The fact is that the Limestone Coast community wants radiation treatment services, and the then federal coalition government made funding available to make it happen. We had a private provider interested in delivering the service, but agreement simply couldn't be reached with the state government to help facilitate its delivery.

An election in South Australia meant a different administration. I hoped once again for a light at the end of the tunnel, but I was again disappointed, as the incoming Labor government also said no. What happened then was what always happens in my community: a dedicated group of passionate people got together, many of them with lived experience, and said: 'Do you know what? This isn't good enough. We've got to take up the fight.' This group of volunteers, many of them dealing with their own cancer journeys, gathered 16,000 online signatures and 4,000-odd hard-copy signatures, calling on the state government to change its mind on this decision.

The state government planned at that time to spend the $4.3 million secured by me for radiation services in my community on consulting suites at the hospital instead, and even an upgrade to the car park—not cancer treatment services, but a car park. The petition halted those plans, and the state minister agreed to execute a feasibility study. The feasibility study is now to hand, and it's with the Limestone Coast Local Health Network. But the community of the Limestone Coast will not be privy to this report for another month, according to the chair of that group. Apparently, the local health network will study the report and hand recommendations to the state minister before signatories to the petition and volunteers who garnered them will be privy to what it says. Shame! Yet again, these dedicated volunteers from the Limestone Coast are being kept in the dark—a regional community being treated like mugs. What an irony that the minister who lectures us about taking advice from the local health [inaudible] network is forcing them to keep this report confidential.