Senate debates

Wednesday, 11 November 2020


Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Coronavirus and Other Measures) Bill 2020; Second Reading

9:59 am

Photo of Kristina KeneallyKristina Keneally (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to make a short contribution on the Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Coronavirus and Other Measures) Bill 2020. I acknowledge that my colleague Senator Dodson has responded comprehensively to the legislation, as has my colleague Senator Polley. I associate myself with and endorse their remarks. I would like to speak specifically to one aspect of the bill, and that is the changes that the bill introduces in relation to the stillborn baby payment and the bereavement payment. In doing so I rise as a member of the Senate Select Committee on Stillbirth Research and Education. I acknowledge my fellow members of that committee on a bipartisan basis and acknowledge the bipartisan report that was delivered to this chamber. It was the first set of national recommendations in terms of preventing and reducing stillbirth in Australia.

The measures that are in this legislation were actually not part of the Senate select committee specifically, but arose after the committee delivered its report. I'd like to acknowledge Senator Catryna Bilyk, who participated in the inquiry, for bringing this matter first to my attention and then to the attention of Labor's shadow minister for health, Chris Bowen. With the support of the Labor opposition, we discussed the matter with the minister and Senator Ruston.

I'd like to acknowledge Senator Ruston for her reception, interest and support for ensuring that parents of stillborn babies are treated as parents—that is, if parents have a stillborn baby, they are still parents. A mother still gives birth; she goes through labour and delivery. The mother and the baby's father still have responsibilities as parents towards that child. The mother and the father both need to grieve and receive counselling and support. The mother needs to recover physically from the birth. I think for a very long time—and I apportion no blame in making this statement—many people have not understood that parents of stillborn babies are actually parents and they go through birth, delivery and recovery from the birth and they need to make decisions regarding things like autopsies, cremations and burials. There's a financial impact on a family. Sometimes there is a loss of hours at work or loss of a job. In the Senate select committee we heard terrible stories of people who were simply unable to work for very long periods of time. One family told us the story of how they lost their business because they could not continue.

Yet we had a support system across decades, with governments of both stripes, that treated parents of stillborn babies not as parents or not equally as parents. The changes that the minister is introducing here today in relation to the stillborn baby payment and the bereavement payment ensure that parents of stillborn babies are treated in the same way and supported in the same way as parents of babies whose child has died perhaps one moment or just moments after birth.

I also acknowledge that the legislation makes a change to supporting parents who have more than one stillborn baby to ensure that they receive equal support. Again the Senate select committee heard very sad stories. One couple who came before us, Bonnie and Stephen Carter, lost both of their daughters, Grace and Matilda. Bonnie has been a tremendous advocate for ensuring that parents of stillborn babies receive support and that Australia does what it can do to prevent this tragedy from happening again.

I thank the minister and acknowledge her support for this legislation. I'd like to thank senators, including Senator Waters, who spoke just now in support of the measures that are within this bill. I look forward to what I hope will be its passage through this parliament.


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