Wednesday, 28 February 2007
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Ageing, Senator Santoro, in his capacity representing the Minister for Health and Ageing. In this National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Week, would the minister outline to the Senate what steps the Howard government is taking to help combat gynaecological cancers in Australia.
Before I get into the substantive answer, I acknowledge the tremendous work that Senator Ferris has done in promoting greater public and government interest in gynaecological cancer, of which she is a courageous survivor, and I am sure that I speak on behalf of everybody when I say: Senator Ferris, may you continue to be a survivor for a long time to come. I also acknowledge the vital work and assistance provided to Senator Ferris by her colleagues in this place, including Senator Moore, Senator Polley, Senator Nash and Senator Allison, under the very good stewardship of Senator Humphries as committee chairman. With guidance and assistance from capable senators in this place, Senator Humphries always seems to produce very good reports, and he has done it again.
In this National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Week the government recognises that gynaecological cancer affects the lives of more than 3,800 Australian women who are diagnosed with this dreadful disease each year. Yesterday the Minister for Health and Ageing announced that a new centre to help combat gynaecological cancers is to be set up by the Commonwealth government. Again, credit must be given here. I was so pleased to hear Senator McLucas, during her response to the report yesterday, acknowledge the incredibly tenacious and persistent role that Senator Ferris played in convincing and making representations to Mr Abbott.
Opposition senators interjecting—
Senator Moore would clearly acknowledge that I was looking at her when I made that statement—and, of course, I meant her. The centre will receive $1 million in seed funding to support its establishment and initial operation. It will provide education and increase awareness among health professionals about gynaecological cancers and it will operate under the auspices of Cancer Australia. The centre is part of the government’s response to the report of the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs inquiry into gynaecological cancer in Australia, which was entitled—rather sensitively, I thought—Breaking the silence: a national voice for gynaecological cancers. All 34 of the committee’s recommendations have been considered carefully and the government supports the committee’s recommendation that cancer agencies should work together to coordinate gynaecological cancer care in Australia.
Australia has—and we are proud to boast about this all the time—one of the best systems of cancer care in the world, and the health system is performing well in lengthening survival through the early detection and treatment of cancer. Advances continue to be made in gynaecological cancer research. Over the last six years the National Health and Medical Research Council has provided more than $44 million for research into gynaecological cancers. The government has also heavily funded the delivery of breast and ovarian cancer programs through the National Breast Cancer Centre, which has a vital and highly regarded role in the delivery of ovarian cancer programs and breast-screening programs and will work closely with the new centre. The National Cervical Screening Program has been so successful in detecting and following up precancerous abnormalities that the incidence of cervical cancer has fallen by 57 per cent in the past 10 years and mortality has fallen by 58 per cent. Ably led by good people like Senator Ferris, this government will continue to work closely with the health sector, as well as survivors, in combating gynaecological cancers in Australia.