Senate debates

Tuesday, 11 September 2018


Dementia Awareness Month

7:20 pm

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister to the Leader (Tasmania)) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise this evening to speak about Dementia Awareness Month 2018, which runs for the month of September and aims to raise awareness of the leading cause of death amongst Australian women and the second leading cause of all deaths in Australia. The theme for this year is Small Actions Big Difference, which aims to highlight the small actions we can all take to make a big difference for those living with dementia, their families and carers.

Firstly, I would like to commend Dementia Australia on its strong and unrelenting efforts. Thank you for the invaluable work you do in making sure people living with dementia are able to live with dignity, support and security. I would like to acknowledge the thousands of Australians, including dementia ambassadors, politicians, businesses, communities and individuals, who have already signed up to be a Dementia Friend.

The government's investment in research in this year's budget is absolutely essential: $5.3 million over four years for the development of technology solutions to support people living with dementia—and that is most welcome. But there was no new investment in dementia in last year's budget. Quite frankly, $5.3 million over four years is inadequate.

Dementia is one of the greatest health and social challenges facing Australia and, indeed, the rest of the world. This is not a future issue. There are over 425,000 Australians living with dementia here, and the number is climbing. By the time the sun rises tomorrow, 250 people will join the population with dementia. With the prevalence of dementia in Australia projected to reach 1.1 million by 2056, there will be no-one who won't be touched by this disease. Dementia is everyone's issue. We cannot afford to ignore it or walk past it.

If the Turnbull government were truly serious about dementia, they would make dementia a national priority. They would also address the home care package waiting list crisis. More than 108,000 older Australians are waiting for home care, including around 88,000 Australians with high-level needs, many of whom are also living with dementia.

In contrast, I'm extremely proud to be part of the Bill Shorten team that has outlined its intention to make Australia a world leader in the way we care for people living with dementia and the people who love them. Today, I moved a motion for Dementia Awareness Month 2018. The motion urges all levels of government to take action to raise awareness of dementia so that people living with dementia remain included, accepted and connected with their own community.

As the shadow assistant minister for ageing, I have spent more than five years working and campaigning to make Australia a better place to live with dementia. I have been truly inspired by the people I have met. I have sat with them and listened to their stories. They are inspiring and very courageous. I have also witnessed negative attitudes towards people living with dementia. Awareness and attitudes are improving, but, sadly, the diagnosis of dementia still goes hand in hand with stigma, social isolation and exclusion. This has got to change. We are all affected by dementia, whether it's by a loved one, a friend or a neighbour. We must all do more to encourage the community to better understand dementia so that people living with dementia feel less isolated and alone.

I encourage the people listening tonight and in this chamber to become a Dementia Friend. It's more than just wearing a badge; it's about turning the awareness campaign into action. It can be as simple as sharing knowledge amongst your workmates, having a conversation with your family and friends, making your workplace or local sporting club more dementia-friendly or checking in on a neighbour who might have become withdrawn. Becoming a Dementia Friend takes very little time, and you should visit the website I encourage you all to become members.