Senate debates

Tuesday, 6 October 2020


Stillborn Baby Payment, Purnell, Mrs Vicki

8:43 pm

Photo of Eric AbetzEric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

In 1988, President Ronald Reagan inaugurated 15 October as national Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. It has been observed ever since. Tasmania and some other states recognise it as well. It might be time for us to consider doing so on a national basis.

Those of us blessed with the gift of children will know the joy and fulfilment they bring. Those of us that have experienced the devastation of a miscarriage will know the heartbreak and shattering of dreams that such an event brings in its wake. The loss of a later term child or a stillbirth or death shortly after birth must be indescribably heartbreaking. In recognition of this the stillborn baby payment is offered by the federal government. This payment is equivalent to the sum of the newborn supplement and newborn upfront payment. So far, so good.

In June 2019, I was alerted to a Devonport lady, Mrs Vicki Purnell, doing wonderful charity work known as Bridie's Blossoms and Blessings. This is a self-funded project in Tasmania, the founder making clothing, layettes, quilts and keepsake packages and gifting them to families who experience the tragedy of stillbirth and miscarriage. It was for this wonderful work that Mrs Purnell was rightly awarded the Tasmanian Local Hero Award in the 2019 Australian of the Year awards.

In writing to congratulate her on her recognition, Mrs Purnell responded by drawing attention to the fact that earlier in that year she had come across a family with limited financial resources which had experienced the unthinkable tragedy of having a second stillborn child. In their devastation, they discovered that they were entitled to a lesser sum of money than they were previously for the bizarrest of all reasons—namely, it was not their first stillborn child. This family of limited means was forced to take out a personal loan to make up the shortfall of the funeral expenses to farewell their baby with love, dignity and respect. It begged the question in Mrs Purnell's mind—as it did in mine, when I learned about this inequity—as to why this inequity existed. Surely we can all be agreed that parents are not in the habit of giving birth to stillborn babies in order to have a financial gain. It of course costs no less to confront a second stillborn child than it does a first. There appeared no justifiable public policy rationale for this situation.

Mrs Purnell advocated against this glaring inconsistency in the Centrelink benefit and asked that it be rectified. It was my privilege to take up this cause with the Minister for Families and Social Services. On becoming aware of this, the minister requested further information from her department to consider whether there could be a way forward. In tonight's budget that inequity was rectified. There was a way forward. I have no doubt that other funding matters will take precedence in the reporting of tonight's budget and grab the headlines—as, in fairness, they quite rightly ought. Nevertheless, I believe that the remedying of this inequity because of the advocacy of Mrs Purnell is worthy of mention and celebration. It shows many good things about our democracy: an individual with a concern can raise it with a local representative, who can elevate it to the ministerial and, then, cabinet level, which in turn sees it incorporated in a budget. Our democracy, for all its perceived failings, does work and is effective.

Individuals like Mrs Purnell can make a difference and change the federal budget. Because of Mrs Purnell, tonight's budget—with all its difficulties, with all its concerns for the future—has resolved an inequity and will, I am sure, make life easier for many people in the future who suffer the tragedy of more than one stillborn child. It was a privilege to advocate for the change. The minister deserves our appreciation for effecting the change. More importantly, congratulations to Mrs Purnell for alerting the government to the inequity, enabling its rectification. Many mothers in particular will be grateful to Tasmania's 2019 local hero, Vicki Purnell, for her efforts.