Senate debates

Thursday, 30 November 2023


Community Affairs References Committee; Report

4:29 pm

Photo of Lidia ThorpeLidia Thorpe (Victoria, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—I rise to speak on the report Concussions and repeated head trauma in contact sports. I want to thank Senator Colbeck and the government and opposition whips for keeping this item on the Notice Paper, to let me speak on the report of this important, groundbreaking inquiry into sports related concussions and their long-term ramifications.

People don't think concussion is a big deal, but it is a serious neurological injury, and, like any other injured part, the brain needs time to rest and heal after a knock. Symptoms of concussions include headaches, confusion, nausea, anger, impulsivity and rage. Repeated knocks can lead to chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, which is a massive loss of brain function. Noongar man Graham Farmer was one of the greatest players in AFL history—also, the first AFL player diagnosed with CTE. It is a progressive and devastating form of dementia and, without proper care, it can wreak havoc on people's lives and families.

Not getting a diagnosis, or getting a wrong diagnosis, can lead to mismanagement, where concussion is treated like a mental health issue and proper care is delayed for years. Many sporting organisations and industry-funded researchers have downplayed this for decades, including denying the existence of CTE and delaying proper recognition of the debilitating impacts of concussion.

I want to thank those players and families who came forward to courageously share their personal stories and losses. My heart broke at hearing your stories. I want to thank Lydia Pingel from AFLW, a 30-year-old with dementia, just from playing footie; Peter 'Wombat' Maguire; Anita Frawley, the wife of Danny Frawley, a St Kilda star; Dr Rowena Mobbs, one of the only neurologists in the country diagnosing and treating CTE; and Associate Professor Melanie Bussey, for all her work. There are many more names, and I am grateful to all those who shared their stories and have advocated around the impacts of concussion.

This inquiry report, including my additional comments, made some important recommendations, and these included: national guidelines for sport, to assist diagnosis and treatment of CTE; more research, with clear guidelines to avoid conflicts of interest; and better understanding and public awareness, particularly at community level, to keep our children safe on the fields. Government and national sporting organisations need to take the lead, by keeping proper records and sharing data, having consistent and binding return-to-play protocols, and contributing funding to an independent national sports research body.

Concussions are incredibly common, yet we still have no idea how big the problem is. Concussions are everywhere—and not just in sports. So many women and victim-survivors—including me—in this country, have had repetitive head knocks from abusive partners. Too many women that I know, black and white, walk around with undiagnosed CTE as a result of being beaten by their partners over decades. And there is absolutely no support for them out there. There is a silent epidemic of undiagnosed and untreated concussions, and often victim-survivors develop migraines and other conditions that can be easily treated.

We must continue to advocate for the recommendations of this inquiry to be implemented, and for greater awareness and work on addressing the impacts of concussion and head trauma. We owe it to all those who have lost their lives, the lives of their loved ones or the ability to live their lives to the fullest.

I thank everybody involved in that inquiry. It was an incredible eye-opener for me, and I learnt so much about the effects of repetitive head trauma. For me they went from knocks on the netball court, as an A-grade netballer, to knocks from abusive partners. I can't imagine how many undiagnosed people we have out there in our communities.

I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.