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Monday, 23 November 2015
Page: 13375


Mr MITCHELL (McEwenSecond Deputy Speaker) (11:41): I rise to speak in support of the motion and I thank the member for Charlton for bringing Asbestos Awareness Month to our attention. Speaking on the topic today is a timely reminder of Asbestos Awareness Day happening this Friday, so keep your eyes open for the blue lamington drive and donate generously. Funds raised go towards needed research into the treatment of mesothelioma and other asbestos related diseases. The reason asbestos awareness campaigns like Get to Know Asbestos this November are needed is because even though Australia banned the use of asbestos in 2003 there have been 600 cases of malignant mesothelioma and about 1,350 cases of lung cancer caused by asbestos exposure diagnosed each year.

As we know asbestos was widely used in building materials and the automotive trade before 1987, so it is not only tradesmen who are at risk of exposure but also families who may be renovating or maintaining their own homes. It is estimated that one in three Australian homes contain asbestos in one form or another. I would like to tell you about the magnificent Lou Williams. Lou lives in my electorate of McEwen and I have met with her over the last few months to discuss issues regarding treatment options for people with mesothelioma. This issue is close to Lou's heart because she lost her father to pleural mesothelioma in 1985 and she has faced her own battle with pleural mesothelioma for the last 13 years. But I can tell you, she is one tough fighter.

Lou was exposed to asbestos as a child in the seventies—at a time when we did not know better, or were only learning about the impacts from those early cases at James Hardie Industries. Although we tend to think of most mesothelioma sufferers as being male, or those who worked directly with the material, we are starting to see a rise in the number of women being diagnosed with the disease as a result of exposure similar to Lou's or from home renovations.

When Lou came to see me she was working on behalf of all the mesothelioma sufferers in Australia. She is fighting to have a new medication used to treat mesothelioma put on the PBS. Lou's treatment plan uses a new medication called Keytruda, which is administered every three weeks. Basically, the medication encourages the body's immune system to kick in and fight the mesothelioma tumours in a more natural way compared to other oncological treatment options such as chemotherapy. The medication is approved in Australia for melanoma, but it is not yet approved for mesothelioma. The cost of the medication is $9,000 per dose, and traditionally you will need between four and six doses before you can find out if it is going to be effective. That is about $36,000 each person has got to find. It is well out of the price range of most people. But is it effective? Well, if you have seen Lou, she is the poster child. Lou has seen some great improvement in her condition with the medication attributed to shrinking her tumours and giving her a new lease on life—energy, strength and the ability to make the most out of each day. With these types of encouraging treatment results, shouldn't this option be available to all Australians? I think so. That is why we have been working with Lou to encourage the pharmaceutical company that makes Keytruda to apply to the TGA and the PBAC to have the medication listed.

I met with the company in August and spoke about the demonstrated need in the Australian community and the benefits that listing their product on the PBS would have for the thousands of Australian's diagnosed with mesothelioma. Lou is speaking on Australian trials and treatments at the International Conference on Asbestos Awareness and Management in Melbourne this week. I am sure that her personal experience will be discussed at great length and raise greater awareness of the benefits of putting Keytruda put on the PBS. There is no time to waste.

This is particularly the case for victims of James Hardie Industries who have once again been neglected by an unjustifiable decision by the company to slash its contributions to the Asbestos Injuries Compensation Fund. They are slashing compensation while at the same time their profits soar by some 22 per cent. Not only are they slashing compensation funding but they are also looking to change the way payments are made—payments by instalments instead of a lump sum payment within three years. Does this mean that victims will now have to wait for their first instalment at the three-year point? As we know, this government is well versed in the art of making sufferers wait in a long and drawn out process to receive their compensation. Asbestos related disease victims do not die by instalments and they should not have their compensation in instalments either.

I would like to commend asbestos disease sufferers like Lou and many others, and their families, who have worked tirelessly alongside government representatives, unions and labour groups to increase awareness of the dangers of exposure to asbestos and the need for continual and increased funding for treatment and further research. As I said, keep your eye out for the blue lamington drive happening in your area. Give generously to Asbestos Awareness Day. It is a very worthy cause. I particularly mention Lou because I do not think I have met a person with such great inner strength and courage as Lou. We will keep fighting to help her and hopefully other victims to get the support they need and the medication they need that will help them live full lives.