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Thursday, 3 November 2011
Page: 12833

Mr GRIFFIN (Bruce) (12:31): I recently had the privilege of being part of a parliamentary delegation to Indonesia and Tonga as part of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters. When in Tonga we had the privilege of attending a reception at the official residence of the Australian High Commissioner. At that reception I had the honour of meeting a number of health professionals from Australia who were part of a group of people who were performing vital work in assisting the Tongan population as part of Operation Open Heart.

Operation Open Heart provides free life-transforming cardiac surgery to underprivileged men, women and children throughout Australasia, South-East Asia and various Third World countries with the assistance of individual humanitarian volunteer medical, nursing and other health professionals. The program has been running for over 25 years. It is assisted by AusAID, the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, community groups such as Rotary and the Lions club, and numerous local and international civic minded corporate and individual community supporters. Sydney Adventist Hospital has coordinated more than 80 trips by volunteer teams that have resulted in more than 2,000 surgeries. In addition to their time and expertise, volunteers also make a significant financial contribution towards the cost of each program. A conservative estimate of the value of contributions by the volunteers since 1986 is in the region of $7.5 million.

In addition, Sydney Adventist Hospital now directly invests over $200,000 per year into that program for management and operational expenses. This ensures that supporters' contributions are directed specifically to the individual programs. Depending on the location, surgery type and numbers, the total cost of one of the annual trips can be as much as $200,000.

Since 1986 more than 1,500 health professional volunteers from hospitals around Australia have been coordinated by Sydney Adventist Hospital for an average of four to six trips per annum. An innovative feature of Operation Open Heart is the training program conducted by the visiting teams pre, during and post surgery. Host team members assist and learn from the visiting teams with the aim of becoming self-sufficient once visiting teams return home.

Some 12 countries are covered by this program: Tonga, Fiji, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Mongolia, Nepal, China, Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam and, most recently, Rwanda. This is a particularly impressive program of which all those involved can be very proud. I found the logistics that are involved in such an exercise quite astounding. Certain programs may require the transport of up to four tonnes of freight, but because they have relationships with freight forwarders and airline partners this can be done at very small cost on an overall basis.

Once the volunteers arrive in a country they will often work between eight and 10 hours a day. Nursing staff are rostered to ensure post surgical care is provided 24 hours a day. It is common to do more than 50 surgeries in a 14-day visit. As anyone who has been involved in the medical area would know, that is a phenomenal level of activity. While talking to volunteers at the reception, I was very impressed by their commitment to and their enthusiasm for the work that they were doing and the fact that it was actually providing real and concrete support and assistance to people who would otherwise be in a situation where they just would not get the assistance that they need. The arrival of these trips is coincided with the development of demand and they really rip through things in a very professional manner. The individual stories that we were told of some of the cases and some of the circumstances of the work that was being done were absolutely uplifting and they made me very proud to be an Australian.

The activities of these groups, particularly in the context of Operation Open Heart, are something that all involved with them can be very proud of. Some of the individual volunteers have on occasions actually received awards from countries where they have provided assistance. For example, in Fiji, two members were awarded the Order of Fiji, while in Papua New Guinea eight team members received a prestigious government award, the Order of Logohu. Individual team members have also been recognised by a range of other organisations.

I commend the work of Operation Open Heart and all those involved in it. I certainly say to the volunteers, 'Well done. You are providing real and concrete support to people in communities who need it. You are doing it in a cooperative fashion. You are providing training and skills to those you seek to help so that they can help themselves into the future, and you are ensuring that many people who live in isolated locations, in awkward circumstances and in poverty are able to get life-saving surgery, using your skills in a manner in which you can all be very proud of.'