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Monday, 24 March 1997
Page: 2705

Mr FITZGIBBON(1.34 p.m.) —The Sydney Morning Herald journalist Alan Ramsey, in his article in that paper's Saturday edition, devoted some time to talking about priorities in this place and the fact that the perception in the community that sometimes our priorities are misguided does not do much for the perception amongst those people of politicians. I think it is fair to say that it is motions such as this, which of course has attracted bipartisan support today, that I think help to lift that standard, at least in the eyes of the Australian community. I congratulate the member for Stirling (Mr Eoin Cameron) for putting forward the motion, one which I am happy to speak to and to lend my support to.

The umbilical cord blood bank infrastructure which the member for Stirling seeks to have established would capitalise on one of the marvels of nature and would expand on the very good work already being done by those at the Australian Cord Blood Bank which, along with the work done at the Sydney Children's Hospital, has already provided a number of young children with another chance at life. I do not think that there could be an issue before the parliament any more important than that.

The new science has enormous advantages over the traditional method of replenishing stem cells, which many members have made reference to. It is not necessary for me to go over it again now other than to say that those stem cells are attacked by the very treatment that doctors prescribe for the leukaemia and other diseases. The decimation of those cells is an unfortunate implication of those treatments.

As a father of three young children, I often wonder how strong I would be if I were called upon to deliver one of my own children for chemotherapy or some other similar treatment if they were to become ill with one of those devastating diseases. How difficult it would be to attempt to explain to a child so young that he or she is being regularly presented for this treatment for his or her own good. I think it would be absolutely one of the worst nightmares for a parent of a child of any age. It would be exacerbated considerably if, at the end of all that, there were some complication with stem cells and if, as a result of a lack of government commitment, the child were not able to access that new technology. I think that would be very sad indeed and a most traumatic situation for any family or any parent.

We are not talking today about doubt about the long-term success of the procedure. We are not talking about doubt about the commitment of health professionals working in the area. We are simply talking about the doubt of governments' commitment to the funding of this new technology.

It is fair to say that the motion of the government member for Stirling (Mr Eoin Cameron) does recognise that the government has made some commitment in its $200,000 announcement last year—something I would also like to take the opportunity to recognise and to support—but the commitment is less than is necessary to ensure that all Australians, and in particular young Australians, are afforded the opportunity to access this very important new technology.

The House does not have to take my word for that. One needs only to listen to a tape or read a transcript of the Science Program of 3 February on Radio National last year. On it, the coordinator of the Australian Cord Blood Bank, Kerrie Carlton, made it quite clear that the major hurdle facing her team and all those involved in the industry, if I can call it that, is the question of funding. It would be a tragic shame if even one child in this country was denied a second chance because of a lack of commitment on the part of this or any other government, be it federal or state.

This is a remarkable breakthrough that our health professionals have made. The member for Bruce (Mr Griffin) has also already mentioned how it is that rather than have to make six matches as in the case of bone marrow transplants—(Time expired)

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Nehl) —Order! The time allotted for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.