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Thursday, 26 November 1998
Page: 821

Ms JULIE BISHOP (5:44 PM) —If my parliamentary duties had otherwise allowed, I would have been in Perth this evening at a very special gathering at the Indiana Tea House on Cottesloe Beach in the electorate of Curtin. The evening is in celebration of the work of the Hancock Family Breast Cancer Foundation on the anniversary of its incorporation five years ago in 1993. Mrs Gina Rinehart established the foundation, which is a non-profit making charitable organisation. Its aims include: to increase public awareness of breast cancer, to influence government policies on breast cancer research and treatment and to promote further research and better patient care.

Five years on, and with the increased awareness of this disease and the generosity of the public, the foundation has been able to embark on some important research and patient care programs. I commend Gina Rinehart and the foundation for their wonderful work. While I am not present in Perth at the celebrations, I am with them all in spirit, and by rising to speak tonight I am hoping to continue to raise awareness of the need for a continued commitment to breast cancer research funding.

At the time the Hancock Family Breast Cancer Foundation was established in 1993, the then federal government was allocating only $1 million a year to breast cancer research. Funding has steadily increased, but we have a long way to go. It is common knowledge now that breast cancer is the most common cause of cancer death in women in Australia. The Commonwealth government each year provides financial assistance for medical research, including breast cancer, to the National Health and Medical Research Council.

It is difficult to allocate research funding priorities, but the National Health and Medical Research Council confirms that grants for projects focusing primarily on breast cancer were provided in amounts of $1.85 million in 1997 and $2.08 million in 1998. The 1997-98 budget provided $33 million to extend a number of public health programs for an extra two years, including the National Women's Health Program and the NHMRC's National Breast Cancer Centre. Further funding was provided by NHMRC in the form of block grants. I commend the federal government's commitment this year for a further $4 million to breast cancer research and treatment, including innovative services such as special nursing care and assistance with access to travel and treatment for breast cancer sufferers in rural and remote regions.

Recently, the June 1998 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare journal stated that Western Australia and Queensland reported the highest incidence rates of breast cancer in the period 1990 to 1994. Western Australia reported 91.9 cases per 100,000, while Queensland reported marginally higher. This is in stark contrast to the lowest incidence rate of breast cancer, which is found in the Northern Territory with 59.6 cases per 100,000. Why is this so? Sadly, this reflects the fact that Western Australia also reports the highest incidence of cancer in women generally, compared with the other states and territories. This is, of course, a matter of great concern to the women and families in my electorate of Curtin.

The impact of research into breast cancer is not limited to finding ways to reduce and, ultimately, combat the disease. Cancer survivors are alive today because years and years of research have given doctors better information and tools to deal with cancer. This has resulted not only in improved survival rates but also in improved quality of life.

Because of the more widespread use of early detection methods, many of the most common cancers, such as breast tumours, are being diagnosed at earlier stages, when chances for successful treatment are greater. Breast screening is currently the principal means by which the mortality rate for women with tumours can be reduced. A more enlightened use of chemotherapy combined with improved surgical and radiation treatments for several cancers is also improving the outcome.

Being able to deal with a cancer can be a key to reducing its effects and, it seems in some cases, is in fact a key to the cure for breast cancer. Research today suggests that women who remain optimistic and minimise the impact of the disease on their lives survive twice as long as women who are overwhelmed by it. This was backed up by a study referred to in the Australian this morning. I have given my commitment as a member of the federal government to do all I can to advance the work and opportunities for breast cancer researchers, and I will continue to argue for the continued commitment for funding and assistance in this vital area of health for women.