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Monday, 25 October 2010
Page: 1515

Ms GAMBARO (8:52 PM) —I would also like to add my commendation to the member for Petrie for putting this valuable motion on the Notice Paper, and I acknowledge the contribution made by previous speakers. In the short time I have available to me I would like to speak on two aspects of the motion: organ donation and the Australian National Cord Blood Collection Network. Unfortunately, Australia has one of the lowest rates of organ donation in the world. In 2009 Australia had only 11.3 organ donors per million of population. This was a decrease from 12 organ donors per million of population in 2008. Spain has the highest rate of organ donation, with 34.4 out of every million of their population donating organs, the USA with 26.1 per million and the United Kingdom with 15.1 per million. In Australia so far 228 people have donated their organs, with 683 people having received donated organs. These are very sad figures for Australia’s health system and very sad figures for the thousands of Australians who are waiting years for a much-needed organ transplant.

During my time as an organ donor ambassador for the AMA there were many ways I saw in which we could improve our rates of organ donation under the current arrangements. We do not need radical reforms but we do need to see some changes in the system. There needs to be more awareness about the process of being an organ donor. In the past, many people mistakenly thought that by ticking a box on a drivers licence you were already registered as an organ donor. But you do have to fill in the necessary and appropriate forms with Medicare.

In Australia we do not really need to go down the rule in, rule out path that some countries have travelled. I do not think it is the most humane approach. I do think that there are many cases where individuals do not talk to their family. They agree to be organ donors, but they really need to speak to their family more, to just put it on the table and make their loved ones aware of their wishes, because it is always much more difficult at the time.

What we need is stronger awareness and we also need dedicated staff to talk to families during those very difficult times. Having the dedicated staff will ensure that those loved ones that have decided to be organ donors can assist and are able to donate to others. Improving the current system in this way will allow for more organ donations and optimal transplant times, resulting in greater success. There needs to be a greater understanding for families and patients involved.

As for the umbilical cord blood, we need to establish a national framework through COAG and there needs to be appropriate public and private holding and storage facilities in the majority of Australia’s major hospitals, not just, as previous speakers have mentioned, Sydney Children’s Hospital in New South Wales or the Royal Children’s Hospital in Victoria or the Mater Hospital in Brisbane. This is a front-line research area in medical science and stem cell research and it deserves to have the full government support that is afforded to other blood products. In Australia we have always been at the coalface of medical advances. Going back some time ago when I was a member here previously, in 2000, Dr Wooldridge was the first to announce a $9 million funding program over four years to establish a national cord blood bank. That was very innovative at the time and it also provided an opportunity for treatment for many Australians, including children, that had life-threatening diseases such as leukaemia. This is a very important area and we have come a long way since those days.

A considerable amount of funding has been put into the National Centre for Adult Stem Cell Research and it has benefited many Australians. Research is being done at the moment into diseases such as Parkinson’s, motor neurone and schizophrenia. An estimated 100,000 people suffer from Parkinson’s, a disease that I have personal experience of, having three family members afflicted with it. The other diseases are very long-lasting and debilitating.

The government in 2005 provided $20 million over four years to fund the operational cost of the National Centre for Adult Stem Cell Research, and then another $2 million was provided to support the infrastructure costs. It is very important that we keep funding these measures and that we ensure that the national collection framework is put in place. It is a very important initiative and we must ensure that the collection of cord blood and the network are there for all Australians and are there for all our medical researchers in the most efficient way. Cord blood needs to be collected. To brighten the light of science anywhere is to brighten the light of science everywhere. Let’s do what we can to ensure that the light of medical science stays bright always for all.