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Monday, 12 September 2011
Page: 9810

Mr SIMPKINS (Cowan) (19:39): I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak on this motion moved by the member for Murray. I thank her for her long-term concern and dedication in bringing this very serious and concerning issue to a high profile in Australia. From the debate so far, I know this is a problem that concerns members on both sides of the House. I have no personal experience with my own children or family members being affected by FASD. However, as the federal member for Cowan, I want to see every child in my electorate with the greatest opportunity to succeed.

As members of parliament we can work to better education and health outcomes across this country through mainstream and early intervention processes. But in the case of FASD the damage is already done. I therefore wish to be clear that I have grave concerns about the danger that unborn children in this country face. Intellectual problems, behavioural problems and learning difficulties are problems that seem to result in progress along an acknowledged route towards antisocial behaviour and crime due in no small part to an inability to fully participate in society.

What if those disabilities were not just a random combination of genetic conflicts but instead were the result of a specific incident caused by the behaviour of the mother when she was pregnant? This is the question I have always had regarding foetal alcohol spectrum disorder. In this country, we have laws that say that a person cannot be given alcohol before they are 18 and that is because their brain is not fully developed and some damage may result. As a society, we are rightly outraged if we hear of a child being given alcohol for whatever reason. Every responsible adult knows that alcohol consumption by children is wrong. But when we think of women drinking whilst pregnant, it does not yet have the same perception of harm to the child and that is why this issue of FASD requires a far higher profile in this country.

What we know is that alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream. In the case of a pregnant woman it is also absorbed into the baby's bloodstream thereby ensuring the baby will have the same blood alcohol level as the mother. It is therefore correct that any amount of alcohol consumed will see that alcohol enter the baby and impact negatively on the development of the baby. That impact will be permanent. The greater the amount of alcohol, the greater the risk. Also, when the alcohol is taken, it will impact in different ways. Permanent disabilities are likely but to various degrees and alcohol taken over a number of days early in the pregnancy will see facial abnormalities apparent in the child. foetal alcohol spectrum disorder including foetal alcohol syndrome may include abnormal facial features, growth problems and also problems with vision, hearing, learning, memory and communication. FASD also includes alcohol related neurodevelopmental disorder, which might create the same intellectual disabilities as FAS and which will result in the child doing poorly in school and having judgment and poor impulse control issues. Alcohol related birth defects may also see a person affected with problems of the heart, kidney, bones or hearing. The warning signs for infants include a low birth weight; irritability; sensitivity to light, noise and/or touch; feeding problems; and a failure to thrive.

Those with FASD problems will, to varying degrees, when they finish school have problems with managing money, time management, decision making, seeking and holding employment, and conducting a range of tasks. They are not likely to be able to function at the same level as those that have not been affected by FASD. Under such circumstances, given such outcomes, any alcohol use in pregnancy is highly risky. Beyond the damage to the child, I wonder what impacts alcohol consumption will also have for our society.

I also ask the question: what problems do we have in Australian with disabilities and with criminal behaviours that are directly linked to a person being permanently damaged by the actions of their mother consuming alcohol whilst pregnant? This is an issue that greatly concerns me. It could be a link to so many problems in our society and is thereby deserving of a far greater profile than it currently has. I certainly believe that more public education is required to highlight this issue as well as more education for health professionals to help identify the extent of the problem. It would also be right to conduct more research into the matter so that we can determine whether problems with intellectual disabilities and with criminal or antisocial tendencies in certain areas may also be linked to FASD problems.