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Thursday, 29 November 2012
Page: 13909


Mr PERRETT (Moreton) (11:20): On behalf of the Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs, I present the report entitled FASD: The hidden harm—inquiry into the prevention, diagnosis and management of foetal alcohol spectrum disorders,together with the minutes of proceedings and evidence received by the committee.

In accordance with standing order 39(f) the report was made a parliamentary paper.

Mr PERRETT: by leave—I rise today to present the report of the Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs into the incidence and prevention of foetal alcohol spectrum disorders, or FASD. I am honoured to do so so soon after the Prime Minister this morning introduced the National Disability Insurance Scheme legislation.

FASD is the umbrella term for the range of conditions that can occur in an individual who endured prenatal exposure to alcohol. These conditions may include physical, mental, behavioural, cognitive and learning disabilities.

The risk of FASD increases with the quantity of alcohol a pregnant woman may consume. I will repeat that: the risk of FASD increases with the quantity of alcohol a pregnant woman may consume. However, what is not widely understood is that even small amounts of alcohol at critical developmental times can result in irrevocable damage to the developing foetus. This damage may not be physically apparent but can manifest in cognitive and learning impairment.

In a poignant DVD about children affected by FASD, a young boy called Tristan says, 'I wish I can be a policeman just when I grow up.' Then he adds, 'Nah, I just want to be normal first. I just want to be normal.' This Australian movie, for me, was more tragic than Gallipoli and Breaker Morant combined. As a parliament, we owe it to Tristan and to every child, every woman and every family to bring to light the risk of FASD and the hidden harms of prenatal alcohol exposure. Prevention is the key—and FASD is entirely preventable with proper public awareness. For those impacted by FASD, we need appropriate diagnosis and support.

The series of recommendations in this report are a pathway for a national action plan for FASD. This national action plan can spearhead progress in all sectors—health, education, criminal justice, social support—towards understanding, treating and eliminating preventable but lifelong birth defects and brain damage caused by prenatal exposure to alcohol. A nationally consistent approach is the most effective, and the committee has recommended that a specialised FASD reference group be established to provide guidance and advice to the Commonwealth government on the most effective policies and strategies. The FASD reference group will oversee the national action plan for FASD, which will address three critical issues: (1) prevention, (2) identification and (3) management.

The prevention of FASD is unequivocally the most cost-effective strategy. The advice must always be that the safest option for a pregnant woman is not to drink alcohol. The cost of a comprehensive and effective public awareness campaign that educates people about the risk of FASD is a fraction of the cost of supporting individuals with FASD. There needs to be a concerted campaign by health professionals to screen and identify women at risk of alcohol consumption in pregnancy. It is unacceptable for our health professionals to be unfamiliar with this preventable condition and to not be giving women and their partners all the information they need to have the healthiest possible pregnancy.

Addressing the culture and easy accessibility of alcohol is a key strategy in preventing FASD—particularly in the context that we are leading up to Christmas—as well as minimising the many other serious social and economic harms. To this end, the committee recommends mandatory health warning labels on all alcoholic beverages and further investigation into the control around sales and promotion of alcohol.

While recognising that FASD can be completely eliminated in theory, the committee accepts that it may not be prevented in 100 per cent of pregnancies. In such cases, it is essential that the potential for FASD is identified and diagnosed in a timely manner. A nationally consistent definition of FASD, greater awareness amongst health professionals and a national screening and diagnostic tool are all urgently required. Support and education must be available to carers and educators so that the best management strategies can be put in place at home and at school. Effective intervention in childhood will improve considerably the life trajectory of a person with FASD.

I thank the secretariat, especially Dr Anna Dacre, Pauline Cullen and Natalya Wells, and the rest of their team. I particularly thank them for the great brochure that they have put together. I know not everyone will necessarily read the report, but the brochure is a great summary. We cannot keep hidden the harms being caused by alcohol in our society and, in particular, the devastating harms of prenatal alcohol exposure. As other speakers have said, season's greetings to all. I hope everyone has a great Christmas but that they also drink responsibly. I commend this report to the House and thank the member for Murray. Whilst she is not the deputy chair, she was the driver behind the social policy and legal affairs committee undertaking this inquiry.