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Monday, 1 December 2003
Page: 23324


Ms GAMBARO (3:42 PM) —I also wish to support previous speakers in the debate on Parkinson's disease and the fine contribution made by the member for Griffith. I, too, am in a family situation where I am acutely aware of the effects of Parkinson's. The member for Griffith spoke about his mother, which is not a very easy thing to do in this place. Sometimes it hits very close to the core. We come in here and speak about other people's problems but it is difficult when we have to get up and speak about our own families.

One could say that it is a bit self-serving but these things happen for a reason. They happen because we as legislators are in a position to do something about the many hundreds of thousands of people who suffer from Parkinson's. This is a terrible disease which affects many in their own homes. I place on record that my dad was also a successful business person with a brilliant mind and loads of energy. A couple of years ago he was struck down by this terrible disease. The effect that it has on families and on carers is paramount. It is a disease that no-one has a great deal of understanding about.

I also want to place on record my deep respect for Dr Peter Silburn and the wonderful work that is being done in Queensland, particularly on adult stem cells. We really need to get behind this wonderful work. There is also groundbreaking work being done in a number of states. The most important thing is the work that Parkinson's Queensland do with very few staff, which the member for Griffith spoke about earlier. They are to be commended, as should Judy Rawlins for her own personal courage in getting the message out and for giving out much of her time voluntarily.

One of the shameful things about Parkinson's is that we are not making the advances in this country that are being made for sufferers in other countries, such as in Spain and the Netherlands, and we really do need to find out more about it. Only last week in the House, I spoke about the pioneering role that Australia played in the mass immunisation of its population against tetanus, particularly maternal tetanus. Only belatedly have we begun to recognise this disease as Australia's silent epidemic. The Medical Journal of Australia has estimated that the incidence of Parkinson's disease in this country has risen by 100 per cent since the year 2000, and it now stands at almost 80,000 people. Parkinson's sufferers themselves have, in the absence of a national prevalence study, built up their own highly efficient monitoring network, which puts the rate much higher. When you look at the work that researchers are doing, the figure may actually be double the AMA figure of 80,000.

One of the things that is very clear is the lack of training among Australian doctors, which makes it very difficult to recognise Parkinson's. The member for Gilmore mentioned the difficulty of diagnosing Parkinson's. If doctors cannot diagnose this illness, how can members of the general public? Parkinson's sufferers often face the terrible humiliation of being mistaken for drunks because of their shuffling, stumbling gait, shaking hands and slurring speech. I do agree with the member for Gilmore that it is a terrible social disease: because of those symptoms, many of the sufferers do not want to go out in public any more, and it takes a terrible toll on their families and also on their friends and those carers who are there to look after them.

One of the people I have had contact with said to me that it was very difficult for her and it was taking her so long to do simple things. She said, `I've had to make a point of explaining why my hands are shaking. I'm not an alcoholic and I'm not hung over; it's Parkinson's.' Probably the worst thing that has happened in this woman's experience with the disease has been the advice given by her own doctor not to join a Parkinson's support group. He said to her that if she went to a Parkinson's support group and met people further advanced than her she would be more depressed than ever about what lay ahead for her.

That advice—stick your head in the sand and try not to think about it—might seem very strange, but what are we doing at a clinical and social level as a country? We need to devote money to a prevalence study. I have been asking for this for more than a year, and I think that this is the way to go. Similar studies have been done in the United States and Spain. A national prevalence study is vital if we are to know the real extent of Parkinson's and allocate funds and resources to combat it. With a national prevalence study we would be able to determine the impact of Parkinson's on the health and aged care budgets, given its impact on people aged 65 years and over. We really need to commit more integrated funding to Parkinson's, and we have to ensure that we understand a lot more about the disease. I want to commend the great work being done in Queensland, particularly by Dr Silburn at the Queensland University of Technology. Many people are involved in this fight, and I believe that we really need to continue the fight to ensure that Parkinson's gets the support it needs. (Time expired)