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Wednesday, 29 March 2006
Page: 54

Ms BIRD (12:42 PM) —I would like to endorse the comments made by the member for Mitchell in this debate on the Cancer Australia Bill 2006. I am particularly conscious of the point that he made that it is very difficult to get many men to see the need to visit the doctor when they are ill, let alone as a preventative form of visit. I think that a targeted screening program is an eminently sensible way to approach the issue of prostate cancer. To be honest, I am conscious that is only the fact that many women are actively told to have cervical screening tests every two years which may prompt them to make an appointment and go to the doctor. I think it is quite correct to say that it is highly unlikely that somehow men on a normal visit to a doctor would raise this whereas a program that said that men should have a test at a particular, regular period of time would be the prompt that would get them to do that. I would like to endorse the call that the member for Mitchell is making to Cancer Australia in this debate.

Cancer is clearly one of the biggest killers of people in Australia and, with the ageing population, does require an ongoing and increasing focus and importance. The stated aim of the Cancer Australia Bill 2006 is the importance of having a national voice with more research funding for cancer care, better support for those living with cancer, strengthened palliative care services and better support for cancer professionals. Despite the serious nature of the disease, this initiative was part of what I can only describe as a hastily cobbled together response by the Howard government to Labor’s cancer policy, which it took to the 2004 federal election.

The Cancer Australia Bill commits $12.66 million over four years to establishing Cancer Australia. This funding commitment is a good start, but I am disappointed that the commitment has not gone far enough. During the 2004 federal election campaign, Labor committed $64.75 million over four years to supporting a comprehensive national approach to cancer prevention in Australia. Despite it being an election commitment, the Howard government has been dragging its feet in implementing it. As a result of these delays, it is unlikely that the $4.546 million allocated to 2005-06 will be spent in this financial year.

This delay has also resulted in difficulties for the staff of the National Cancer Control Initiative. The NCCI is the key expert reference group that advises the federal government on all aspects of prevention, detection, treatment and palliation. The transfer of this role to Cancer Australia will result in a serious loss of years of knowledge and expertise. It is my understanding that the NCCI had already begun to develop initial priorities for Cancer Australia.

We all know somebody who has battled this disease. Cancer does not discriminate and anybody can be affected. I have had the pleasure of meeting a number of brave women in my electorate through their efforts to have the drug Herceptin made available and affordable to first-stage breast cancer sufferers. I was first approached in October last year by Steven Radford, from Stanwell Park, regarding his wife, Michelle, whom I have mentioned in this place previously. Steven had lobbied Paul McLeay, the state member for Heathcote, and me to have Herceptin listed on the PBS for first-stage HER-2 positive breast cancer sufferers. Steven and Michelle, and their five children, faced the prospect of selling their family home to fund Michelle’s Herceptin treatment at a cost of approximately $60,000. Since then I have heard, as I am sure many members of the House have, of many cases of women and families facing the same terrible decision: do we sell the family home and put our families through more distress or do we not? This is a heart-wrenching decision for any family to have to face. This situation is made even worse for families who have no assets to sell. Indeed, I read of one circumstance in another state where a woman was considering selling her home to fund the treatment for her sister.

Michelle has suffered gruelling surgery and several rounds of chemotherapy and radiation treatment. Her oncologist recommended subsequent treatment with Herceptin. Data from the international HERA—Herceptin adjuvant—study showed that treatment with Herceptin following standard chemotherapy reduces the risk of cancer coming back by a staggering 46 per cent. Approximately 20 per cent to 30 per cent of women with breast cancer have HER-2 positive breast cancer. It requires immediate and specific attention because the tumours are aggressive and fast growing. Results from four large trials with nearly 12,000 patients worldwide showed consistently that Herceptin reduced by approximately one-half the risk of the cancer returning. Given the likely success of this treatment, you can understand the dilemma that women and their families face. Do you put your family finances under further strain and start Herceptin treatment, which almost halves the risk of the cancer returning, often to organs and bones, or do you not? It has been pointed out to me that many of the specialists advising these women are forced into making decisions about whether to even raise the potential of this treatment, because they are so conscious that for many of these women it is financially out of reach anyway.

I am absolutely amazed that women in this day and age are being forced to make this decision. I have made representations to the federal Minister for Health and Ageing and to Roche Pharmaceuticals and I was advised by both parties that Roche was in the process of applying to the Therapeutic Goods Administration for Herceptin to be listed on the PBS for first-stage HER2-positive breast cancer. While the application was being coordinated for submission to the TGA, it did not help women who, like Michelle, needed to commence treatment as soon as possible to provide the best opportunity of long-term survival from this aggressive form of early stage breast cancer.

I decided to contact one of the local credit unions to try and coordinate a fundraising campaign to assist Michelle while negotiations between Roche and the TGA were taking place. I attended Helensburgh Fair, which is run by the Helensburgh Lions Club. While Paul McLeay and I were walking around talking to the various stallholders at the fair, we ran into Libby, from the Lions Club, at its sausage sizzle stall. She brought up with me the case of Michelle’s cancer treatment. I was quite amazed that Michelle’s story had travelled so quickly throughout the communities of Stanwell Park and Helensburgh. Their reaction was very much the same as mine: what can we do to help in a practical way? Whilst talking to the women at the Lions Club tent and speaking of my intentions, I discovered that one of the women, Jan Hill, was a neighbour of Michael Halloran, the Chief Executive of the Illawarra Credit Union. Jan and her two friends Tracey Weir and Cathy Deem enlisted Michael’s help—they are very persuasive, I have to say—and established a trust account for Michelle at the Illawarra Credit Union. The Illawarra Mercury, particularly through the efforts of local journalist Jenny Dennis, also came on board to help. So far the Wollongong community has raised over $30,000 to assist with Michelle’s treatment.

My good friend Russell Hannah, from the Illawarra Folk Club, organised for some of the profits from the first night of the Illawarra Folk Festival, which was held recently at Bulli Showground, to be donated to Michelle’s campaign. Auctioneer Kevin Danzey and his wife Leonie, who live in Stanwell Park, put on an auction at the Stanwell Park Community Hall, and Helensburgh Lions Club donated the proceeds of their sausage sizzle that afternoon.

Bi-Lo, at Helensburgh, has received a substantial amount from their customers to contribute to Michelle’s trust fund. Bede Parkes, from Helensburgh, has organised street stalls with cakes and slices outside Bi-Lo in Helensburgh and organised for the Catholic Church to hold a raffle. So far Bede has personally raised over $600 for Michelle, and she is well known throughout the community for always being there with a plate of pikelets in any situation.

There are also many other contributions, and I would personally like to thank the many local businesses, charities, media outlets and individuals—indeed, even some of the lovely staff from Hansard here in the parliament—who have contributed to this campaign to ensure that Michelle received the treatment she needed. I know that I deeply appreciate it, and I know that Michelle, Steven and the kids cannot thank all of those people enough.

Michelle has started her treatment and is feeling fantastic. She has been a strong advocate and lobbyist for all women requiring this treatment. She is absolutely amazing and a real inspiration. She is hopeful that Herceptin will be listed shortly so that the money raised by the community for her case can be donated to other breast cancer sufferers. Michelle has spent time speaking to other cancer patients, giving them advice, support and encouragement.

The community also worked together to collect almost 3,000 signatures seeking the approval of Herceptin for first-stage HER2-positive breast cancer sufferers. Mary-Anne McCaffery, from Woonona, who is currently undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer, and her husband Tam have by themselves collected over 1,500 signatures over the last few weeks. I have gone through the list of petitioners and I do not think there is anyone in Bulli, Woonona or Thirroul who has not signed the petition. They have been supported by many doctors, pharmacists and other local businesses and individuals, reflecting the fact, I believe—and the member who spoke before me made the point—that cancer in its many forms touches every family in our communities.

People like Michelle and Mary-Anne and their families deserve the best possible treatment, research and support that we are able to provide. I find it hard to believe that it has taken so long for a commitment to cancer sufferers like Michelle and Mary-Anne to be delivered.

There are many people who suffer from this disease. Cancer Council statistics show that one in four Australian women and one in three Australian men will suffer from cancer before the age of 75. This year, more than 462,000 Australians will be newly diagnosed with some form of cancer. Excluding non-melanoma skin cancers, 88,000 new cases will be diagnosed and 36,000 cancer patients will die this year. Up to 10 million people worldwide will be diagnosed with cancer this year. This figure is expected to reach 15 million people per year by 2020. Cancer causes six million deaths worldwide each year, equating to approximately 12 per cent of deaths.

The most common form of cancer, excluding non-melanoma skin cancer, is bowel cancer, followed by breast and prostate cancer, melanoma and lung cancer. Although there are over 100 types of cancer, these five most common types account for 60 per cent of all cases. Prostate, bowel and lung cancers and melanoma are the most common forms of cancer in men. For women the most common cancers are breast cancer, followed by bowel cancer, melanoma and lung cancer.

This is the reason why an organisation such as Cancer Australia is so critical. A peak body coordinating and prioritising research is essential. Cancer Australia will oversee a dedicated budget for research into cancer. Australian scientists, as we well know, are at the forefront of groundbreaking research in several areas in the fight against cancer.

The Illawarra Cancer Carers group recently presented a donation of $100,000 to the University of Wollongong for promising research into an anticancer drug project. The money provides a major boost to the research into the new anticancer drug formulation project headed by Professor Philip Clingan, Professor John Bremner and colleagues Associate Professor Marie Ranson, Dr Tamantha Stutchbury, Dr Julie Locke and Ms Laurel Morrissey. The new formulation of drug components has shown considerable promise against cancer cells and is now in the process of being tested in animals. After the animal experiments, Professor Clingan and Professor Bremner hope to further develop this drug combination for use in humans. The Illawarra Cancer Carers have previously made donations towards the dedicated mouse-housing facility, and this most recent donation will provide a much needed boost for continuing experiments.

In addition to the groundbreaking research in my electorate, our 2006 Australian of the Year, scientist Dr Ian Frazer, through hard work and innovation developed a vaccine, Gardasil, which will help to prevent human papilloma virus, HPV, which causes approximately 70 per cent of cervical cancers. HPV is sexually transmitted, and Gardasil works by provoking an immune response to HPV. This drug will enable women to be vaccinated before they become sexually active and potentially come in contact with strains of the virus that are targeted by the vaccine. Some 700 cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed in Australia each year, and worldwide 270,000 women die from cervical cancer each year. In 2002, 227 women died from cervical cancer in Australia.

It is imperative that Australian scientists, such as those at the University of Wollongong and Dr Ian Frazer, receive the full support of government to conduct research to combat all types of cancers. As the member for Mitchell also mentioned in his speech, screening is also an important and effective way to ensure early diagnosis and successful treatment. Australia’s achievements in cancer prevention and screening have deteriorated over recent years. National screening programs exist for cervical and breast cancer, which have significantly reduced mortality and disease rates.

For all of these reasons, during the 2004 federal election campaign Labor committed to providing $36.75 million for the development of a national screening program for bowel cancer and early detection programs for prostate, lung, ovarian and testicular cancers. Evidence has shown that bowel cancer death rates can be reduced by screening. Up to 12,000 Australians are diagnosed with bowel cancer each year, and more than 4,600 die from it. Approximately 90 per cent of bowel cancer patients could be cured if detected earlier.

Norman Miller and the Rotary Club of Corrimal are strong supporters of bowel cancer screening, as are many Rotary clubs throughout all of our electorates. They subsidise, promote and sell a quick, clean, easy-to-use bowel scan kit for $5 in my electorate. I receive excellent feedback from members of the community regarding these efforts in assisting with early detection and treatment.

Cancer is a key national health priority. While the final introduction of this bill is a good first step, it is time that the Minister for Health and Ageing made his statements at the time of the condolence motions for Senator Peter Cook into actions. The minister seemed to commit to providing an early response to the Senate Community Affairs References Committee report The cancer journey: informing choice. I particularly draw the minister’s attention to the recommendation that a Medicare rebate be established to encourage the development of multidisciplinary care plans. The implementation of this report could improve the care of many people suffering from cancer.

I am pleased to support this bill, as the establishment of an organisation such as this will, I have no doubt, assist many thousands in the future. Prioritised, well-funded cancer research is essential so that other men, women and children may not have to face this disease in the future.