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Wednesday, 29 March 2006
Page: 58


Mr JOHNSON (1:00 PM) —It is a great pleasure to speak in the parliament of Australia today on the Cancer Australia Bill 2006, a very important bill. On behalf of the residents of my electorate of Ryan in the western suburbs of Brisbane, I support this bill with great vigour. This is an important bill that will take an important step forward in this country’s attack on cancer. Cancer not only kills people but destroys the lives of family members, and we should do something immediately.

The Australian government recognises the huge number of Australians affected each year by the scourge of cancer. I am disappointed that, in her remarks earlier on this bill, the shadow health minister was very negative and very critical in her usual whining fashion. I commend the speaker who has just spoken for her more constructive comments about this bill. This should be a bipartisan bill, and it should reflect this parliament’s 100 per cent shoulder-to-shoulder stance on a disease that we should do everything within our human power to eliminate from the face of the earth.

One in three men and one in four women will be directly affected by cancer before the age of 75. Each year in Australia, more than 88,000 new cases of cancer are diagnosed. There is probably not a person in the country who does not know of someone who has been touched by cancer. While more than half of the cases I have referred to will be successfully treated—and the survival rate for many common cancers has increased by more than 30 per cent in the past two decades—cancer still remains the dominant killer of Australians.

Over 36,000 people in Australia die from cancer each year. The incidence of cancer in Australia is far higher than in, say, the UK and Canada, whilst it is lower than in the United States and New Zealand. Our mortality rates are, however, lower than those of the four countries I have mentioned. Not only is there a great human cost every year associated with cancer but there is also the cost to the country of billions of dollars directly and indirectly. If we are looking for reasons to do something about this, the economic reason alone is quite a significant one. Far more than that is the humanity behind this bill and the motives of the government in coming to a decision to create Cancer Australia as a new statutory body that will focus its energy on trying to reduce cancer in Australia.

The establishment of Cancer Australia fulfils a key election promise made by the government at the 2004 election as part of the Howard government’s commitment to the Strengthening Cancer Care initiative. The government has happily committed a total of $13.7 million over five years to establish the new Cancer Australia agency. The bill prescribes specific roles which Cancer Australia is to fulfil. They include the following: provide national leadership and coordination of cancer control in Australia; guide improvements to cancer prevention and care to ensure that treatment is scientifically based; coordinate and liaise between the wide range of groups and providers with an interest in treating and eliminating cancer; make recommendations to the Australian government about cancer policy and priorities; and oversee a dedicated budget for research into cancer.

The bill also prescribes the very important roles of assisting with the implementation of the Australian government’s policies and programs in the control of cancer and undertaking any general functions that the minister of the day might direct the Chief Executive Officer of Cancer Australia to perform. These are broad and wide-ranging functions which will see Cancer Australia become the peak national voice on research into cancer care, support for those living with cancer, palliative care services and support for those in the allied and professional health industry who have a very dedicated role in trying to cure cancer patients.

In order to position Cancer Australia as a leader in its field, the government has created a governance structure which is designed to focus emphasis on increasing collaboration with key stakeholders. It is important that those agencies and organisations throughout the country that focus on this important work have some degree of coordination, because that is the best way we can get a conclusive outcome that is in the interests of patients. The governance of Cancer Australia will consist of a CEO, who will have the responsibility of managing and guiding Cancer Australia. The CEO will be appointed by the minister for a term of not more than three years. That person will directly report to the minister on behalf of Cancer Australia, and the minister has the power to direct the CEO on a broad range of functions for Cancer Australia. In essence, the CEO will be responsible for the management of Cancer Australia and its overall strategic direction.

This bill also establishes the Cancer Australia Advisory Council. The council is to consist of a chair and up to 12 other members. I welcome the announcement by the Minister for Health and Ageing that a Queenslander, Dr Bill Glasson, a former President of the Australian Medical Association, has agreed to head the advisory council. He is highly respected and well qualified, and I know that he will come to his new role with great enthusiasm and great commitment. Members of the council will be appointed by the minister, although it is expected that they will consist of representatives from a range of stakeholders so that the best advice can be tendered. Membership of the advisory council will be on a part-time basis for a period not exceeding three years. As a creation of this bill, it is incumbent upon Cancer Australia to provide to the minister a yearly report, and that report will be tabled in parliament. It is important that members of parliament see the work of Cancer Australia so we can take back to our electorates the activities, the initiatives and the work of Cancer Australia.

It was very encouraging to read of the overwhelming support the government has received for this initiative from the Cancer Council of Australia, and I welcome the comments from its CEO, Professor Alan Coates. I will quote his remarks, as they are quite timely and significant. He said:

Cancer Australia will be well placed to take up the fight against cancer as an integral part of the Federal Government’s Strengthening Cancer Care package, which represents an unprecedented government commitment to reducing the impact of cancer in Australia.

Work is being undertaken currently on a number of fronts to improve cancer prevention and treatment, but there is no centralised body to help facilitate these efforts nationally.

I want to talk briefly about the National Breast Cancer Foundation and make a few comments about Professor Ian Frazer, who is a St Lucia resident in the Ryan electorate. Ian is this year’s Australian of the Year. He is a very distinguished Australian, whose commitment to his medical profession and research knows no equal. I have spoken in this House on a couple of previous occasions about breast cancer. I did so because my wife was involved for a brief time in assisting the National Breast Cancer Foundation and I had the opportunity to bring to the parliament a very famous and high-profile Australian, Ms Sarah O’Hare, who was the ambassador for Pink Ribbon Day. I note that many of my colleagues were very keen to meet her. I thank again the Minister for Health and Ageing, Mr Tony Abbott, for kindly arranging for us to meet with Ms Sarah O’Hare and also with Ms Sue Murray, the CEO of the National Breast Council Foundation. We were able to get widespread publicity for Sarah O’Hare’s visit to the parliament. The national papers and all the news channels publicised and highlighted her visit here and the important work that she does in promoting awareness of breast cancer. So I thank again Sarah O’Hare, Sue Murray, the health minister and all my colleagues who took time out of their busy schedules to come and meet Ms O’Hare. I should also thank Mr Stuart Tait, another Ryan constituent of mine, because he very kindly gave me some funds that enabled me to put on morning tea for my many colleagues from both sides of the parliament who attended on that occasion.

Each year more than 10,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer. They are not alone; the experience affects their partners, families and friends. My wife and I have close friends who have been touched by breast cancer and, of course, we were affected very much when that occurred. That is why it is so vital that we have a national organisation that is responsible for the coordination of our nation’s funding, support and treatment of cancer. It is important that we debate in the parliament these sorts of bills—that our focus is not entirely on matters of economics, trade and commerce but that we also focus on some of these sorts of social issues. None of us would ever hope to suffer from cancer; we would dread the thought of that occurring. There are those who have had it and who have recovered from it. While I am not one of those people, my friends who have recovered from cancer with timely treatment have said that they view life differently, having been given a second chance at life, and that they are blessed. They take on living life to the fullest and not only make a commitment to their families in a different way but see life very differently and wanting to make a commitment to their fellow man.

The Ryan electorate can be very proud because it can claim the Australian of the Year, Professor Ian Frazer, for his research into the treatment of cervical cancer. In this country between 500 and 1,000 women are affected by cervical cancer, and it kills some 300,000 women worldwide. Some 500,000 women worldwide are also affected by cervical cancer. Therefore, the work of Professor Ian Frazer of St Lucia in the Ryan electorate is most important. In fact, a recent article described him as God’s gift to women. When last I saw him, I think he mentioned to me that he took that as a great honour, because he is a very dedicated Australian. We know, as I said, that cervical cancer kills many hundreds of thousands of women worldwide and Ian Frazer, as a specialist in medical research, has dedicated his professional life to finding a cure for that disease.

In the time I have remaining to me, I want to refer the House to an article in my local south-west newspaper, the Westside News, of Wednesday 15 March. It was a very timely article that talked of the possibility of research coming to the fore that will potentially eradicate brain cancer. The very well known St Andrew’s War Memorial Hospital in Brisbane will be the first Australian hospital to trial a treatment with the potential to eradicate brain cancer. I want to pay a compliment, in the Parliament of Australia, to Dr David Walker, who said that the treatment—which involves injecting a liquid directly into tumours—would offer hope to those affected by non-operable progressive brain tumours that had a low long-term patient survival rate. Let me quote from that article in the Westside News of 15 March. It reads:

Based on a protein derived from the diphtheria bacteria, the trial has shown promising results overseas.

“About 10 per cent of people have shown what they call a complete response, where the tumour has disappeared and not recurred yet ...” Dr David Walker said.

He continued:

“Up to 50 per cent have had some response, which means the tumours haven’t progressed, have gone away partly or gone away completely.”

…         …         …

... the surgery which involved inserting a catheter directly into the brain, was is not complex.

“The drug is toxic to the tumour cells, but the patients don’t get a lot of side effects from it” ...

This is a very promising piece of research and the medical staff at St Andrew’s War Memorial Hospital in Brisbane are amongst the finest medical researchers this country has. Wherever members of the federal parliament get the opportunity, I think we should praise those in the medical profession. We should take our hats off to them because they are amongst the most brilliant people our country can produce.

I also draw to the House’s attention an article in the Financial Review of Thursday, 16 March 2006. A visiting American researcher, Garry Nolan, from the Stanford University National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, came to Australia to give a speech. This gentleman, obviously a very intelligent and inspiring man, an associate professor at Stanford University, has suffered cancer on three occasions, yet has been able to recover and go on to inspire his colleagues with his research into melanoma, a cancer that is very common to Australians.

I want to encourage all Australians, if they have not yet done so, to be very vigilant about their health, and to look at research into the condition of their health. It is very easy, in our busy lives, to neglect our health. I am very guilty of this; I am sure the overwhelming majority of my colleagues in the parliament would join me in saying that they probably neglect their health to an extent that should not occur. We should be more vigilant about our health. We should exercise more and consult our doctors regularly. We should check our bodies to ensure that we are, as much as possible, fit and healthy.

For women in particular, the early detection of breast cancer is important. As research shows, breast cancer can be cured if it is detected early enough. Mr Garry Nolan detected spots on his shoulder and forearm, and his aggressive melanoma would have turned into a cancer that would have killed him if he had waited only a matter of a few extra weeks before seeking help. That is a reflection of how important it is for us all to check these things.

I notice some young Australians in the gallery today. I welcome them to the Australian parliament and hope that they are conscious of their health. I am sure their teachers and parents are equally vigilant about that. It is important to keep fit and healthy; it is important to look out for each other and for one’s family members as well.

We spend billions of dollars on all kinds of important causes, such as the war on terror. We spend billions of dollars on roads. We spend billions of dollars on trade and commerce. I recall that when the President of Pakistan visited here in June last year he talked about a jihad. He referred to those extreme Muslims who talked about a jihad against the Western world—those who harboured ill will towards the Western or English-speaking world. He said, ‘Why don’t they call for a jihad on some of the terrible things that afflict our world, such as a jihad on poverty?’ It was very inspiring. I am sure that those of my colleagues who had the great privilege of hearing President Musharraf of Pakistan speak in the Great Hall would share my view that he gave a very instructive presentation.

I call upon the Australian government and all governments, of whatever political persuasion, to have a jihad against cancer. Let us have a jihad against poverty; let us have a jihad against cancer; let us have a jihad against all those things that make our society poorer. Let us have a jihad against HIV-AIDS. Let us have a jihad against evil people in the world. Let us do something to make this world a finer place for the people who will follow us.

My wife and I are expecting our first child in June. This is a moment that I have been told will change my life forever. I will be joining the fatherhood club. I know that my colleagues in the chamber today, the member for Wentworth and the member for Lilley, are both parents. I will be joining that fatherhood club, and I look forward to it with much enthusiasm. I want my son or daughter to come into a world that is much better than the world that I live in. That is why I have come to the Australian parliament—not only specifically to represent my constituents and my political party but to make a difference in the world in which my wife and I live, the world in which my son or daughter will live, the world in which his or her children will live, and the world in which my fellow human beings live.