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Wednesday, 29 March 2006
Page: 121


Mrs HULL (5:41 PM) —It gives me great pleasure today to rise to support the Cancer Australia Bill 2006. As all other speakers in the House have mentioned, this is a fantastic initiative that is long overdue and widely welcomed right across Australia. Cancer Australia will be an umbrella organisation for various cancer groups to provide leadership, vision and support to consumers and health professionals and to make recommendations to the government about cancer policies and priorities. As the co-convener—along with the member for Franklin, Harry Quick—of the parliamentary cancer network, it gives me much pleasure to be able to stand here today and recognise that this national body will be of great benefit to all Australians. It will include new approaches to mentoring regional cancer services, a grants process targeted at building cancer support groups, a national awareness campaign for skin cancer, a new dedicated budget for research into cancer to be administered in conjunction with the National Health and Medical Research Council and funding for clinical trials infrastructure for cancer patients.

With one in three men and one in four women in Australia now directly affected by cancer in the first 75 years of their life, it is imperative to have as many support services available as possible, especially in regional areas. Support services have come a long way, particularly in regional areas, since I was first exposed to family cancer many years ago. When my brother aged 28 was diagnosed with melanoma, limited support services were available in country areas. We spent months and months in the Sydney Hospital trying to assist and do all that we could in research and in trialling drugs to save my 28-year-old brother’s life. Unfortunately, that did not happen and he passed away. I remember feeling at that time that there had to be something better in the system to assist him and the many other patients who came from regional Australia to confront this terrifying disease and to assist them to have a quality of life, no matter how short it was, while they were being treated. May I say that, with the grace of God and an enormous amount of work from people right across Australia and successive governments, we have seen that happening: we have seen the system change dramatically. With this organisation, we will now see a central point for managing services and support centres.

I congratulate the New South Wales Cancer Council and the Cancer Patients Assistance Society because they have done a magnificent job. I would like to make mention of the fact that the Riverina people decided to take charge of their own destiny. I have mentioned it many times in the House here, and I will mention it again today because I am extremely proud of the efforts made by the Riverina constituency, and those just beyond the Riverina as well, to establish the Riverina Cancer Care Centre. Through the great work and huge generosity of people across my electorate, we were able to launch a fundraising campaign to build a cancer care centre in order to attract a service provider to come into that centre and provide much-needed radiotherapy, and now public chemotherapy, in a quality environment.

Some really significant people have, along the way, put in much effort on behalf of cancer sufferers and their families. Sometimes that effort can be forgotten, because somebody will take on an issue and drive it, and the people with the vision, the passion and the dream sometimes get left behind. There is a lady who has had such passion and drive for over 25 years for all the patients in the Riverina. As a nurse, her commitment to her patients in administering chemotherapy and many treatments was absolutely outstanding and deserved reward. I speak of Ann Aichroy, a sister at the Wagga Wagga Base Hospital, who supported fly-in, fly-out cancer support services and provided the most extraordinary care above and beyond the call of duty. She came to me many times with a vision and a dream of having a cancer care centre dedicated in Wagga Wagga to the Riverina people that would provide the best treatment available.

Thankfully, in the honours list on Australia Day this year, I was successful in having Annie recognised for her enormous contribution to patients with cancer long before it became fashionable and long before it became an industry with so much help and assistance. She was out there striving and driving to deliver quality of life to people when their lives were short, and making every day a winner and every day count. She is an amazing recipient of that order. I am very proud of her and very proud to have nominated her for this award, to remember what she put in when others took this forward.

We built our cancer care centre as a testament to the dream and vision of people like Annie Aichroy and many people who have gone before us with this hideous disease. We are now servicing the Riverina and Canberra and many people beyond. We have some international people coming in for treatment.

I also thank the minister, the department, the minister’s office and Terry Barnes for assisting me through a process at the moment that will see even better and more reliable services delivered to far more people out of the Riverina Cancer Care Centre. Those negotiations are at the current time going along really nicely. I am hoping that they will lead to a fruitful end.

We had a significant amount of involvement when we raised the $3 million in 18 months to build our cancer care centre for our region. We did walks and dinners. We had great benefactors and great donations from people who had experienced cancer, but the community commitment was beyond belief. Then, when we had finished building that centre and had operators, providers, radiation and oncology services et cetera in that centre providing a fabulous treatment, there was the desire to build an accommodation facility. Through the combined efforts of the Cancer Patients Assistance Society, the Cancer Council of New South Wales and, again in the electorate of Riverina, the incredible drivers from the local wine clubs, Rotary and Apex clubs and general community members, we have built Lilier Lodge, which has 24 brand-new units. It is the most beautiful set of units. When you stay there, you are able to have your family with you at a very troubling time, when you are receiving the expertly and excellently delivered services and treatments of the Riverina Cancer Care Centre, with its staff absolutely committed to these treatment processes.

The one little glitch is in relation to IPTAAS, the Isolated Patients Travel and Accommodation Assistance Scheme, which is run by the New South Wales state government. It is a great scheme, a fabulous scheme, but the glitch was that you did have to travel in excess of 200 kilometres to qualify. That has now been reduced to 100 kilometres. I thank the New South Wales government for putting their attention to this. However, there is still a problem in that people from, say, Temora or surrounding areas just under those 100 kilometres need to travel to have treatment and need to stay over for their treatment. As we all know, when you are a cancer sufferer and you are getting treatment, it has a significant impact on your energy and health, and you are unable to travel much of the time during your treatment process. It would be great to see some sort of resolution that enabled people or gave them assistance to utilise Lilier Lodge so that they could experience a far better treatment, rather than having to hop into the car and go back to their homes of a night and travel back the next day. It is an enormous strain on them; otherwise, they have to attend Sydney before they can qualify for IPTAAS.

I commend the New South Wales government for lowering the distance, but it would be great if we could come to another resolution so that those people who are having treatment—because it is certainly impossible for them to travel after treatment—benefit by being able to claim IPTAAS to utilise facilities to make the treatment a little bit easier on them.

Moving to some of the issues where we have people travelling from more remote areas: it has been an absolute boon for patients, their families and friends to have such great services established in the Riverina—as I said, with the assistance of this government. We never, ever, thought it would be possible, but it has been made possible and we thank them enormously.

When someone is diagnosed with cancer, it is a difficult time for their family and friends. They need as many support services as possible. This bill is a vital step in ensuring that this is the case. Cancer Australia will translate into a new 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. As I said, I have a lot of experience with cancer. Some years ago my 28-year-old brother became a victim of cancer—melanoma. Shortly after he died, my very best friend was diagnosed with breast cancer and lost her life. She was very young and had three babies. Shortly thereafter, my father was diagnosed with cancer and I lost him. Then I lost my mother with cancer shortly after that. It was a chain of events that has led me to feel that this bill is the best thing that could happen for those people who need support services nationally right across Australia, as they may not be as lucky as we are to have what we have developed in the Riverina.

I am aware that there will be an advisory council that will be appointed by the minister. I would appeal to the minister to ensure that consumers are represented on this council. All too often we get an enormous number of medical experts, particularly in cancer, because there are so many fields that require representation. With all the representation across the board from the various fields of cancer and the treatment, services, add-ons and ancillaries that are needed for cancer patients, consumers are often forgotten. I would urge the minister to ensure that consumers are represented on this advisory council, because, believe you me, nobody knows better about what is needed than a person who has been diagnosed and is living with cancer. It is not just a matter of being diagnosed and then being treated. We are so fortunate; we really have seen such a difference in the way in which we treat cancer. So many more people now do not have a death sentence; they often have a life sentence to a good life. That is due to the amount of money and expertise, commitment and passion that has been invested.

There are so many issues that confront patients and their families, because so many new challenges come into play after you are diagnosed, even if you are successfully treated—and thankfully many people are. There is now a greater percentage who are saved than who lose their lives. But, even if you have been diagnosed and treated successfully, you often have other conditions that come into play as a result of having had cancer in the first place. It is an ongoing management and maintenance task. There are a whole host of things we do not look at outside the initial treatment of this disease and the support whilst treatment is being made available. So I would urge the minister to include on this advisory council consumers who are across the whole host of long-term management problems and challenges for patients and families. It is absolutely essential.

Cancer Voices Australia is a cancer support group for people who have been affected by cancer. This is the sort of thing we have needed for so long. It often takes a group of passionate people to bring such a support group together. It is enormously needed, because it is a very lonely journey—a lonely journey with thousands of people around you, but enormously difficult in the steps that you need to take.

I would also ask the minister to consider a palliative care process when we are looking at how we take advice. Palliative care is an enormously important part of cancer management, particularly for the patient. Having cared for my brother, my father and my mother right through the palliative care stage to death, I really believe that palliative care has to comprehensively engage the family and provide hands-on advice on the day-to-day experience of a terminal patient.

While this is a fabulous bill and I support it entirely, I do seek to have as much influence as I possibly can to ensure consumers are not forgotten, because to me consumers are the experts. With respect to palliative care deliverers, far too often we take advice from those at high levels rather than from those involved in on-the-ground activity on a day-to-day basis. It is good to have grassroots people on expert advisory boards and councils because they bring us back to reality. Nobody could be more in touch with reality than consumers who have been faced with a diagnosis of cancer and those who provide palliative care services.

I commend this bill to the House. I commend the support that this government will make available to everybody across Australia in providing a national voice that can better coordinate treatment for cancer sufferers and the provision of additional services to them and their families now and in the future.