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Wednesday, 29 March 2006
Page: 135

Mr ABBOTT (Minister for Health and Ageing) (6:48 PM) —I wish to thank members who have participated in this debate for their contributions of varying quality. Nevertheless I thank all who have spoken on the Cancer Australia Bill 2006, even those who have just read out the speaking notes which others have provided for them. I wish to simply respond to some of the criticisms which have been made of the government in the course of this debate. I thought that the shadow minister, the member for Lalor, was a little more partisan and bad tempered in her contribution today than I have come to expect from her. Perhaps she was stung by Michael Costello’s criticism of her contribution to policy. Perhaps she was stung by Glenn Milne’s report that she was not so much ‘missing in action’ as ‘media in attendance’, rather than getting on with the hard work of developing policy.

Nevertheless, let me deal with some of the specific criticisms that have been made. I want to assure the House that this government will fully deliver on all of the commitments that were made as part of our Strengthening Cancer Care policy at the last election, and many of these commitments have already been acted upon. The sum of $10 million has been provided to the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne and $7 million has been allocated for the first round of local palliative care grants. We have entered into a grant agreement with the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre to provide $3.5 million for nurse training over coming years. We are in the process of finalising a $5 million grant to support clinical trials and a $4 million grant for the Mentor in Regional Hospitals component of that election program and, of course, we have allocated $5 million for an MRI scanner at the Sydney Children’s Hospital.

I was surprised to hear the member for Lalor claim that all the government had done was to appoint a chairman of Cancer Australia. In fact, we have announced the board of Cancer Australia. It is a very distinguished board. One of its members is the Hon. Johnno Johnson, a fine former member of the New South Wales parliament who represented the Australian Labor Party. I think he will make an outstanding contribution to the board of Cancer Australia. I can only assume that the member for Lalor had not noticed this press release because she was perhaps preparing for her Australian Story interview or preparing some of the speeches she has been giving recently that have undermined her leader.

The government has been criticised for rolling the National Cancer Control Initiative into Cancer Australia. I want to make it very clear that the government recognises the valuable contribution of this initiative but, for the benefit of members opposite, let me just point out that the NCCI management committee made a decision to wind up the initiative as of the end of May. So we are not terminating it—we are not abolishing it—we are simply incorporating its functions into Cancer Australia, and we are doing so with the support of the members of that initiative.

The government was also criticised for an alleged delay in responding to Senator Cook’s inquiry by the Senate Community Affairs References Committee. Again, I was a little surprised to hear this because, if members opposite had been paying the attention that they should have to the Council of Australian Governments initiatives announced by the Prime Minister and the premiers in February, they would have noticed a new Medicare Benefits Schedule item for case conferencing for cancer patients. This was actually the principal recommendation of the Cook inquiry. It is being implemented, and it has already been announced as part of the COAG process. Again, if the member for Lalor had been paying more attention to health policy and less attention to pushing her own barrow, she might have noticed that.

Finally, the government has been criticised for what is claimed to be a lack of any substantial commitment to improving cancer care in Australia. It is very hard to deal with that kind of grab bag, catch-all, rhetorical condemnation, but let me simply quote from the Cancer Council Australia’s press release about the government’s Strengthening Cancer Care policy, where the press release described it as:

... the most comprehensive set of government-funded cancer control priorities ever announced in a Federal budget.

So I think this particular initiative is a very good initiative, and I commend it to the House.

Before sitting down, I would like to pay tribute to my friend and colleague the member for Robertson and Minister for Local Government, Territories and Roads, who has been a particular advocate for better cancer care, particularly better care for people with prostate cancer. He knows from practical experience what this is like, and he has quite rightly dedicated a significant part of his energies to doing more for cancer victims and prostate cancer victims in particular. I really appreciate the encouragement he has given to the government.

I know he is a little disappointed that there is not a specific advocate for prostate cancer on the Cancer Australia board. I probably should point out for his benefit and, I suspect, the benefit of the member for Lilley that people from the National Breast Cancer Centre board have been appointed to the board of Cancer Australia not because they are experts in breast cancer as such but because they are expert in the kind of work which Cancer Australia is doing—that is, bringing together research, education, advocacy and clinical standards in cancer generally, to do for all cancers what the NBCC has been able to do for one particular cancer.

This is an important development. It has taken a little longer to finalise than I would have liked, but it was important to get the governance arrangements right. It was important to have full consultation with the sector, and I think any fair-minded observer who looks at the quality of the advisory board would say that the government has done a pretty good job under all the circumstances.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. BK Bishop)—The original question was that this bill be now read a second time. To this the honourable member for Lalor has moved as an amendment that all words after ‘That’ be omitted with a view to substituting other words. The question now is that the words proposed to be omitted stand part of the question.

Question agreed to.

Original question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.