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Monday, 16 November 2009
Page: 11844


Mr SCHULTZ (8:50 PM) —I rise to talk about a very serious women’s disease that was talked about in the last parliamentary sitting—I did not have the opportunity to contribute then—the issue of breast cancer and, more importantly, breast cancer research. Why do I do that? Not long after I was elected to the New South Wales parliament in 1988 a friend of my wife and me lost a breast to breast cancer. Within nine months of that occurring, her daughter, who was breastfeeding a child, was diagnosed with breast cancer and, sadly, she not long after that passed away. The point I am trying to make here is that this dreadful women’s disease affects all of us at some stage in our lifetime. Whether it be through mothers, sisters, cousins or neighbours it affects us in some way, shape or form.

One thing that is not recognised in this country to some degree is the significant contribution made by our scientists and doctors who are dedicated to trying to find a cure for breast cancer. I will go back into history a little more. I tried to talk about this as a male in the state parliament and then I went into the service club area and talked to the Apex, Rotary and Lions clubs in an endeavour to raise some money for mobile breast cancer-screening units for rural women. I did not get anywhere because I was a male talking about a very sensitive women’s health issue, so I asked my wife to take the burden on, which she did. For approximately six years she did all the research as a novice and got involved with the professional people involved in breast cancer research. She went out into communities right across southern New South Wales, northern Victoria, here in Canberra and up to the Southern Highlands in New South Wales and talked to women and educated them about breast cancer and what they should be doing in terms of their own health.

My wife was successful in raising about $800,000 and she put two mobile breast-screening mammography units on the road. At a later stage she was recognised for that and received an Australian honour. I am not here to talk about my wife; I am here to talk about how she became associated with an individual who was tied up with the Breast Cancer Institute of Australia. That individual was a fellow by the name of Professor John Forbes. He was instrumental in setting up a national research program conducted by the Australia New Zealand Breast Cancer Trials Group. This national program involves more than 40 institutions and over 200 research collaborators throughout Australia and New Zealand. The group also collaborates with specialised breast cancer researchers and institutions throughout the world. Our researchers have made major contributions to the breakthroughs already announced that represent an outstanding effort by hundreds of people dedicated to the control of breast cancer.

The ANZ BCTG is held in the highest regard right throughout the world. The person who drove this, Professor John Frederick Forbes, has shown a complete commitment to the support and advancement of breast cancer research and education for many decades. Since he matriculated in 1962 from the University of Melbourne with first class honours and the dux prize of the school to his present appointments, Professor Forbes has dedicated his life to help fight and better understand breast cancer in the interests of not only Australian women but women world wide. I am personally acutely aware of his perseverance and devotion to duty, often at expense to himself and to his beloved family. I recall visiting the professor on a Friday while he was attending to women in a clinic. I remarked that he looked tired and he just smiled. A nurse who was assisting him said, ‘The professor flew to London on Monday to attend clinics, presented a paper at a worldwide conference on Wednesday and arrived back today to do this clinic.’ When I expressed my concern, he replied, ‘Women who are suffering from breast cancer need all the help I can give them.’

Professor Forbes is truly an inspiration to all Australians and a role model for young people entering medical research. To read the curriculum vitae of Professor Forbes is to read the professional history of an Australian who has unselfishly dedicated his entire life to breast cancer research and education to ensure that Australia is well advanced in and at the leading edge of breast cancer research. Without the commitment of Professor Forbes, well-known organisations such as the Breast Cancer Institute of Australia, the Peter MacCallum Hospital in Melbourne, the Hunter Area Health Service, the Newcastle Mater Misericordia Hospital and the University of Newcastle faculty of health—to name but a few—would not be the well-known breast cancer facilities that they are today. He has spent countless hours overseeing the Australian-New Zealand breast cancer trials and he has had the courage to set up a national research program that involved 41 institutions, and over 300 people, consisting of breast cancer specialists, nurses and data managers.

He has also collaborated internationally to evaluate new treatment approaches as rapidly as possible so that these new treatments could be made available throughout the world. Women of the world owe a great debt to this man’s unselfish, caring and personal dedication, which is totally focused on finding a cure for this debilitating and deadly disease so tragically cutting short the lives of thousands of Australian women. Professor Forbes has certainly shown that he is a truly remarkable Australian and one who has advanced breast cancer research and education not only in this country but throughout the world. I cannot think of another Australian who is more deserving of recognition for his significant contribution to alleviating the suffering of women and the associated trauma to their families.

Professor John Forbes has been recognised abroad at international level for his singular and significant contribution to breast cancer research and education. This wonderful Australian has recently been honoured as one of the world’s top 10 clinical researchers by being included in the Thomson Scientific hottest researcher list. One of the attributes of this particular individual is that he quietly goes about doing what he is doing in the best interests of women’s health. I am an Australian who understands that there are people like this right across this great country of ours. What is difficult for me to understand is why this man has not been recognised with an Australian award for the work that he has done. That is one of the reasons why I am rising in this grievance debate tonight.

In 2005, I wrote a letter of support on behalf of this man for a nomination, but it never went anywhere. I did that as a local federal member who has had some of my constituents—not many, thankfully—write to me or ring me up to talk to me about supporting the nomination of themselves for an Australian order. Some of those people have been successful in getting those Australian awards after nominating themselves. The point that I am making there is that I am a member of parliament who understands and sees some of the work that has been done by people such as Professor John Forbes. One wonders where our priorities are in terms of really acknowledging the people who make a very significant contribution to research and more specifically in this case to research on the issue of curing breast cancer for the many women who tragically succumb to this dreadful disease year by year.

I wanted to take the opportunity to raise this issue in the House because, as I said, a few weeks ago, at the last parliamentary sitting, I never got the opportunity to talk about it on that day on which we honour and pay homage to those women who have, sadly, passed away with breast cancer and the many who are still suffering with it. So I sought the indulgence of the House tonight, and I thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and my parliamentary colleagues from both sides of the chamber for your tolerance in listening to a mere male talking about the very significant contribution made by a very committed Australian to the health and wellbeing of our Australian women.