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Tuesday, 19 June 2012
Page: 7119

Ms VAMVAKINOU (Calwell) (17:40): I want to take the opportunity to ask the minister about the expansion of the bowel cancer program. Bowel cancer, as we all would be very much aware, kills some 4,000 Australians every year and it is one of those cancers that kills more people apart from lung cancer. It is a disease that is prevalent throughout the community and it is one where early detection is critical for long-term survival because it is one of those cancers that can be cured if diagnosed at very early stages. Australia has one of the highest rates of bowel cancer and the overall incidence is expected to increase with the ageing of our population. In my electorate of Calwell I have a very large ageing population which is why this issue is of such importance to me. It is an ageing population which is very multicultural in nature. It is a community of diversity and first-generation migrants, who are now ageing. Health issues are becoming a major facet of their ageing years.

Bowel cancer generally is a great economic burden to the health system and therefore early detection and a possible cure is much healthier for the community and for the budget itself. The introduction of the national screening program to detect bowel cancer and its early signs was a 2004 election commitment of the Labor government and indeed the Liberal Party as well. Eight years later, the program has been successful. It was a program that was made available to people at the age of 50. I got my first bowel screening kit when I turned 50. I considered it to be a birthday present from the Commonwealth government. I looked at it for some weeks and wondered what I should be doing with it and eventually summoned the courage to open it up and have a look at it. It took me a while to work it out, but eventually I submitted my tests only to find that I was caught up in that batch that was faulty and had to do it again. In any case, this little birthday present is extended to people when they turn 55 and 65. The reality is that there has been a long-term campaign from the community and from Cancer Australia to have that program expanded to be made available to people over 50 free of charge.

Minister, for the benefit of the many people in my electorate who wrote to me who were part of that campaign, I wanted to let the Federation Chamber know that those people found the program to be extremely valuable, useful and important—a life-saving device. But, as Maria Tatii from Roxburgh Park said, 'I would like to see this Australian government take bowel seriously and make a commitment in the next budget to make bowel cancer screening free for all Australians over 50.' She goes on to say that the government has a very real opportunity to prevent the deaths of hundreds of Australians every year if it commits to free bowel cancer screening. Diane, from Greenvale in my electorate, points out that more than 22,000 Australians have already asked the government to get behind the bowel screening campaign. These of course are letters that were sent to me in March of this year. Minister, can you please tell us: how will Australians benefit from the government's expansion of the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program?