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Thursday, 30 March 2006
Page: 155

Senator HUTCHINS (6:53 PM) —I endorse fully the comments made by Senator McLucas in relation to the Cancer Australia Bill 2006. I have had cancer and that, as it will become clear during my contribution, is why I am making this contribution this evening. Like a number of cancer sufferers—and my colleague here, Senator Moore, has also been through the journey—I am quite reluctant to talk about what I have been through. I was diagnosed with cancer three months after I came here. That was not good considering that I had decided, and so had my party, that I had some contribution to make to this place. I went through the journey of the chemotherapy, the radiation and all that that entails. I got very sick at one point. I spent about two weeks in the palliative care ward at Nepean Hospital, which one would call the dispatch rooms. It is not much fun being in that area when people are dying around you and you are hoping you are not going to join them—I can tell you.

I got through that with the support of my family, friends and colleagues and my faith. I got very ill again in 2003. I had to go through a probably unnecessary preselection, but that was a bit of bloody-mindedness by the leadership of my faction in New South Wales. When I first got diagnosed I had to get a letter from my surgeon to say that I was going to live, because there was a lot of quiet agitation within the ranks of some of the right of the New South Wales branch about the pending vacancy. So, unlike probably most of the people in this chamber, I have a letter to say that I am going to live. I have it framed in my office so everybody can see it when they come in.

During the last week of parliament in 2004 I was seriously ill again and was not able to make parliament. Last year I was out of action for some time. I had five operations last year. The first was in February, which was about 10 hours; there were three minor ones that were only for a few hours; and then I had another one in November which went for about 9½ hours.

 As I said, I have been reluctant to talk about my illness because, as cancer sufferers will tell you, it is pretty much a private thing. While I was recovering I was looking at the Sunday Telegraph of 18 December last year in which there was an article by Paul Dyer titled ‘MPs working less.’ I read the article. This particular journalist slags off a number of colleagues. In particular, he says:

Senators and MPs can be granted leave for illness, family reasons or if they are on parliamentary business.

But federal politicians are not granted leave for other absences, such as holidays or campaign work.

The figures show 40 senators missed sitting days without being granted leave, amassing a total of 96 days off.

NSW Senator Steve Hutchins missed 11 days without leave. He also had 11 days off with leave granted.

The first time I rang the journalist I was quite angry about it and I explained to him what I have just explained to you, Mr Acting Deputy President—on five occasions I was operated on and I was probably in hospital for at least two months last year. I explained this to Mr Dyer and I asked him if he would not mind clarifying it in the next edition of the Sunday Telegraph. The Sunday Telegraph came out on Christmas Day and has come out ever since and neither Mr Dyer nor the Sunday Telegraph have sought to clarify why I was absent from parliament. I have to go and get operated on again next Thursday. I can handle that and I am not worried about that. But if I am absent it will be because of illness, not because I am malingering or bludging somewhere.

As a cancer sufferer and a survivor, I want to comment on some of the things that cancer sufferers and survivors go through. If you have ever been to the cancer care units where you get the chemotherapy and the radiation therapy, you can see in a lot of people’s eyes whether they have surrendered or not. Some of them look quite healthy, active and prepared. They do not look ill at all but you can see in their eyes that they have surrendered. In a number of people’s eyes you can also see the anguish and the anxiety about what is going to happen next: ‘Am I about to depart?’ Unfortunately, people in that predicament—and I never felt that I was in that predicament—look for alternatives and quick fixes.

I spoke to my surgeon yesterday because I am going to see him again next Thursday, as I said. I’ll only see him briefly before he knocks me out! I asked Professor Cartmill about complementary and alternative medicines and he said to me that complementary treatments are used with conventional medicine—and this is my interpretation—whereas alternative treatments can and have been used instead of conventional medicine. That is probably the difference between complementary and alternative medicines. There have been plenty of examples over the last 30 years where people have had quick fixes offered to them and have grasped them.

The other thing that Professor Cartmill said to me was that the other test should be how expensive some of these CAMs are. You can look at the history of the last 30 years. In Queensland there was Milan Brych, who was offering all sorts of cures. In fact, he went from Auckland to the Cook Islands and ended up in Queensland. Joh Bjelke-Petersen wanted him to set up a clinic there. It was only the heroic efforts of the Liberal leader and Minister for Health, Sir Llew Edwards, that prevented Milan Brych getting started up there. He ended up in jail in 1993 in California. There was recently a veterinary surgeon called Ian Gawler who claimed that cancer could be cured through meditation and the adoption of a variety of diets and herbal treatments, including coffee enemas. This was proven to be of dubious nutritional value and has not gone anywhere.

There is a drug called laetrile that is apparently an extract of apricot pips. It has been banned in the US because it is of no value at all. In fact, it is regarded as dangerous, but laetrile clinics have been set up in Mexico and people go over there. There has been a view that shark cartilage can be a cure for cancer because, it is alleged, sharks do not get cancer—but I understand that sharks do get cancer. There is no value in that. There is something called a glucose-blocking treatment, a blood zapper, a white food diet and an energy cleaning machine. Stabilising of oxygen and electrolyte disturbances occur as a result of coffee enemas.

In just September last year the federal government had a review of what is called ‘microwave cancer therapy’. The National Health and Medical Research Council reviewed this microwave therapy practice by Dr John Holt in Western Australia. The review committee on the microwave cancer therapy undertook the assessment of the methods used by Dr Holt, including examination of Dr Holt’s past and present patient records. They examined the published scientific evidence on microwave cancer therapy. The review committee found no scientific evidence to support the use of microwaves in treating cancer either alone or when combined with other therapies. The press release put out by the National Health and Medical Research Council, which is available for people—or I can give them a copy of it—goes into much more detail about why this treatment is not going to cure your cancer.

I made these contributions because I thought it was time to put on the record why I have been absent, particularly last year. I know that a lot of you were aware of that, and I got a lot of support and messages from all sides. In fact, I got a very nice phone message from the previous Leader of the Opposition, Mark Latham. I know that might surprise some on my side, but Mark left me a very nice message last year when he found out that I was still on the journey of cancer.

I commend this bill as a sufferer and as someone who has come through it. It changes your outlook on life a bit. Immediately after you recover you go about a million miles an hour. People try to catch you and you try to make up for a bit of lost time. I fortunately did not lose my hair from the chemotherapy. I got a No. 2 cut in case I was going to, but I never ended up losing it. As I say, I commend this bill. I know one of my colleagues has gone through the journey and is about to follow me. We help each other out every now and again, and talk about the past and what the future holds.