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Address to the Ovarian Cancer Morning Tea: Queen Victoria Women's Centre, Melbourne



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THE HON. BILL SHORTEN MP LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION MEMBER FOR MARIBYRNONG

ADDRESS TO THE OVARIAN CANCER MORNING TEA

QUEEN VICTORIA WOMEN’S CENTRE, MELBOURNE

WEDNESDAY, 25 MAY 2016

I was due to give a press conference and I will still do that but while we are here for morning tea this morning, Catherine and I wanted to address our announcement to yourselves in particular, and then we will talk it through with other people in a moment.

First of all, thank you for coming, each one of you.

Catherine and I are privileged to hear each of you talk briefly about your story, remind us of why we went into politics.

You are modest people, none of you ever asked for the set of circumstances which has brought you here.

Cancer, generally, is a plight. I was saying to the people on the other table that my own mum had to deal with the big challenge of breast cancer in her early 60s and she lived another 18 years. It's a dreadful challenge and of course we have always got to think about the hereditary angle of cancer.

Ovarian cancer is not well known. To be honest, it is in a way convenient that the election has come along so it gives us a chance, and you, to talk about what's most important to you and your families. 1500 women each year are diagnosed with ovarian cancer, nearly 1000 every year die from it.

The story of both survivors and partners of people or children of people who didn't make it is pretty powerful. You do remind us all about what's really important: health, family.

I always wonder when you get this diagnosis and I've seen them first hand in my own family, you stop worrying about the minutes of the agenda of the meeting you didn't get to. All of a sudden you just have to focus on yourself.

Because ovarian cancer afflicts women, you are reminded, and you see families, that old saying is never more true than when you've got this battle: when mum's ok, the family is ok, the world's ok.

But, I was speaking to William briefly, and there are other husbands here, Laurie and others, you know that when the mother is doing it tough, that's a foundation that rocks the family. The ripples keep going out and out.

You're here because you want more attention on research. We all know that with early diagnosis, the odds improve.

We know that Australia currently has better survival rates at the 5-year stage than other countries, but it is still a silent killer.

All of you who had the diagnosis talk about either fortuitous early intervention or indeed having symptoms and not identifying the cause of the symptoms: tiredness, indigestion, bloating, going through menopause.

There are a lot of other explanations for people and the human condition, sometimes we just keep on working.

I was talking to someone from Ballarat and you keep commuting on the train and you think that's what is tiring you out. It is really important that we have research.

I'm really pleased today that a Labor government, if elected, will fund $8 million worth of research over the next 4 years.

When you think about it, it doesn't sound like much at all. No doubt someone will say it costs us too much.

When I think about this whole debate, in some ways today is a summary of this election. You're not here for the politics, you are here for the research, to be the voice of survivors, to be the voice of people who didn't make it and to make sure that others in the future, your daughters, your sisters and your neighbours perhaps with better research, can benefit from early screening.

You're here as an organisation, Ovarian Cancer Australia. For a small group, you punch above your weight and make the case. You speak in Canberra, you do everything you really need to do plus more. You are a summary of this election.

There is a fierce debate in the nation about the cost of healthcare versus perhaps the cost of corporate tax cuts or what have you. I actually think, and this is who I am, I believe that it is not a question of saying this is the cost of what we spend. For me it is the cost of what we lose when we don't spend on healthcare.

If we don't have GPs accessible, some of the very women that we are all dedicated to support having longer lives and lives where they see their kids grow up and grow old, these are the choices. If it's too expensive to go to the doctor and you have an ambiguous set of symptoms, you will delay treatment.

With the kid's school uniforms, you've got other stuff going on in your lives, life has a way of keeping you busy, dragging you through these sorts of things.

So we want to keep it cheap to go to the doctor. Prescription drugs, pathology tests, we must keep bulk-billing for pathology.

As any of you would attest, it's not a matter of one blood test, it's the constant reading. It's the ultrasounds, it's the diagnostic imaging, it's the x-rays. These are not a matter for some accountant to put down as some abacus of cost. It's the difference. We have got a world class health system in this country, we just have to make sure it's available to all people.

I don't want to run a country that says we can't afford to look after you.

I believe that it is not leadership to say that we can only spend so much and no more. When it comes to the health of Australians, that is the job.

When people talk about cost, if we are a healthy people, if we are a people that when they fall sick can be made well again quickly, that is a very, very good basis for the future benefit of this country in all aspects.

I believe that if we don't act not only just on the research, but on a strong Medicare, on a well-funded pathology system and diagnostic imaging system, on medicines which are kept cheap, I believe that we cannot afford to ignore it.

I say to you not only about the research but about this general election we face, I will lead a country where we can afford the healthcare of all Australians, and nothing less will do.

The $8 million in research, that is testament to your hard work and your stories of survival or indeed if you haven't had that from your partner or loved one, your ongoing commitment to their memory, we will not let you down. I will never let an argument saying 'this country cannot afford the best quality healthcare' to deter me.

Thank you very much for the attention you are giving to your cause, this is by far the single best thing Catherine and I have been involved in because you are what this debate is all about.

You have courage, you have strength, you have love. You deserve to have national leadership which has some of the courage and some of the hope, and remarkable strength of your remarkable families. You just need that backup.

Thank you very much.