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Tuesday, 14 October 2008
Page: 9048

Ms BURKE (8:55 PM) —In the rush of government announcements today, there was one made by the Minister for Health and Ageing that might have gone unnoticed. But I want to draw it to the attention of the House and commend the minister for health for doing something about a group of individuals who often go unnoticed. The Rudd government has today announced it will invest $500,000 to help develop a comprehensive, coordinated national approach to eating disorders. I have spoken about eating disorders and body image often in this House. It is an area of great concern. It is the No. 1 issue of concern amongst our youth today. It is a frightening fact that many of our young people are more concerned about their body image than anything else. As a result of this, eating disorders have trebled in the last couple of years. Indeed, one in 100 adolescent girls develops anorexia and five in 100 develop bulimia. Anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness, with approximately 15 to 20 per cent dying within 20 years.

Today we have announced this funding, which will go towards helping a coordinated approach. There are many people out there doing clinical trials in research, but in a very disjointed way. Currently, services for people with anorexia and bulimia are fragmented and disjointed. Research is scarce and the information available to people and their families is often inconsistent. This means that these vulnerable members of our community often struggle to get the care and advice they need. This funding will go a great way towards addressing that.

The Minister for Youth, Kate Ellis, has also announced that the newly formed Office for Youth will prioritise body image and that the Australian government will work with stakeholders, including young people, to develop a national approach to this urgent issue. A possible voluntary code of conduct for the media and fashion industries will be included in discussions with stakeholders. I congratulate the government on this announcement and say: well done.

I also put on the record tonight my appreciation for the Butterfly Foundation. The Butterfly Foundation is the largest national not-for-profit community organisation to support sufferers of eating disorders. I say a big thankyou to Claire Vickery, the CEO and founder of Butterfly, for the great work she has been doing in advocating for intervention programs. Butterfly offers these within schools as well as providing national awareness campaigns and increased research. The announcement of the funding is very timely. The Butterfly Foundation has recently contracted Professor Robert Williams of the faculty of medicine at the University of Melbourne to do a research pilot into options for better research and care. I just want to read a short bit:

It may seem strange to begin a document scoping research with an analysis of the clinical care that is offered to those with eating disorders. However, as someone new to this subject, I found the nature and extent of clinical care available in Australia to those with eating disorders both strange and disconcerting. That is not to say that the individual clinicians in this field are either less talented or less nice than those in other fields; indeed, many of those I met were delightful and fully committed, and all spoke with me with great frankness and clarity. It is clear that there are positive developments in some areas; for instance, NSW Health now has two staff that are responsible for developing services for adults and adolescents respectively, and in Victoria a Centre for Excellence in Eating Disorders (CEED) has been established to support training for mental health clinicians.

However, the current situation in all States still leaves much to be desired. I also add, with regret, that this conclusion is not mine alone; every document analysing clinical care (for instance, the “Eating Disorder Service Mapping Project” of the Victorian Government, October 2006) has come to similar conclusions.

So it is quite demonstrated that there are not enough services available out there to these people with this debilitating disease, a disease that actually can lead to death and one that is often ignored and described as a silly phase during adolescents’ lives. The Butterfly Foundation has written:

The increasing incidence of eating disorders represents a national challenge to our society. It is not often recognised that anorexia and bulimia are the most serious conditions falling within “mental health” in our society, with a fatal outcome for approximately 20% of those affected. Eating disorders effect young people at the most crucial stage in their psychosocial development, as they head towards autonomy and towards becoming contributing members of society. Unlike other mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, eating disorders are a group from which a young person, under the right circumstances, can be expected to make a full recovery. Hence, it is an illness group worth making considerable investment in. However, due to the paucity of research and poor investment in clinical services, those circumstances that ensure recovery are poorly understood.

We have an illness group here that can actually benefit from research and from great clinical outcomes. I applaud the government, particularly the minister for health, for doing something positive about it.

The SPEAKER —Order! It being 9 pm, the debate is interrupted.