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Thursday, 26 November 2015
Page: 13932

Dr JENSEN (Tangney) (16:35): I wish to draw the attention of the House to a great national scandal that is flying completely under the radar of political consciousness—namely, the lack of provision of proton beam therapy treatment in Australia. It is a disgrace that our great and wealthy nation is not able to offer this course of treatment to the many who would seek to benefit from its proven efficacy. I have met constituents in my electorate faced with the utterly unenviable dilemma of mortgaging their house to pay for a course of PBT in the US, Europe or Japan for their son or daughter.

Proton therapy is one of the most technologically advanced treatments for cancer. When treating any cancer with radiation, the aim is to deliver the maximum dose to cancer cells while sparing as much healthy tissue as possible. Conventional radiation therapy faces challenges from side effects because of a relatively high radiation entrance dose and exit dose. By contrast proton therapy has a much lower entrance dose and no exit dose, causing less damage to healthy tissue surrounding the tumour. Proton therapy produces fewer side effects and a better quality of life during and after treatment. Proton therapy also avoids the risks of post-operative recovery associated with surgery. Proton therapy is vitally important in the treatment of certain cancers in children, tumours of the eye, and base-of-skull and paraspinal tumours. It is becoming the treatment of choice for many cancers such as those in the head, the neck and the brain, and for spinal, prostate, lung, gastrointestinal and breast cancers. There are no proton therapy facilities in Australia or South East Asia, apart from Japan, but more than 70 facilities in the Northern Hemisphere are either established or being constructed. There are none in the Southern Hemisphere.

I recall at this moment a little girl, who lived with her family just around the corner from me in Leeming, who had a medulloblastoma and who would have massively benefitted from a course of PBT. However, due to the lack of facilities here in Australia and the massive cost, her family were unable to provide that treatment as an option for their little girl. The point is that little girl could be anyone's child—and we will never know how she would have responded to that treatment or if she would still be with us today.

Another child also perished after treatment, but his parents had to take out a second mortgage on their house due to the excessively long time for our bureaucracy to make a decision on whether or not to fund their case. What parent, if they have the ability, is not going to take out a second mortgage rather than wait months for a bloody decision? Following a diagnosis of cancer in a child, I know that parents writhe in anguish and are wracked with worry. They should not have to contend with a lengthy bureaucratic process for reimbursement for PBT accessed overseas as well. It is immoral and unAustralian for a parent to face the choice of risking or selling everything— mortgaging the house or saving the child.

I welcomed the $20 billion Medical Research Future Fund in the 2014 budget. It is important that we continue to invest in medical research, but the research with respect to PBT is in—and we need to fund facilities across our nation. Conversations I have had with the South Australian Health & Medical Research Institute indicate that an additional contribution of $80 million to the existing state allocation of $44 million would see a new PBT facility built and operational by 2018. This investment is precisely the type that government should engage in. It addresses an urgent public need, has massive social benefit and rectifies a situation of market failure. Indeed, it is worth noting that governments of all persuasions often have programs with considerably less material social benefit. It makes economic sense to not crowd out private capital, as some programs already do; and where we have longstanding market failure, as with PBT, this is not the case.

I further wish to acknowledge parents Edwin Ho and Rochelle Luk and their son Edric. Edric is today a strong, bright boy. But there are those that have never had this option. Because of this, we will never know if PBT could have made a difference in some other cases. I urge us to fund proton beam therapy treatment in Australia.