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Wednesday, 12 May 1993
Page: 434

Senator REID —My question is addressed to the Minister for Health. When will the Government give adequate resources for research into the cause and treatment of breast cancer?

Senator RICHARDSON —Yesterday I had a meeting with Professors Alan Coates and John Forbes who, as Senator Reid may know, in recent weeks have talked to a number of conferences about the need to increase resources going into the detection and treatment of breast cancer. As a result of the models that they presented to me yesterday, I will be presenting to the States—Senator Reid will appreciate that any program which the Commonwealth would like to enter into will have to be done with the States—at the health Ministers meeting, which I think from memory is in the first week of July, a suggestion on how we might make a national campaign on breast cancer the first trial for the national health policy.

  From newspaper reports Senator Reid may recall that the health summit that took place in Sydney a couple of weeks ago decided on four areas in the health portfolio that we would concentrate on for the national health policy. One of them was cancer. I think breast cancer provides us with the best opportunity to get some sort of national approach. Inevitably, if a national approach is to be achieved it will involve extra money.

  When we announced our intention of having a national health policy, which took us 90 years to achieve, all the health Ministers agreed that we want to demonstrate progress by March of next year. The test that I give myself on this matter is to make sure that by March of next year I can announce that not only have increased funds been spent on a problem that kills some six women a day, but hopefully I can also announce that it is part of a national program and a coordinated approach.

Senator REID —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I draw the Minister's attention to the fact that 2,513 women died of breast cancer in 1992, while 481 died of AIDS in the same year. How is the answer that the Minister has given adequate, given that $9.8 million was spent on AIDS in 1990-91 and only $1.5 million will be spent on research into breast cancer in 1993? When is the Minister really going to do something about this issue?

Senator Crichton-Browne —It is the power of the lobby.

Senator RICHARDSON —It is not a question of the power of the lobby at all. If one goes through the areas of research and looks at the spending that Australia puts into it—for instance, where the NHMRC puts its $100 million or where the private industry puts its—one can see a difficulty in that there is competition between a whole range of health prerogatives for research funding.

  In the past couple of weeks I have had a case advanced to me that we are not spending enough on cardiovascular research and that it ought to be given a higher priority over other areas. When one talks to the experts in the field they mount convincing cases, as they do with breast cancer. The truth is that medical research in Australia needs to be upgraded overall. We simply do not spend enough on it. One of the promises that the Prime Minister made in the election campaign, which is of vital and fundamental importance, is the promise to increase the percentage of spending on research. Hopefully we will be able to announce a program to do that after the Budget.