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Tuesday, 14 November 2017
Page: 8406

Senator MOORE ( Queensland ) ( 18:20 ): I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

I thought it was really important to take note this afternoon of the government response to the Senate Community Affairs References Committee report on the availability of new, innovative and specialist cancer drugs in Australia. As we all know, this is a particularly important issue for so many people in our community. But one of the reasons I wanted to take note this afternoon is to actually celebrate the fact that we do have a government response, dated November 2017, to a Senate community affairs report which was tabled in this place in September 2015. I think that it should be noted that, after two years and a bit, we have this government response. I do want to take the opportunity to say it is a detailed response to the Community Affairs References Committee.

I know there are many people out in their community who have been waiting to see this response. I acknowledge we have received it. I would hope we'll have the opportunity many times to talk about what's in it, because over 200 people and companies took the opportunity 2½ years ago to put submissions to this inquiry because they felt that this was such an important topic. They felt that it was really critical to the process that we have now in Australia—at the time in 2015—to put things on record about where policy should be driven and about the important elements that should be taking place in the development of policy and the response by our government to the issues of cancer research and, in particular, the challenges around the development, innovation and variation of drug treatments and how we, as a community, can access them. So, for the more than 200 people who submitted, yes, we now have a response from government. I think it will be a valuable place to take the debate into the future.

One of the elements of working in this place is you get a real sense of the issues that are important to the community. This particular inquiry followed on from a number of previous inquiries in this place looking at the issues around cancer. Very soon after I came into the Senate, I had the privilege of being involved in a wide inquiry from the Community Affairs Committee. It was stimulated by then Senator Peter Cook, who, whilst very ill himself, actually led the Senate to look at ways that cancer was being treated in Australia and the challenges to people and practitioners who are working in this space. That still remains, I think, an incredibly important Community Affairs References Committee report. It is a baseline for what's come on subsequently during the time that I've been in this place, where we've had subsequent inquiries looking at issues around women's cancers and also looking at drug therapies. All of this builds our knowledge and also builds an understanding in the community that this place, the Senate, really does listen to the wider community.

This afternoon, I want to pick up on the three recommendations that this committee made back in 2015, to which the government has now responded. It has set the stage. Quite a lot of activity was put into establishing where cancer fits in the Australian community. The fact—and it's noted in the government response—is it was estimated that over 45,780 people would die from cancer in 2015. That is an average of 125 deaths a day. That is the burden of this disease across our community. It says that forms of cancer comprise approximately 60 per cent of all expected diagnosed cancers. The leading ones identified with data were prostate, colorectal, breast, melanoma of the skin and lung. The report went into a great deal of data processes in the report, talking about exactly where cancer impacted in the community and what the current rates were in our nation.

The government response reaffirms the high level of concern around cancer in our community, reinforcing that it is a health priority in Australia and also talking about the fact that the Australian government spent over $11 billion on PBS and RPBS medicines in 2015-16, of which $1.9 billion was for cancer medicines. That is, 'Around $1 in $6 of PBS expenditure subsidised cancer medicines.' That is a high cost in our community. One of the areas that was mentioned here was the need to balance the way the government responds to the issues around cancer, looking, of course, at innovative treatments and the medical responses, particularly in relation to this report, which is looking at innovative and specialist cancer drugs, and balancing that expenditure with the priority that Australian governments over many years have given to the issues around prevention—the way that we can actually build a healthier society, and the data that was included in this report about the fact that you can minimise the impact of the cost of drugs if you can look at preventive strategies.

I want to point to an ongoing issue for community affairs in this space: our concentration on the need for effective data collection. There was a particular recommendation in this report that talked about the need to have a review of the current data processes that are done in Australia around the collection of information around the whole issue of cancer in Australia. The government has not particularly answered that recommendation. It says it agrees with the intent of recommendation 2, which is around the issues of data. I value the fact that the government talks about the need—it accepts the intent. It does give data in the response, which I hope people will take the opportunity to read, about the various data collections that exist currently in the community. But the recommendation of this community affairs committee was that we needed to have these data collection processes coordinated so that everybody knew what data collection processes were available and how they interrelated so that we could get the full picture of the data being collected across the community.

I acknowledge part of the government's response which talked about a particular process that's in place, working with Cancer Australia and looking at how data will be collected in Australia, and I value that. It's an initiative which 'aims to strengthen national cancer data capacity through the collection, transfer, collation and the reporting of standardised national data on stage, treatment and recurrence for all cancers'. That is a really valuable initiative that the government has funded. That is a step towards getting that overall view, but we need more. We need to take up the recommendation of the committee to look at a review of exactly what's happening everywhere.

I seek to continue my remarks because I know that this is of great interest to the community. I know that people have been waiting for this response. The response actually creates more questions, but that's the way this place operates.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.