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Monday, 14 September 2009
Page: 9540

Mr CHESTER (7:00 PM) —I would like to commend the member for Shortland for her contribution and the motion before the House. I thank the member for raising this important issue, particularly in the context of National Stroke Awareness Week and the fact that 60,000 people in Australia will suffer a stroke this year.

There is not a person in this place who has not been directly affected by someone they know and love suffering a stroke. As we all know, it is not one person who is affected as a result. While the individual survivor concerned may be left with the most obvious physical or mental impairment, the reverberations are felt throughout their home and community. As the member for Shortland indicated in her motion, stroke is the second most prevalent cause of death and the leading cause of disability in Australia. It staggers me that one in seven people will suffer a stroke in their lifetime and that 20 per cent of strokes occur in people under the age of 50. That figure makes a mockery of the view, which many of us tend to have, that stroke is an ailment that only afflicts the aged. One in five stroke sufferers are aged under 50. If they survive they can face many years of rehabilitation and the need for a range of support services.

It is in that context that I want to raise the issue of the Stroke Association of Victoria and the remarkable work that the volunteers undertake on behalf of stroke survivors. I had the opportunity earlier this year to meet with Clare Gray from the Stroke Association when she visited East Gippsland along with many of her members. It is a remarkable organisation on many fronts. The association is made up completely of volunteers who provide support as caregivers to loved ones who have suffered a stroke. These people give their time to supporting stroke survivors and reinforcing the message of stroke awareness to the community at large. They provide a wide range of information and ongoing support long after the medical profession has dealt with the most obvious issues. There is a constant need for support and assistance to make sure the stroke survivor can enjoy the highest quality of life possible.

It disappoints me that the work of the Stroke Association of Victoria is not properly acknowledged with ongoing funding for professional support staff. With a relatively minor investment, the work of the association could expand through the use of a professional coordinator to develop and administer services to more than 20 support groups across Victoria. Australia is a nation that relies on its selfless volunteers—and long may that be the case—but we need to make sure that we do not take them for granted. Governments at the state and federal level should urgently consider how we fund such volunteer organisations that could leverage countless more hours of support activities and provide an even better service with just a small investment from the public purse.

We cannot talk about stroke without acknowledging the opportunities to minimise our personal risk. The member for Shortland touched on them. There are some factors which are beyond our control, but lifestyle factors such as diet, alcohol consumption, smoking and how active we are in our daily lives will all affect our own level of risk. As members of parliament we must avoid the temptation to become a nanny state and dictate to our communities, but we can do a lot more to promote healthy and active lifestyles for people of all ages through the provision of appropriate facilities and more support for junior sporting organisations.

I am a big believer in junior team sports and the role they play in connecting children with their communities and establishing healthy habits for life. I fear that many young people miss out on this opportunity for purely economic reasons. It is an area that I intend to keep pursuing with governments at all levels to increase access to sporting opportunities and the lifelong benefits it provides.

As a layman I like the description that the Victorian Stroke Association provides to explain a stroke on its website. They call it a ‘brain attack’ in that it happens when the blood supply to the brain in interrupted and the brain does not get the oxygen is needs. The importance of prompt action to assist someone you suspect of having experienced a stroke cannot be overstated. As the member for Shortland correctly pointed out, the symptoms may include weakness or numbness or part paralysis in parts of the body, difficulty swallowing or a loss of vision or dizziness. The association’s website provides a range of support material but the most important advice is to seek medical assistance immediately if you suspect someone is having a stroke. Fast action can save a life or minimise the level of permanent impairment.

The association’s website also makes another important point in relation to the recovery process. It says:

The brain is a remarkable organ and is capable of adapting to change. In the weeks and months following a stroke many partially-damaged cells may recover and start to work again.

                         …                   …                   …

The length of time it takes to recover varies widely from person to person.

                         …                   …                   …

As a rule, a majority of recovery often takes place during the first year to 18 months, but many people continue to improve over a much longer period.

This is why we always say, ‘NEVER GIVE UP’

There is a message here for us all in terms of the activities that we undertake to assist people in recovering from stroke and to support research and development into preventative actions: we must never give up. Dare I say, in the time that is left to me, that I think if more Australian were aware of the contributions made by their elected members during debates such as this, rather than being aware of some of the spectacles that they sometimes see in question time, their respect for those who choose to serve our communities through elected office would rise considerably. I congratulate the member for Shortland for bringing this important matter to the attention of the House.