Australian Government coat of arms

Prime Minister of Australia

The Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP

Remarks to the Teal Ribbon Day Breakfast

24 February 2016

Parliament House, Canberra

Prime Minister



Thank you very much Jane and thank you very much Ann Maree for your story. For your, the courage with which you have battled this disease. The courage with which you told your story here was quite unforgettable. Every single person here has been moved by it. You got through it without shedding a tear, I don't think many of us got through listening to it without a tear. So, thank you very much.

And thank you, Jane for your acknowledgement of country. We are gathered here on the land of the Ngunnawal will people, Ngunnawal dara.  And we honour their elders past and present.

To the Chair of Ovarian Cancer Australia, Paula Benson and Ann Maree and the many other women here who have their own stories of courage. To the Ovarian Cancer Ambassadors including my parliamentary colleagues, Kelly O'Dwyer, Sarah Hanson Young and Gai Brodtmann and to my many other Parliamentary colleagues who join us here today. Bill Shorten, the Leader of the Opposition, his Deputy, Tanya Plibersek, Julie Bishop the Foreign Minister. Lucy and I are delighted to be here.

Michaelia Cash, the Minister for Women is here, as always the most passionate, powerful advocate for women's issues in Australia, providing real leadership today as she did last night at another event.

Now, I am delighted to see the strong support right across the political spectrum for this very important day. Teal Ribbon Day. I want to acknowledge the great work of Ovarian Cancer Australia for raising awareness and for the love and the compassion and the support you offer women and their families.

Today, there are 1480 teal pinwheels on the lawn of Parliament House to represent the number of Australian women diagnosed with Ovarian cancer each year. Tragically, as Ann Maree described, more than 1000 of these women will succumb to the disease.

Statistics tell us but one side of the story. And, they help us recognise the true toll that this terrible disease inflicts. But, they don't describe the impact such a diagnosis has on each woman, their family, their friends and their subsequent journey after first hearing the news set out in that big white envelope.

The image of that, Ann Maree, that moment, of you writing on it with your red texta, no one will ever forget that. That was a very powerful address. Thank you for it.

Now, statistics are important and I want to say something that is very positive. Some good news. This disease has been described as the silent killer and I will give you a very, an example, a very personal one to one of my advisers' family in a moment.

But, a piece of good news is that we have in Australia, as the Vice Chancellor of the University of New South Wales, a very distinguished oncologist, Professor Ian Jacobs. And, he, and a colleague at Harvard, Steven Skate, developed a technique for identifying ovarian cancer.

They used big data, had a sample size of nearly 47,000 women and were able to identify the changing levels in women's blood of the protein CA125 which has a link to ovarian cancer. And, it, the new method, detected cancer in 86 per cent of women with ovarian cancer, the invasive epithelial ovarian cancer, iEOC, and earlier techniques had identified only 41 per cent.

So, this is a very important step and it gives you an indication of how important continued research and of course, the ability to analyse and manipulate large datasets, that powerful processors, computer processors enable us to do today, offers us the prospect of earlier detection and of course treatment.

Now, just this morning one of my advisers told me her story, parts of which will be very familiar to you. She is a nurse and prides herself, as nurses do, on being able to recognise when someone is unwell. Her mum died from ovarian cancer four years ago. And, by the time she was diagnosed, she was, as is so often the case, in the very advanced stages of the disease. Before the diagnosis, her daughter, despite all of her medical training and experience, had no inkling that there was anything wrong with her mum at all. It is something that haunts her to this day.

Many of you can sympathise with the shock and the surprise that the diagnosis can bring. Many of you know precisely what that shock is. And that is why, as I said a moment ago, this cancer is known as the silent killer.

So it is difficult, it is difficult to diagnose, the vague nature of the symptoms can be attributed to many other things, and often are. So, it is important to speak out. It is important that there is greater awareness. That's why today is so important. That's why Ann Maree's courage in talking and the way she did, in such an indelibly, unforgettable, powerful way. So important because it will make people think and we will continue to talk more openly about ovarian cancer, its symptoms, diagnosis and treatment.

And this year, Ovarian Cancer Australia's campaign 'Know Ovarian Cancer' focuses on knowing your family history and genetic testing. An area, as I mentioned earlier, in respect of Ian Jacobs and other researchers, has seen some very exciting advances.

Now, our Government takes its role very seriously as the biggest single funder of cancer research in Australia. We have provided $2 billion to cancer research through the National Health and Medical Research Council with $97 million of that allocated to ovarian cancer.

We also provide funding for cancer Australia which has a number of initiatives, clinical trials for new treatments and minimising side effects of existing treatments. In 2016, gynaecological cancer is one of Cancer Australia's research priorities and it will include research on patient care, survivorship and outcomes research.

Now, on this Teal Ribbon Day, too, here in Parliament House we will all remember our colleague, Senator Jeannie Ferris, who lost her battle with ovarian cancer in 2007. Jeannie used her final days to raise awareness of ovarian cancer and her keen personal insights lent great weight to the Senate Standing Committee's report, Breaking the Silence. Jeannie reminded us that gynaecological cancers are not just a matter for women but for their families, their husbands, brothers, fathers and children. Ann Maree spoke so powerfully of her children today.

So, thanks to brave women like Ann Maree and to Jeannie and so many other, we are talking more openly about ovarian cancer. Greater awareness is a critically important step on the road to early detection, more effective treatment and greater survivorship. So, I want to congratulate Paula, Ovarian Cancer Australia and Jane for organising this event and for your unswerving dedication, your courageous dedication to this very critically important issue.

Thank you very much.