Photo: AAP Image/Mick Tsikas
PRIME MINISTER: Well, thank you very much for that very kind introduction, can I also welcome all of my colleagues who are here today. Can I particularly thank Kelly and Gaye for the work that you do as patrons of this very important group and of course the Minister for Health, Greg Hunt who is here. Great to see you here too Jules and you’ve been a great supporter of this cause over a long period of time. But to all my colleagues here, we join together in support of those who have also gathered here today. You often come to these things and people say; “It’s nice that you’re here,” well, there are people who are in this room today, and it’s very nice they’re here. They’re here, they’re fighting, they’re with us, they are conquering, they are overwhelming, they are demonstrating hope. Their stories are the ones that you’ve come here today to hear from, not from politicians. You are going to hear from a number of the survivors today. But they’re not only survivors, they’re conquerors. They are paving that way and providing that hope to other women and I particularly want to thank them for their courage and what you’ll hear from them today.
Can I also thank Jane Hill for her welcome and can I also thank Paula Benson who is here also today, who stepped down just a few months ago after eight years as chair. She received the Jeannie Ferris Award in 2017, which I know is something close to the hearts of all us here in Parliament who knew Jeannie who was a colleague and lost her own battle with ovarian cancer back in 2007. So thank you very much to you Paula for the comfort you give and the leadership you’ve shown in this area over a very long period of time.
Four years ago, a friend of mine – we hadn’t known each other that well to be honest, but I know the family incredibly well – journalist and author Julia Baird was in her 40s with two young children, a book to finish, it’s a great book by the way, when suspected ovarian cancer reared its head. She described it this way;
“Your world narrows to a slit. Suddenly very little matters. If you ran 1,000 miles, aced a billion exams, hit a dozen home runs, nothing could reverse or erase the fact of cancer.”
In the tense days before surgery – a surgery that revealed thankfully that she actually had another but sadly a rarer kind of cancer, she learned a few things about life. First, that stillness and faith could give her extraordinary strength. Second, she drew her family and her tribe near. That family has been everything, that support network – and I’ve met support networks here this morning. She wrote in the New York Times;
“Those who rally and come to mop your brow when you look like a ghost, who try to make you laugh, distract you with silly stories, cook for you or even fly for 20 hours just to hug you, are companions of the highest order.”
Those who are here with you today, those who have turned up today, those who fight alongside you today - they are all companions of the highest order in the way that Julia set out, in terms of those who have stood with her and her beautiful family.
This is an insidious disease. It has the lowest survival rate of any form of cancer in Australia, as we’ve heard. It’s estimated that more than 1,500 Australian women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer and this year it will claim around 1,000 lives. Unlike breast cancer, there is no early detection screening test for ovarian cancer. That’s why the work that has been done educating the public is so important and that’s why today is important. Making women aware - and men, I’ve got to say - of the signs and symptoms and giving them the best chance of catching it early, getting ahead of it, getting on top of it. That’s also why our Government has invested in the ground-breaking ‘Trace Back’ project, launched this time last year partnering with the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, we’re providing close to $3 million to trial this new approach to cancer control using genetic testing to identify women at risk.
When I made mention of this project earlier this year at the Glenn McGrath Foundation lunch in Sydney, where their challenge is obviously fighting breast cancer, there was a solidarity between those who fight breast cancer with those who fight ovarian cancer. And that received as strong as a response as all the other measures we announced for breast cancer.
I really hope this means lives will be saved. Women and families spared the worst. I’m proud that our Government is the single biggest investor in cancer research in this country. Over $1.8 billion invested over the last decade. Close to $80 million has gone into ovarian cancer research and, I’m proud to say, that we’re investing $20 billion in the Medical Research Future Fund to create one of the world’s largest medical research endowment funds. That means we’re investing in the science and the talented medical researchers and doctors who will lead the world in finding a cure. That is the dividend of the prosperous country we are and the economy that we have the good fortune to live in and that we must take keen care of to ensure that these dividends can continue.
And I’m very pleased to confirm that Health Minister Greg Hunt’s announcement that we’re making today and I’m making here, that the Australian Government will provide $1.6 million for psychological support services for women with ovarian cancer and their caregivers. And their caregivers.
This recognises the need for better support services for women living with ovarian cancer, particularly those in rural and remote areas of Australia. And I’ve met those women out in those stations, and they are a long way from where most of us are where they can access those services. And it’s important that these support services that go to their psychological wellbeing also reach out into those remote and regional areas where these services are just as necessary. We’ve also been successful in making treatment more accessible with more than 200 women now taking Lynparza, their drugs cost around just over $40 a script, or $6.50 for pensioners. If they weren’t subsidised through the PBS, they’d cost around $90,000 a year.
There are few, if any programs I am more proud of in our nation than the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, and the fact that we can continue to invest in this Scheme. I want to commend Greg Hunt for the outstanding work that he’s done listing drug after drug after drug. This is one of the, I think, strongest achievements of our Government when it comes to healthcare in this country. We will keep listing those drugs and we’ll keep ensuring that the economy is there to support those listings. We spend close to $22 million a year on medicines to treat ovarian cancer.
So you’ve come to hear the stories of those who are battling. I hope what I’ve shared with you this morning says that we’re battling with you. We will continue to do the research, we’ll continue to provide the support, we’ll continue to fund the drugs and we’ll continue to work together to raise awareness of all Australians to be there for you, to be with you. As Julia would say, “Companions of the highest order.” Thank you.