Palliative Care must be Government prioirty

 Mr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (12:19): I am delighted to speak on this motion. It gives us the opportunity to recognise the professionals, the carers and the families who are involved in palliative care. I note in passing that the week just past was National Palliative Care Week. This is also the opportunity to talk, as a number of speakers have, about the importance of having in place an advance care plan, and I will say something about that in a moment. Thirdly, it gives me the opportunity to talk about and promote the great work of an organisation in my electorate: Southern Highlands Community Hospice.

Australia's population is ageing and this is due to increasing life expectancy and a sustained low fertility following the postwar baby boom. Palliative care is not just about ageing, as previous speakers have said, but the fact that Australians are living longer has made us all critically aware of the importance of palliative care and end of life issues. In 1901 older people constituted just four per cent of Australia's population. This ballooned 70 and 80 years later to 14 per cent of the population, and that percentage is increasing every year. For those aged 85 and over, it has almost tripled from 0.5 per cent to nearly 2 per cent of the population. This has focused our attention on the important policy issues that we need to address, which started with the importance of occupational superannuation in ensuring that we have decent retirement incomes. I take the view that the former Labor government's Living Longer Living Better package was the first time a federal government had grasped the nettle on what was needed in healthcare policy.

Half of all palliative care patients are under the age of 75 and 12 per cent of patients are under the age of 55. This underscores the point that I made earlier that it is not just an ageing issue. We know there are gaps in the provision of palliative care services. The gaps are more prevalent for Indigenous Australians and those who are living in rural and regional areas, such as my own, where there are high levels of chronic diseases and much less provision of needed services. It is also worth noting that we have fewer cancer care facilities in those areas as well, and we know that cancer accounts for six out of every 10 admissions for palliative care. We have a policy challenge and we know we need to do more to look after people requiring palliative care, particularly in rural and regional Australia. We know that over 80 per cent of the existing services are in metropolitan areas and that people in regional and rural areas have the same, if not greater, needs for palliative care services.

I was very pleased to see that this year the World Health Organisation passed its first palliative care motion which called for palliative care to be integrated into national health care services, including Australia's. I think that is the right direction. Other speakers have pointed out the importance of people having in place a care plan. It is of great concern that in a recent survey conducted in conjunction with national Palliative Care Week less than five per cent of Australians responding to that survey have such plan.

In my own electorate the community is filling the gap. They look at the great work of Katharine House that has been in operation for 25 years in the UK. They saw a gap in their community and they are campaigning to put in place a voluntary community hospice. They have raised over $1 million so far and they aim to have 200 to 300 volunteers to provide services to palliative care patients in the Southern Highlands. In the time I have left I want to pay tribute to the great volunteers and fundraisers who are making this dream possible.