Speaking About National Asthma Week

I congratulate the member for Shortland for putting this matter on the agenda in parliament today, it being National Asthma Week. 


I also want to congratulate the member for Barker for his insight as a person living with asthma and for the plans that he has in place to deal with it.

As we have heard already, it is close to eight people a week—that is, by the end of the day it is more than likely that another person in Australia will have died because of their asthma. The quality of life of somebody living with asthma, unless it is well managed, is severely impacted. We should care about asthma and its impact on individuals for that factor alone. We also know it can be a considerable strain on families and carers and productivity within the workplace. The direct medical cost is about $600 million a year. Over half of that is in pharmaceuticals and a significant amount in acute hospitalisations. So it is right that we have a conversation. The rates of asthma in Australia are some of the highest in the world. We do not know why that is, but more money into research and understanding of this condition will help us to understand. Hopefully, over the time that I am a member of this parliament, we will know more about the causes and perhaps the cure.

The most recent data tells us that about 10.2 per cent of Australians, around 2.3 million people, are living with asthma. Overall, males and females reported similar rates of asthma—roughly 9½ per cent for males and 10 per cent for females—but there is one group of Australians for whom there is a significantly higher rate of asthma, and I would like to spend a bit of time talking about them. They are our first Australians, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. There is an almost 50 per cent higher incidence of asthma in this group of people. Fifteen per cent of Indigenous Australians are living with asthma—in fact, it is the second most commonly reported illness. There are a number of differences in the asthma statistics for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. There is a high prevalence amongst older people and also amongst those who are living in remote locations. There is a higher death rate than in the general population, which means it is not being managed properly. There are higher hospitalisation rates for asthma, something that would not always be necessary if it was being managed properly, and we think there is a link with nearly double the rate of smoking in Indigenous populations, which is of particular concern. I would use this as an opportunity to encourage all members of this house to rethink the strategy of cutting $130 million out of Indigenous-specific antismoking programs.

Relatively high rates of exposure of children to passive smoking is relevant, and we know that there are fewer asthma relevant inhalants being used by Indigenous children as well. So, sadly speaking, those people with the highest incidence are less likely to have a plan in place and less likely to be treating it properly.

Many people have grown up with asthma and think that they can grow out of it. We know, and I know this from relatives of my own: you are never completely free of the condition. It is important that you are continually putting in place management plans, consulting with your GP and ensuring that they are aware of your condition. If you are waking up breathless, wheezing, coughing or if you are struggling to keep up with normal activity, these are indications that you probably do have a condition and you should be consulting your doctor.

It is of concern that only 21 per cent of Australians have a written asthma action plan. If we can do anything through this parliamentary debate and throughout the course of Asthma Awareness Week, we need to increase that rate significantly. It will take about five to 10 minutes I am told and, if you have got one in place, you are less likely to be hospitalised and less likely to be one of those people amongst that terrible mortality rate.

In concluding, I want to say there are some things that we can do to reduce the risks, in addition to having a management plan in place and ensuring that our ventolin and other inhalers are on hand—that is, to reduce the smoking rates. It is of deep concern that the smoking rates amongst people with asthma are no less than that within the general community and, if we can do something to reduce the mortality and the risk rate, this is a place to start.