ADJOURNMENT;Ovarian Cancer – 02 Mar 2015

As many in this place would be aware, February was Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. Ovarian Cancer Australia organises the awareness month, and one of the key features is Teal Ribbon Day, which was held this year on Wednesday, 25 February 2015. On Teal Ribbon Day I attended a breakfast here in Parliament House. The event was well attended by senators, members from the other place, the Prime Minister, and the Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten. Members of Ovarian Cancer Australia’s Medical and Research Advisory Group, their high-profile ambassadors and corporate partners were also in attendance.

Paula Benson, Chair of Ovarian Cancer Australia, gave a fantastic speech at this event, and I would like to take a few moments tonight to reiterate Paula’s comments for those in this place that were unable to attend and for those listening in at home. This is Paula’s speech:

Since 2001, Ovarian Cancer Australia has provided support for women and their families, raised community awareness of ovarian cancer and advocated for improved services for women. Whilst we have made great strides in raising awareness of ovarian cancer and its symptoms, the majority of women diagnosed have a poor prognosis: only 43 per cent of women with ovarian cancer will survive for five years after their diagnosis—this compares to 92 per cent for prostate cancer and 89 per cent for breast cancer. To compound the issue, ovarian cancer has a high rate of recurrence and the disease often develops resistance to treatment so that women essentially run out of options.

These terrible outcomes for women with ovarian cancer were the catalyst for Ovarian Cancer Australia’s decision, announced here one year ago today, to develop a National Action Plan for ovarian cancer. We knew that in order to make the greatest possible impact we needed not only to fund the best ovarian cancer research in Australia but to focus and unify national ovarian cancer research efforts.

Paula continued by outlining their plan for ovarian cancer research, saying:

I am proud to advise you that in November 2014, together with our colleagues across the ovarian cancer community, we launched a National Action Plan for ovarian cancer research. The plan sets out urgent priorities for the way in which Australia needs to tackle research to significantly reduce the number of women dying from the disease. This plan is a watershed for the ovarian cancer community—a community that has waited long enough. In developing the plan we undertook an audit of ovarian cancer research across Australia and extensive consultation with researchers, clinicians and industry experts, and women with ovarian cancer.

I am extremely proud of what we have created. It is the first time a national plan has been developed. It provides priority driven focus for investment, unifying the efforts and providing a blueprint for researchers and funders from around Australia. It also includes a charter setting out principles for ovarian cancer research excellence and calls for researchers to align with these.

As part of our plan, Ovarian Cancer Australia announced a $1 million funding contribution to support critical infrastructure priorities identified in the plan, including a $900,000 funding partnership between Ovarian Cancer Australia and the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre.

Paula continued on to mention in this part that Professor David Bowtell would talk further about this partnership and his work with the Australian ovarian cancer study. Professor Bowtell is the head of the Peter MacCallum cancer genetics laboratory and is the recipient of the Jeannie Ferris Cancer Australia Recognition Award from Cancer Australia for his exceptional research into ovarian cancer. I know that many people in this place know Jeannie Ferris and remember her fondly. She was a former senator for South Australia who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in October 2005 and unfortunately passes away in April 2007.

Professor Bowtell in 2001 initiated the Australian Ovarian Cancer Study, which over the last decade has become the largest molecular epidemiological study of ovarian cancer in the world. Paula went on to state that she believes that progress is infinitely achievable through collaborative, strategic efforts. She then expressed her sincere thanks to all organisations and individuals who contributed to the development of the plan and invited all those present with an interest in ovarian cancer research to help us to take the plan forward. For those listening at home, the plan is available on Ovarian Cancer Australia’s website at

Paula continued by outlining Ovarian Cancer Australia’s forward vision, stating:

Ovarian Cancer Australia will play our role in taking the plan forward and today I announce our 25/25 Vision.

Our 25/25 Vision aims to improve the five year survival rate of ovarian cancer by 25% by the year 2025.

Ovarian Cancer Australia’s 25/25 vision aligns with the World Health Organisation 2013 World Cancer Declaration that calls for cancer societies around the world to collectively work on targets to reduce the burden of all cancers by 25% by 2025.

That will be done in three ways: improving awareness and early diagnosis, improving the identification of women at greatest risk, and increasing access to effective treatments and care. Paula went on to say, ‘This won’t be an easy task, and that’s why we are calling on all Australians to pledge their support for our vision.’

I agree with Paula that now is the time to take action against this disease that claims the lives of 1,000 Australian women every year and impacts countless more. I urge everyone to get behind the vision and encourage those in your networks to do the same. Along with Ovarian Cancer Australia, I too look forward to changing the story of ovarian cancer to one of hope and optimism. During her speech, Paula also took the opportunity to thank Bridget Whelan ‘for her tireless commitment to improving the outcomes of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer in the future, and for her incredible support for our organisation over the past few years’. A number of people in this place would know Bridget Whelan. I have known her for a number of years, and she used to work for the former senator Mark Arbib. I have to say, it was a great honour to be at this event with both Paula and Bridget. I would like to add my own words of thanks to both Paula and Bridget for all the hard work they continue to do in raising awareness for ovarian cancer.

I encourage everyone to take a look at Ovarian Cancer Australia’s website. I would especially encourage women to familiarise themselves with the symptoms and to attend events that raise money for and awareness of ovarian cancer. I think that if we can help attain that goal of 25/25 then we will be doing all women a great service.