ADJOURNMENT;Palliative Care Tasmania – 14 Feb 2017

Yesterday, this Senate condemned the Turnbull government for its failure to secure the future of Palliative Care Tasmania. I would like to thank my colleague Senator Polley for co-sponsoring the motion and the Senate for supporting it. I know I have raised this issue several times in this place, but I do so again, because the closure of Palliative Care Tasmania is now imminent. In fact, I understand that, without further funding, they could end up closing their doors as early as this week. As I pointed out in the motion, Palliative Care Tasmania were funded to deliver the Networking End of Life Care Across Tasmania Project. Over the past four years, through this project, they have delivered education and information about palliative care, end-of-life care, death, dying, grief and bereavement to over 15,000 Tasmanians. This is an amazing achievement. When Labor funded this project four years ago, Palliative Care Tasmania was given a target to deliver education to 1,000 people, yet they have reached over 15,000.

Despite this amazing success, there is still a massive unmet demand for their services—demand which they, sadly, no longer have the capacity to meet, because their funding has run out. Even last week, Palliative Care Tasmania had to knock back seven requests for training from aged-care facilities. That is one request every day. Darren Mathewson, the CEO of Aged and Community Services Tasmania—the peak body for aged care in Tasmania—said that the closure of Palliative Care Tasmania will reduce his sector’s workforce development. Mr Mathewson told the media:

The aged care industry needs ongoing support in this area of core business to ensure our workforce is adequately skilled and supported and we are building capability across the industry.

Palliative Care Tasmania does a lot of work in professional development, helping people in health and aged care better understand how to care for people who are dying and how to support them and their families in making informed choices about their care. But Mr Mathewson also pointed out that the closure of this program will lead to reduced support for individuals, families and communities.

Last week, the ABC highlighted the story of Trish McDonald, a patient with stage 4 melanoma. Seeking answers about her own mortality, Ms McDonald enrolled in a course on death and dying run by Palliative Care Tasmania. Not only did Palliative Care Tasmania help her to understand her situation; they also helped her to approach the subject of dying with her son, who was 11 years old at the time of her diagnosis. In the online article, Ms McDonald spoke passionately about the need for the service Palliative Care Tasmania provides. She said:

To have education within the community about death and dying, that’s hugely important because if you don’t talk about it, it’s hidden.

We know that encouraging conversations with family about death and dying and that knowing how to approach those conversations and what to discuss leads to an improvement in end-of-life care. These conversations, and the education that helps facilitate them, have a massive impact in improving the quality of life for people who are dying, while also saving millions of dollars in acute care. Not only in Tasmania but across Australia, there is a need to change attitudes to death and dying and to encourage conversations about end-of-life care. This project has covered major ground in meeting this need in Tasmania, but there is much more to be done. With the closure of Palliative Care Tasmania, there is no other organisation or agency that can provide this service in my home state. To demonstrate the degree to which Tasmanians value the work of Palliative Care Tasmania, a petition I organised to call for further funding attracted more than 1,000 signatures in just a few weeks. When Palliative Care Tasmania closes its doors, I will be making it very clear to those petitioners that this intransigent government is at fault.

Unlike the Turnbull government, Labor understands the value of Palliative Care Tasmania’s work in this area. Prior to the last election, we committed to extending their funding so that they could continue to deliver the project for another three years. Not only did we commit to extending this project but we also committed to evaluating it for a national rollout. What we are facing now is the impending closure of a highly successful program—a program that should be rolled out across Australia but instead is ending because of the pig-headed ignorance of this government. The kind of community education that Palliative Care Tasmania provides is vital to improving end-of-life care in Australia, yet this government has demonstrated that it does not understand the value of community education in end-of-life care. To allow Palliative Care Tasmania to close is absolutely shameful, and it is right that those opposite be condemned for it.