ADJOURNMENT;Brain Cancer – 27 Nov 2017

Earlier this month, I hosted an annual fundraiser which I’ve been organising for four years now. The fourth annual Walk4BrainCancer Tasmania was held at Dru Point Bicentennial Park in Margate. While donations are still being received after the event, we have so far raised more than $36,000, and this brings the total funds raised from Walk4BrainCancer Tasmania over the four years to just over $120,000. This year, Walk4BrainCancer nationally has raised close to $2 million. All money raised goes to Cure Brain Cancer Foundation, the largest dedicated brain cancer charity in Australia.

People who’ve been following my speeches in this place would be aware that I’ve spoken on brain cancer more than on any other subject, and you may be wondering why I focus so much not just on cancer but on a particular type of cancer that is relatively rare. I primarily focus on brain cancer because of the impact it’s having on young Australians and their families. You see, brain cancer has a very low survival rate, around 22 per cent, and this rate has barely improved over the past few decades. This gives me an appreciation of how lucky I am as a brain tumour survivor. It remains the case now, as it was in the 1980s, that close to four out of five Australians who are diagnosed with brain cancer will not survive for five years after their diagnosis. Despite representing just over one per cent of all cancers, brain cancer has the highest mortality rate for young Australians aged 18 to 40. If this isn’t tragic enough, brain cancer kills more Australian children than any other disease. I’ll say it again, and I’ve said it many other times: brain cancer kills more Australian children than any other disease. Every year in Australia, the equivalent of a classroom full of children, about 35, die of brain cancer. To illustrate the impact this awful disease has on children, just picture a class photo and then imagine every child in that photo gone, the seats empty. That’s what brain cancer’s doing to children across Australia every year.

Sadly, this fact is not well known to the Australian public. Awareness is gradually starting to spread, but there’s a long way to go until it becomes common knowledge. You’ve heard me say it before. I will keep saying it, and I won’t ever apologise for repeating myself, because the further this message gets out to the public at large the more we as a nation will be motivated to do something about it. I would implore senators in this place, when you go back to your states and territories and the local communities where your electorate offices are located, to repeat this fact: brain cancer is the biggest disease killer of Australian children. Tell it to the public forums, say it in media interviews and put it in your newsletters, because Australians need to know.

Being an advocate for brain cancer research has put me in touch with many patients and their families, and I’ve heard many heartbreaking stories. The impact of this cancer on children has been the strongest motivator for me to organise the walk each year and to raise funds for brain cancer research. This year, over 300 people registered for the walk, and we were lucky that the weather was just perfect. As well as the registration fees and the sponsorship given to walk participants, we raised funds through a raffle, the obvious sausage sizzle and the sale of Cure Brain Cancer merchandise. The Cure Brain Cancer branded merchandise is always a hit, especially the T-shirts and the bucket hats. One of my favourite items is a children’s T-shirt bearing the words, ‘Trust me, I’m a brain surgeon.’ I’d like to acknowledge Katrina Roocke of Films for Fundraising, who held two movie nights in support of the cause. The funds raised from these were also added to our total. This year, again, a memorial service was held in memory of brain cancer patients who have succumbed to the disease, and walk participants were encouraged to fold paper cranes resembling the Cure Brain Cancer Foundation logo, write messages on them in memory of loved ones, and hang them on a nearby tree.

I’d also like to say it was really nice to see the former Liberal state Attorney-General Vanessa Goodwin participating in this year’s walk. Dr Goodwin was diagnosed with several glioblastomas last year, leading to her resignation from the ministry and later from parliament. Although we’re from different sides of politics, I’ve always recognised Vanessa as an incredibly decent person and have always had a decent relationship with her. She has shown incredible strength and bravery in her fight with cancer, and I wish her all the best.

As usual, there are a lot of people and organisations to thank for helping make this year’s event a success, and I will take the opportunity to do so now. We had a number of sponsors who supplied raffle prizes: CMW Photography, Rockwall Bar and Grill, Your Habitat, Betta Home Living and my ever-wonderful, beautiful friend Edna Pennicott, who supplied a great hamper of make-up and accessories for women. Sausages for the sausage sizzle were provided by Woolworths in Kingston Town, and Top of the Town Bakery in New Norfolk supplied the bread. Thanks, Sandy, for all the work you do in this area. Thank you to TasWater for supplying a trailer with drinking water, and to Saunders Signs for donating some of the selfie frames that appeared in a number of photos from the event.

Kingborough Council were again very helpful in providing the venue free of charge and in facilitating the approvals. I thank Mayor Steve Wass for participating, which he has done every year for the four years I’ve been running this event.

Local musician Fiona Hutchison sang and played guitar before and after the walk. She’s a very talented entertainer and, as with last year, it gave the event a really nice atmosphere.

Thank you to the beautiful Sophie Briggs. Sophie gave the memorial address this year. Her dad, Rick, died earlier in the year from brain cancer. I know Sophie’s family—Rick and Teresa—really well. The address was very heartfelt, very moving, and I thank Sophie, who is only 21, for doing that.

Thanks to Laura Kennedy for her fundraising efforts. Laura has a social enterprise called Adorn For A Cure. She sells handmade jewellery, with the profits going to Cure Brain Cancer Foundation. She sold some of her jewellery on the day in support of the cause.

I’d also like to thank Snug Tavern Social Club, who invited me, just after the walk, to receive a cheque for $1,000, which was added to the walk’s fundraising total. The club entered a team in the walk and supported the cause in memory of their member Peter Williams, who died in February this year.

Finally, I would like to thank my amazing staff for their work leading up to the event and on the day. I had major surgery six weeks ago. They took over a lot of the organising for me this year and they did a really great job. I also had an army of volunteers who supported them: Else Phillips; Margaret Grieve; Ray and Helen Dac; Edna Pennicott; my mum, Margeurite; another cancer survivor, Eliza Nolan; Julian and Charlotte Toigo; and my very beautiful, gorgeous daughter, Alissa Bilyk. It takes a lot of people to put these events together. I hope I haven’t missed anyone out.

The amount of support Walk4BrainCancer has received over the years demonstrates not only the growing awareness of the impact of brain cancer—albeit that that awareness is still too low—and the determination to do something about it but the high regard in which the Cure Brain Cancer Foundation is held. It’s thanks to the efforts of the thousands of people participating in Walk4BrainCancer events, not just in Tasmania but across Australia, that the Cure Brain Cancer Foundation was able to commit $20 million to the recently announced $100 million Australian Brain Cancer Mission. I’m often criticising the government in this place, but when it comes to the Australian Brain Cancer Mission they, and the other contributors to the fund, deserve credit for this great decision. The government will be contributing $50 million to this fund, which aims to double brain cancer survival in Australia within 10 years. But it’s not just throwing money at the problem: the mission is also underpinned by a coordinated approach to brain cancer research, including better access to clinical trials for patients and an expansion of research platforms and technologies. I’d also like to acknowledge and thank Andrew Forrest for his $10 million contribution to the fund through the Minderoo Foundation.

I take some pride in knowing that my efforts to support and fundraise for Cure Brain Cancer Foundation and my advocacy for brain cancer over nine years have contributed to this initiative coming about. For many, many years I have felt like a lone voice in this parliament with regard to brain cancer. Mind you, that has never deterred me from speaking about it! I have long argued that brain cancer deserves special attention due to its high mortality and in particular its impact on young people and children. Now it’s starting to get the attention it truly deserves.

I will of course continue to advocate for more action on brain cancer and to raise more funds for the Cure Brain Cancer Foundation. Another $20 million in private contributions needs to be raised to complete the funding for the Australian Brain Cancer Mission, and there is much work to be done to ensure that it is fully funded. As I’ve said before, my fundraising work and my advocacy will continue for as long as I am able to. Thank you.