House of Representatives- Australian Organ and Tissue Donation and Transplantation Authority Bill 2008

I am very pleased to speak today to the Australian Organ and Tissue Donation and Transplantation Authority Bill 2008. This bill will provide the much-needed national leadership to lift organ donation rates in Australia. This is particularly important given the lack of national leadership on organ donation, an ageing population and the projections of a rise in chronic diseases. Transplanted organs and body tissues can, and do, save lives. These organs include kidneys, lungs, hearts and pancreases. The body tissues would include heart valves, skin, bones and corneas. Australians need these organs and tissues. Over 30,000 Australians have benefited since transplantation became a viable treatment option. Our doctors and medical staff provide some of the best clinical outcomes for transplant patients but they cannot do their work unless there are organs and tissues available.

I am very pleased to speak today to the Australian Organ and Tissue Donation and Transplantation Authority Bill 2008. This bill will provide the much-needed national leadership to lift organ donation rates in Australia. This is particularly important given the lack of national leadership on organ donation, an ageing population and the projections of a rise in chronic diseases. Transplanted organs and body tissues can, and do, save lives. These organs include kidneys, lungs, hearts and pancreases. The body tissues would include heart valves, skin, bones and corneas. Australians need these organs and tissues. Over 30,000 Australians have benefited since transplantation became a viable treatment option. Our doctors and medical staff provide some of the best clinical outcomes for transplant patients but they cannot do their work unless there are organs and tissues available.

Unfortunately, Australia has lagged behind the rest of the world in terms of donation rates. Australians Donate, the former peak national body for organ and tissue donation, reported that on 3 January 2008 there were 1,875 people on transplant waiting lists. In 2007, there were 198 organ donors, from whom 626 transplant operations occurred. This is equivalent to 9.4 donors per million of the Australian population. By comparison, Spain has a rate of 33.8 donors per million, the highest in the developed world; France has a rate of 23.2 donors per million; the United States, 26.9; and the United Kingdom, 10.5. Despite the relatively low donors per million rate, up to 90 per cent of Australians support the idea of organ donation. It is clear that we must transfer this very high support rate into substantive donation rates. The will is there and, hence, this government will provide the mechanisms to improve these rates.

This bill will deliver a comprehensive national reform package for Australian organ donation. The centrepiece of this scheme is the Organ and Tissue Donation and Transplantation Authority, which will work with states, territories, clinicians, consumers and community groups to deliver world’s best practice. The authority will be managed by a CEO with direct accountability to the Minister for Health and Ageing and have a management structure similar to the National Health and Medical Research Council. The CEO will be selected on a merit based process consistent with Australian Public Service agency heads, which will lead to an appointment of an individual who will be able to deliver on the commitments of this package. The CEO will spearhead the coordinated national approach to organ donation. The specific responsibilities include: overseeing and supporting a national network of clinical specialists; overseeing and supporting a national network of organ procurement agencies; managing and monitoring a national professional education and training program; managing a national awareness program; collecting and analysing data to contribute to further development and reforms; and administering funding to non-government organisations to provide essential associated services.

The bill will deliver the $151.1 million commitment made by the Rudd Labor government in July 2008. There will be $46 million to form the independent national authority and $67 million to fund dedicated training of specialist doctors and staff in public and private hospitals. These staff will work closely with emergency department and intensive care units to deliver better clinical outcomes to patients. There will be $17 million for hospitals to fund additional staffing, bed and infrastructure costs and $1.9 million to provide counselling and support for donor families. This support will include bereavement counselling and will allow the national authority to develop a national best practice model for counselling.

There is a suite of reforms as well, which include creating a national network of state and territory based organ donation organisations, enhanced professional education programs, consistent clinical protocols, clinical checklists and better data collection for organ transplantation in hospitals.

The government will also appropriate $136.4 million worth of funding over four years to boost the number of life-saving organ transplants for Australians. This package was endorsed by the Council of Australian Governments in its 3 July communique. The newly formed authority will provide a national plan for reform to the Council of Australian Governments within a year of being formed.

The package was developed with close consultation from expert bodies including the Transplantation Society of Australia and New Zealand, the Cognate Committee on Organ and Tissue Donation and Transplantation, Transplant Australia, Kidney Health Australia, ShareLife, Gift of Life and Zaidee’s Rainbow Foundation as well as other community groups.

I would like to take a moment to discuss one of these groups. The Transplant Waiting List Advocacy Group, convened by Mr Tim Richards, of Mentone, in my electorate, have been very active both in the electorate and in other parts of Australia. Mr Richards is on the waiting list for a heart and double lung transplant, and he approached me earlier this year. As he told me, not just he but his wife and his three year-old son are closely affected by the outcome of waiting for a transplant. He was diagnosed with heart failure and pulmonary hypertension in 2005 and uses supplementary oxygen daily. He wrote this to me:

Depending on the outcome, my family will move forward and prosper or be devastated. And of course there are many other patients in a similar situation of waiting, and many more patients who will wait in the future, and again many patients who have unfortunately died while waiting. Together with everyone’s dependents and families, there is a lot riding on having a decent, working, organ donation system in place.

The government’s package will finally deliver the deserved national approach to dealing with organ donation issues. It will deliver genuine investment into funding medical staff and infrastructure to improve donation rates and shorten waiting lists. It will deliver research and statistics which will allow for further development and reform of the organ transplant system. And, most of all, it will deliver the world’s best practice system which all Australians, including Tim Richards, deserve.

Finally, I would also like to acknowledge the 5.4 million Australians registered on the Australian Organ Donor Register scheme. I am proudly one of those 5.4 million Australians. I urge my fellow Australians to join us on this list. I also support a robust discussion of organ donation schemes amongst family and friends to ensure that the final hurdle of organ donation, that of family members being unclear of their loved one’s position on organ donation, can be overcome.

This bill is another example of the government delivering in the nation’s best interest. As flagged by the Leader of the Opposition in his response to the Prime Minister’s second reading speech, this is a bipartisan issue and I welcome the opposition’s support for this very worthy bill. I commend the bill to the House.