Australian Organ and Tissue Donation and Transplantation Authority Amendment (Governance and Other Measures) Bill 2021

House of Representatives
Wednesday 11 August 2021

I rise to speak on the Australian Organ and Tissue Donation and Transplantation Authority Amendment (Governance and Other Measures) Bill 2021 and to strongly support the second reading amendment moved by the shadow health minister, the member for Hindmarsh: 'whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House urges the Government to deliver better health outcomes for all Australians, including through better management of the COVID-19 pandemic'. I want to start my remarks by thanking the member for Mallee for working as co-chair, alongside the member for Macarthur, in a bipartisan way to support organ donation. This is a critical issue facing literally thousands of Australians. Through her work and that of member for Macarthur, organ donation has not only been highlighted and promoted but, more importantly, brought to the attention of the national parliament, so I'm honoured to follow on from her fine words today.

The Australian Organ and Tissue Donation and Transplantation Authority, as we know, was introduced under a Labor government in 2008 as part of a suite of progressive reforms to our nation's organ and tissue donation system. These reforms were designed to improve health outcomes for all Australians. This is where I want to contrast the opposition against the government. When we come to the table with ideas, with reforms, that we hope will improve outcomes for the Australian public we can clearly see the government not delivering real reforms but tinkering around with reforms that have been introduced before.

The bill, in effect, seems to return the governance structure of the Australian Organ and Tissue Donation and Transplantation Authority to what it was under Labor before the changes were made by this coalition government. Based upon advice from Dr Mal Washer, a former member of this place, the chair of the Organ and Tissue Authority board, the bill will enable the board to have a more strategic and advisory focus. That is something we can all agree on in a positive, bipartisan way. Currently the governance structure of this organisation designates the governance board as the accountable entity. This structure was unusual when the government introduced it and it seems it has not delivered the results they hoped for. The changes in this bill, I'm pleased to see, are agreed by the entire board upon recommendation from the chair. They returned the governance structure to a more commonsense and common governance structure, with the CEO being the accountable entity and the board playing a strategic advisory role.

I pose the question to the House: why was this structure chosen in 2017? It's not really in line with the usual governance structure employed by non-corporate Commonwealth entities like the Organ and Tissue Authority. And the decision resulted in the Organ and Tissue Authority becoming the first non-corporate Commonwealth entity to have a governance board as the accountable entity. I am pleased that the government is acting upon the board's view about the governance of the Organ and Tissue Authority. This advice conforms with Labor's view that non-corporate Commonwealth entities, like the Organ and Tissue Authority, should have a governance structure that allows for the CEO—as we know in most organisations, or nearly all organisations—to actually run the show and be accountable for its functioning. I believe that is a sensible, practical way that organisations should run—accountable and making sure that all legal processes are followed, all the while being guided by a critical advisory board that focuses on the strategic direction of the authority. This conforms to the governance structure of almost all other non-corporate Commonwealth entities. It's a sensible change, one that indicates the government has, unusually, recognised that Labor did get it right, and that is a welcome decision. So there will be no opposition to the bill before the House.

I want to place on record a couple of remarks about the issue of organ donation, and then, in my remaining remarks, I'll talk about the health outcomes and some of the pandemic issues. The first thing I want to say is: now is the perfect time to become an organ donor. That's my message to the 13 million Australians aged 16 and over who are eligible to register as organ and tissue donors. So what can be donated? This is a fairly straightforward question. The organs that can be donated are hearts, lungs, livers, kidneys and pancreases. The tissues that can be donated include heart valves, blood veins, bones, veins, tendons, ligaments, skin, and parts of the eye to assist with people's eyesight. Critical donations are needed, with the pandemic obviously having a major impact on our health system. Also, what hasn't really been highlighted is that, with organ donations dropping by 20 per cent, as we heard by the member for Mallee, under 2,000 Australians are now languishing on waiting lists, with around another 12,000 on dialysis.

Recently, from 25 July to 1 August, we saw DonateLife Week, which was a big part of the campaign to raise awareness. I want to give a big shout-out to DonateLife Queensland, which raises awareness about organ and tissue donation, encourages discussion about donation—which I'll come back to in a moment—and educates health professionals about the donation process. There are still a number of misunderstandings and mistruths about organ donation that we need to deal with as a community. That's why I'm so pleased that this parliament is discussing this issue today, so that we can speak freely and frankly to the Australian people about its importance but also recognise the tough decisions and the tough conversations that have to be had, and offer care and support to donor families.

It doesn't really matter how old you are, your medical history, your lifestyle, what country you're from, or how healthy you are; you can register as an organ and tissue donor. And, as we heard, it only takes one minute. So I'm calling on Australians to jump online, go to, make that decision, have that conversation and make sure that you become an organ donor. As the decision to donate organs and tissues ultimately comes down to a family decision, I think it's critical that those conversations take place. I think the member for Nicholls said that, whether it be around the kitchen table or in the workplace, you should have the sometimes hard conversation, because many Australians are depending on you.

Approximately 170,000 Australians die each year, with around 80,000 of these deaths occurring in Australian hospitals. Only two per cent of these hospital deaths can be considered for organ donation. In 2020, that meant only about 1,250 people died in a way where organ donation could have been considered. It also comes as research shows that six in 10 people mistakenly believe some people can't become organ donors because of having cancer, smoking, drinking, old age or general unhealthiness. In fact, in 2020, 40 per cent of organ donors were current smokers when they died, 10 per cent had recovered from cancer and more than 10 per cent had diabetes. Age is no barrier. This is another issue that comes up time and time again. In 2020, 70 organ and tissue donors were aged 65 and over. Surprisingly, corneas from older people are often better for eye donation. I didn't know that. So it really doesn't matter what your age or your background is; everyone can register and everyone can do their bit.

A recent poll of around 60,000 Australians showed that four out of five say they'd be willing to donate their organs when they die. So this is not a question of whether Australians want to donate—the evidence is clear that there is a strong willingness to; it's the fact they're probably not sure if they're eligible to sign up. Perhaps they mistakenly thought they had already registered or that they had had a conversation with someone, but they haven't actually taken the formal steps to sign up.

I was consulting with a number of local residents in preparation for my speech today—people who have had this experience or who have had children or loved ones as the beneficiary of the angels out there who have donated their organs—and they simply didn't know how to register. They were unsure if you had to register through your doctor. They said things like: 'It's not on my licence' and, 'I wasn't sure—I didn't have a driver's licence.' When I spoke to parents raising children, or in relation to loved ones, the last thing you think is that you're going to need a kidney, lung or serious organ transplant. But, when it happens, your life changes. It completely turns around. It is about simply having those conversations in the broader community.

One of the things I will be doing following today's debate and when parliament rises is running an awareness campaign in my own electorate, because, as a member of this place, I want to raise awareness for community, for older residents, for people from my non-English-speaking-background community. I represent around 50,000 people from non-English speaking backgrounds. I will look at running a local campaign to raise awareness. I am now in my second term in this place. As a result of consulting and listening and understanding, I've got a role to play as a community leader to raise awareness and to put these issues on the table.

I'm really pleased that these issues have been debated today. It brings me to the conclusion of my remarks, where I want to touch on the second reading amendment, which refers to better management of the COVID-19 pandemic. I want to place on record today my deep concerns about the member for Dawson's comments, which have received a lot of comment. As a member of this place, I believe that what the member for Dawson said in the parliament yesterday was deeply disrespectful to every Australian and every health worker who has done the right thing. We need to call out the dangerous misinformation from members of the government at every opportunity.

My question today is: why is the member for Dawson still a member of the government? This morning I heard weasel words from some ministers from the National Party, saying, 'Yes, we don't agree with him, but he's got the right to say it.' Well that doesn't cut it in my books. We're seeing a pattern now from the member for Dawson and Senator Canavan and Senator Rennick, spouting dangerous mistruths about COVID and the pandemic, and I don't want Australia's public health damaged for their own political chances. The Australian public should be able to trust each and every one of us in this House to use the privilege of a public profile for good, just as we have in this debate today. That is what this place should be about: highlighting, showcasing, standing up for issues for the Australians that need a voice, not the absolutely crazy ideas that we're seeing being infected in this place. It's bad enough that our country is dealing with a pandemic, a virus that is out of control. But now we're seeing National Party members of the government who are out of control. I tell you what: the member for Riverina and the member for Capricornia, two people I deeply respect, have strongly held views, and I know they are honourable people. That's the sort of leadership we need in this country, not the kind of craziness that we're seeing from the member for Dawson.

I sit in front of the member for Macarthur in this place. His contribution to this debate was one of the greatest speeches I have heard in the parliament. He is someone who was speaking from the heart, speaking with authority and also speaking with compassion about the Australians who rely on the 151 people in this chamber to do the right thing by them. I am glad that yesterday this House came together as a unified voice to send a very clear message to those peddling dangerous mistruths. I am delighted that the Prime Minister, led by the Leader of the Opposition, Anthony Albanese, stood up to the member for Dawson. They're great on the keyboards, great when sitting around sending out vile and revolting comments on social media; well, we in this chamber call them out, and I'm so pleased that members of the National Party, the Liberal Party and every other member condemned those comments. They deserve to be condemned because the Australian people deserve much, much better.