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Thank you Mr Speaker.
This week is Women’s Health Week in Australia – an annual event run by Jean Hailes for Women’s Health, with support from the Australian Government.
The health and wellbeing of women and girls is something I am very passionate about.
As a nurse for more than 20 years, as a woman, a grandmother, and now as Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care, I have seen firsthand the difficulties women face getting their health needs met.
From being misdiagnosed or diagnosed too late, being over-medicated or having their symptoms dismissed, to a lack of research and education around women’s health issues.
Research shows this inherent bias leads to significant disadvantages for women compared to men.
It’s rarely intentional. But it’s real and many, many women are suffering as a result.
One of them was my own cousin, Resa.
She went to the emergency department with numbness and tingling from her waist down.
She was very distressed, but doctors completely dismissed her symptoms, gave her a Panadol and sent her home.
My cousin died later that night from a ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm – she was only 60 years old.
There are countless other shocking stories.
Another recently shared with me. A woman in her 70s asked her GP why she felt pain during intercourse.
The doctor said it was just her age. A few days later, she was in emergency, with a ruptured appendix.
Would a man have had the same experience? I think not.
Another woman who has bravely shared her story was diagnosed at the age of 50 with lipoedema, a progressive disease which almost exclusively impacts women.
Lipoedema causes the body to create excess lipoedema fat, which can only be removed by liposuction.
This woman was self-conscious about the unusual fat on her body from an early age, and at 14 developed an eating disorder.
Years later, she went to a doctor about the painful lumps all over her body.
She was told to eat less and exercise more, even though her food intake was dangerously low.
She was not listened to or believed. She was blamed for her problem, until finally, after decades of suffering, she received the correct diagnosis.
We are fortunate to have a world class health system in this country, supported by so many wonderful nurses and doctors and other professionals.
But it needs a reboot when it comes to addressing women and girl’s health issues.
I’m pleased to say that this Government has already begun that reboot.
At the same time as we have made historic investments in the health system as a whole, our Government have also invested more than $65 million in targeted support for the health and wellbeing of Australian women, girls and gender diverse people.
Australia’s first Endometriosis and Pelvic Pain Clinics are opening across all states and territories.
We had already increased our election commitment of 16 to establish 20, and just last week we announced a further expansion to bring the total to 22 clinics nationally.
And in February we established the National Women’s Health Advisory Council, which I am proud to chair.
The Council will provide recommendations to address the complex, systemic bias against women.
For the Council’s first year we are focussed on four priority areas: research; access, care and outcomes; empowerment; and safety.
You may wonder why safety is an issue.
The safety subcommittee of the Council will consider the cultural, social and physical safety of health care for women, and how the health care system can play a stronger role in supporting, promoting and protecting women.
The Labor Government’s 10-year National Plan to End Violence against Women and Children, released in October 2022, invests $48.7 million to help GPs and other primary care providers to better identify early signs of family, domestic and sexual violence and child sexual abuse, and to take action.
The importance of a health system that takes a holistic and multidisciplinary approach was demonstrated recently in a family and domestic violence pilot program in Melbourne.
A patient presented extremely agitated and distressed, wanting a referral for a psychologist and to discuss some medications for anxiety.
On further questioning, she disclosed her partner was physically abusive and suffered from severe alcohol use.
She had reported the physical abuse to police and was safe and had family support, but her mental health was still suffering.
Through the program she was referred to a psychologist and to an alcohol and other drugs support counsellor, as an affected family member.
The GP was also able to help her partner. As a result the patient is safe from abuse, she feels supported and her anxiety is under control.
Cultural safety is also vital. So many women and girls experience cultural or language barriers, particularly when it comes to mental and sexual health.
Ensuring Australians receive the care and support they need, regardless of class, race, or cultural background is a high priority of this Labor Government. Of all Labor Governments.
This year’s Women’s Health Week’s theme is Grow Your Knowledge.
It's all about supporting women to make informed decisions about their health with information that's easy to understand.
That starts with language. And language leads to empowerment.
The Government is providing funding to the Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health to work with partner organisations to recruit, train and coordinate a team of more than 40 bicultural health educators, speaking more than 20 languages.
These health educators reach people of all ages from culturally and linguistically diverse communities across Australia to deliver health information in various languages.
As I visit clinics around the country, I see firsthand how important, how powerful, it is when people get addressed in their mother tongue.
It unlocks the world for them.
Whatever one’s language or circumstances, every woman and every girl deserves to be heard when it comes to their health.
That’s why my National Women’s Health Advisory Council is undertaking an Australia-wide community consultation survey to #EndGenderBias.
We especially want to hear from First Nations women, culturally and linguistically diverse communities, individuals with diverse sexual orientations and gender identities, women from regional and remote communities, and women with a disability.
The consultation portal can be submitted to in 17 languages.
It can be done anonymously, online through text, video or audio recordings, until 13 October.
Anyone can take part, including patients, health providers, researchers and other stakeholders.
It’s already received over 1,500 submissions – and, to any woman listening, I want to hear your story too.
And I promise, we will use this information to make the right policy decisions, to improve the health experience and health outcomes of women and girls.
Every woman who takes part will "grow our knowledge” of how the health system treats Australian women and girls, and help us to improve it.
When it comes to women’s health, the challenges facing us are not easy.
Changing attitudes, changing the way things have always been done, is never easy.
But now is the time to do it.
We can and must break down the barriers. We must have this important conversation and take action.
We owe it to people like my cousin Resa, we owe it to the hundreds of women who have already come forward with their stories, and the countless others who have suffered in silence.
When it comes to the health of women and girls I can feel the momentum building—the enthusiasm, drive and determination.
I want to thank the advocates, organisations and experts who work tirelessly to better the health system and outcomes for women.
Let’s keep working together to improve women’s health – and never stop growing your knowledge.