Federation Chamber - PRIVATE MEMBERS' BUSINESS - Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month

11 September 2023

I'd like to acknowledge my friend and colleague, the member for Werriwa. Over 36 years ago, I was also involved with a baby who died—Anne's baby. And I know that no-one could have cared for their first-born more than Anne and Larry. It's difficult to give this speech, because, as a paediatrician, I remember every baby I've looked after who's died, and they are all important. They are all important to our families and to our society, and I hope I've never been involved in a situation where I have said, 'Just move on,' because you can't. You can come to terms with it, perhaps, but you never quite understand it and you never quite forget it—and neither should you.

In Australia, we're very lucky. We have low perinatal mortality rates of under 10, as does most of the developed world. But there are countries around the world that have perinatal mortality rates sometimes two or three times greater than Australia's: countries like Afghanistan and even Pakistan, which is nuclear power that has perinatal mortality rates over 30. Some of the countries in sub-Saharan Africa have similar rates. But, in Australia, the rates have been very slow to come down past that nine or 10 per thousand births.

There are reasons for perinatal loss. I'm a really strong promoter in this parliament of the first thousand days child-health policies. That looks at how we can help people from preconception through to the second year of life to prevent developmental and physical problems in children. Part of that policy looks at how we can prevent preterm birth, which is the strongest risk factor for perinatal death, and proper nutrition, which is another factor that is related to perinatal death around the world.

There's more we could do. We can do better, looking at the genetics of perinatal death. We can do more, looking at maternal factors, such as hypertension and pre-eclampsia. There is much more we could do. That's why it is so important, on 15 October, to remember Pregnancy and Infant Loss Day and remember to not just support those families but to look at what we can do, as a government, to promote research into these most vital areas. I think there is much that the government is doing, and will do, but it needs to be done in a coordinated fashion. There is room for having a national policy on perinatal death that looks at research and appropriate management not just for the cities but for rural, regional and remote areas, because being remote is a factor in perinatal death, as is Aboriginality. We need to make sure that everyone gets equal access to support during pregnancy, and both prior and after, to make sure we can bring down those perinatal mortality rates.

It is very personal, and every family should be supported. I feel for everyone who has lost a child, particularly in these circumstances, which often, as the member for Werriwa knows, occur without any warning or explanation and are often associated with feelings of deep, deep loss that aren't appropriately managed in those first few days and afterwards. Every person who is involved in a perinatal death, be it nursing staff, be it obstetricians, be it paediatricians, be it families and the wider family as well, is affected by perinatal death and perinatal loss. It's very important that we as a society understand that that perinatal period is one of the most common risk times for a child and do more to prevent and manage it so that we can reduce our perinatal mortality, which affects the whole society.

I fully support the motion moved by Ms Stanley. I congratulate and thank all those who have spoken on this. I look forward to doing what we can as a government to make life much better for people who have experienced perinatal death.