Mr RAMSEY (Grey—Government Whip) (16:19): This bill, the Australian Organ and Tissue Donation and Transplantation Authority Amendment (Governance and Other Measures) Bill 2021, is largely a technical one. It refers basically to the management of the Australian Organ and Tissue Donation and Transplantation Authority. It would seem, listening to the speakers, that it has broad support across the House. It will enable the authority’s management to run more smoothly and divert more of their resources to actually finding organ and tissue donors and making sure that those operations can take place in a safe and prosperous environment. Basically, we’re all on the same ticket: we want more people to take up the possibility of organ donation.
This is one of the good things that happen in parliament from time to time, something about which we can all be on the same side and support. But I have to say at the beginning of this speech that I’m both surprised and saddened that the Labor Party has chosen to politicise this by moving an amendment which one could say is nothing more than straight pointscoring. I listened to the member for Oxley, who spoke just before question time on this issue. He gave us a good 10 minutes, I’d have to say, and then went to their amendment and spent five minutes just having a smash-and-grab. I hardly think this is the issue to do that on. Really, where does the bottom of the bucket stop? But I’ll move on from that.
When I was thinking about what I was going to contribute to the debate on this bill, I reflected that, if there’s anything we could do in this place so that one speech would make a difference and one extra person would sign on as an organ donor or one extra person would actually end up donating organs, we would have done some good work. In that light, I thought I would contribute. To do so, I thought I would go back to the speech that I gave in September 2008, when the Australian Organ and Tissue Donation and Transplantation Authority was established. I will just make the point that my recollection is that, in opposition, we didn’t move any amendments on it. We supported the government legislation.
At that time, my speech was largely about two people whom I knew quite well. One was a bloke called Peter Stutley and the other was his wife, Marilyn. I detailed the story of Peter’s sad demise. He was a good bloke, Peter—a knockabout kind of chap. He’d done jobs just about anywhere and at any time, and you could rely on him to roll up to work and put in a good day’s effort. He’d spent time in the mining industry and in farming. In more recent years he’d been up at Moomba, earning good money in the gas fields. A little later in life he’d come to find Marilyn, a girl whom I went to school with. They got married and had children, boys, and he’d decided it was about time he got back from the gas fields and was around to give a hand raising those boys and be dad.
He took a farm job for a friend of mine. One day they were shifting machinery. He went on ahead with the machinery and was to be picked up later. While he was waiting, like any good workman, he found something to do. We think it was nailing down a few flapping sheets of iron on the shearing shed. Whatever happened, that day he fell. When his boss came along and found him, he was in very poor shape. He was shipped out to Adelaide, and it became pretty clear before long that Peter was going to depart the earth and this life, at least spiritually. He was on life support, of course, so his organs were functioning, but his brain was not.
So it came to that point where people in that situation are asked whether they would be prepared to donate the organs. You wouldn’t believe it, but only six weeks before this Marilyn and Peter had had a discussion about what would happen and what they would want to do in the event of such an untimely ending. They had decided strongly—Peter certainly had—that if his organs were no longer any good to him they might be able to help someone else out. So they acted upon those wishes. It was obviously a very emotional time. She was supported by a good friend, and it was a pretty raw moment for the whole district, I’d have to say. This happened on a farm right alongside my own. Pete will always be remembered by the six people he gave life to. As I said:
Peter’s corneas, kidneys, heart valves, lungs and long bones went to six separate recipients—gifts of life or huge improvements to life quality in all cases. All this has given Marilyn great comfort that Peter’s untimely and unexpected death has brought something good to these people.
I think that story is equally powerful today as it was back then. I’ve given the abridged version today. We shouldn’t forget Pete or a lot of people like him, and we shouldn’t forget that you can be as generous in death as you are in life. I think that is a salient point that should be held for all of us.
The second story I told on that day was about a young woman we met in Adelaide. When my children started at university, Teresa and I made a decision that it was about time we bought a unit in Adelaide for our children to live in while they were going to university. We had three children who went to university there, as it turned out. In this block of units, there was a young lady called Nancy Douglas-Irving. Nancy had had a long battle with kidney disease. She’d been on dialysis machines to keep her alive. She’d had a kidney transplant, and it had worked for a while. Then it had failed, and she was back on dialysis. She was a travel agent and a vibrant woman. She had waited many years on dialysis, and it wears you out. I’m sure there wouldn’t be a member in this place who doesn’t know someone who’s been on long-term dialysis. It really saps your energy.
Eventually she made herself quite famous. She told me: ‘If I have another five years of this, I’m going to give up on dialysis. I just can’t stand it as a permanent solution to my problems.’ But she advertised nationally for a donor. That got her on a few television shows, lots of interviews and whatever else. I think she did great work at actually promoting the need for organ donation and what a difference it can make. In the end she did find a kidney. It came from a family member. Boy, you couldn’t believe the difference in this woman. I said at the time, she looked 10 years younger virtually overnight. In retrospect, it was more like 15. It was like turning on the starter key. All of a sudden she had all this energy and this pent-up ambition to do something for sufferers of diabetes and others, those who suffer from renal disease, renal failure. Along with some friends, she established a program called Dialysis Escape Line.
As a travel agent, she used to organise a trip, a cruise, every year for people who are on permanent dialysis. She would organise the machines. She would organise the transport from the airport to wherever they had to get on the cruise liner. She would find some volunteers to come along and be dialysis nurses for the trip. They would run fundraisers. My daughter was involved in helping her for some times and they would organise whatever they needed to get this show on the road each year. What a wonderful thing she did for others, and that’s the kind of person Nancy was. You’re probably guessing from the fact that I used the past tense that this doesn’t have the conclusion we want. As I said, she got a kidney and her life was good. As a travel agent she managed to take more than the one week a year when she was accompanying a lot of other people on dialysis and so she travelled the world and did all kinds of things. She said to me, ‘I can’t get insurance, but how long’s a piece of string? I don’t care, I’m going anyway.’ Then her life got even better. She met the wonderful Wayne Brady, and they got married a few years ago. She was over the moon. It was a wonderful outcome. During that time she was awarded an OAM for her services to people with kidney disease and the dialysis community. She used to say to me, ‘I’ve made these great friends at dialysis, but sadly I keep losing far too many of them.’ But then she got sick—I understand it was a different ailment; I don’t know the full detail of it—and she died two weeks ago. I don’t think it was a kidney failure, but all that time on dialysis over the years can’t have strengthened her. She leaves a huge hole in a lot of people’s lives—and certainly in Wayne’s life. She was a wonderful individual.
The point of telling Nancy’s story—once again, in an abridged version—is to point out how much of a difference a decision like Peter Stutley made can make to someone like Nancy. It can change their life. Pete’s attitude was: ‘I’m not using them anymore, mate; why not give somebody else a hand?’ I don’t think I could give a higher recommendation for people to become a registered donor. For the interests of the House—and I know we are not allowed to use props—I have certainly got it on my licence. I hope that most other members do, and I hope all of Australians eventually do the same thing.