Organ Donation

August 11, 2021

I rise to speak on the Australian Organ and Tissue Donation and Transplantation Authority Amendment (Governance and Other Measures) Bill 2021. This bill reforms the governance structure of the Australian Organ and Tissue Donation and Transplantation Authority. The current governance structure was established on 1 July 2017, establishing the board as an accountable authority of the Organ and Tissue Authority under the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act. In July 2020, the Organ and Tissue Authority governance board undertook an internal review, as required under the board's charter. The review indicated a clear consensus from board members on the need for increased time and capacity to contribute to the organisation's strategic direction and provide advice and support to the CEO in this crucial area. So this bill before the chamber transitions the role of accountable authority from the board back to the CEO, and replaces the existing governance board with an advisory board under the Australian Organ and Tissue Donation and Transplantation Authority Act 2008. These changes revert to the approach first implemented by Labor back in 2008 and align the Organ and Tissue Authority with the governance structure of most other non-corporate Commonwealth entities.

I'm reminded of a speech I gave in 2008—in fact, my first speech—in February, after the election. In front of my wife, Lea, and my son, Stanley—it was before you were born, Leo, otherwise I would have mentioned you too—I said the reform of the organ donor system was crucial. A big thankyou to the former member for Griffith, Prime Minister Rudd, an organ recipient himself, for achieving such a significant outcome. Obviously lives have been saved. The grief associated with early deaths has been somewhat assuaged by organs providing that second life for somebody. At the time the Rudd changes were made, organ donation was sitting at around 10 donors per million of the population, which I think everyone on both sides of the chamber would agree was a disgraceful national statistic. The rate then rose, up to 15.6, and was heading north, and that was good news, but sadly that trend has reversed in the past couple of years, obviously affected by COVID.

COVID has caused much suffering across the world in the last 18 months, and the human cost has been immense. In Australia, sadly, we've had 941 deaths from COVID, and there are currently more than 5,000 active cases. But the true human cost of COVID will never be known. Sadly, the figures for organ transplants in 2020 were down by 16 per cent. There is no denying that COVID-19 has had an adverse impact on organ donation and transplantation rates: hospitals face challenges, including COVID-19 restrictions, and there are flight reductions and border closures, so often a big part of organ donation. Sadly, there are currently around 1,800 Australians waitlisted for an organ transplant.

Organ donation is an issue that I've been concerned about for some time. As I said, I spoke about it in my first speech. I did that because, in the lead-up to the 2007 election campaign, my friend Debbie Duddridge passed away. Debbie had been waiting on a set of lungs for more than two years. The lungs had to be the right size. But, on 29 October 2007, Debbie ran out of breath for the final time. How many Debbies are out there waiting now, hoping that it will not be too late for them? How many of those 1,800 Australians could be saved by someone making that commitment to their family and to the authorities?

Organ and tissue transplantation does save and transform the lives of people with a life-threatening illness or disability. Organ and tissue donation involves removing organs and tissues from someone who's died, the donor, and transplanting them into someone who, in many cases, is very ill or dying, the recipient. When we think about an organ transplant, we immediately think of organs like the heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, intestines and pancreas, but there are other tissues that also can be transplanted to save lives, such as heart valves and other heart tissue and bone, tendons, ligaments and skin. All can help trauma and burn victims in their recovery and help to change people's lives. Eyesight can be restored by corneal graft transplants. Many lives can be saved or transformed by one decision to donate.

It is important to know that the circumstance where there is an opportunity for deceased patients and their families to support organ and tissue donation is uncommon. Sadly, just one per cent of the people who die in hospital under medical supervision are able to be organ donors. This makes it even more important that we have many people registered to donate. Only a small fraction of those registered will actually be able to fulfil their wish to donate.

For a lucky country, Australia's rate of organ donation is still shameful, but we can change this, all of us can. There are two steps. You know them. You've heard them from other speakers. Step 1 is to make sure you tell your family, and the other one is to register to be a donor on the DonateLife website, which takes about one minute. That conversation you have with your family today could save someone's life in the future, or change nine other lives even. You might think it is difficult to start that conversation, but it will be even more difficult for your family if they don't know what your wishes are when they need to. Make sure they know you want to be an organ donor. This was my plea to all Australians in my first speech, and I give it again today.

Have you signed that organ donation form? If not, why not? Have you clearly told your loved ones that you would love your body to keep on working long after you are gone? If not, why not? If you think—I would suggest mistakenly—that your religion prevents you from donating organs, perhaps you should have another talk to your religious leaders or to your God. Whether you're watching, listening to or reading this speech, the question you need to ask yourself is: why not? Please commit today to doing somebody else a favour after you're gone. As they say, caring is doing, and, if you don't do, you really don't care.

Labor supports this bill, and I'd like to finish today by thanking the 58 per cent of families who agree to allow life-saving organ donation when faced with the tragic reality that one of their loved ones is not going to live. I say a big thankyou to them. Let's not leave our relatives wondering what we want. Talk to them today and register on the DonateLife website.