There are some issues so fundamentally important that they should be above politics. Stillbirth is one of them.
Recently, Senator Kristina Keneally published a moving piece on stillbirth in the Sydney Morning Herald(“Stillbirth a tragedy we can prevent” 19/06). Against the backdrop of last year’s Senate stillbirth inquiry, she bravely described her own personal experience in this area and urged Australia to prioritise the reduction of stillbirth.
If Senator Keneally had limited herself to these comments, there could be no objection. However, to our deep disappointment, she concluded her piece with gratuitous and dishonest claims that the Morrison government has been inactive on the issue since the publication of the Senate report in December 2018.
Senator Keneally’s claims undermine the respectful, bipartisan manner in which the Senate inquiry was conducted. They also neglect to mention the significant actions the Morrison government has taken in this area.
Separate to the Senate inquiry we were already working with advocates, health professionals, our Coalition colleagues and the Health Minister, Greg Hunt, to address this most devastating of issues.
Because of the work we had done, we were able to announce several major policy responses to stillbirth on the day of the tabling of the Senate report.
This included a $7.2 million commitment for medical research and education programs to address the incidence of stillbirth in Australia, and the first-ever National Action and Implementation Plan on Stillbirth, informed by a roundtable of experts.
In February, we held the roundtable with advocates, health professionals and interested parliamentarians. Both of us attended, as did Senator Keneally.
At the time of the roundtable the Morrison government announced $26 million for a Perinatal Mental Health and Wellbeing Program to ensure grieving parents have access to the psychological care they need.
The recently released National Women’s Health Strategy 2020-2030 includes a further $1.3 million for an intensive support service for families who have suffered the terrible tragedy of a baby born still.
Each of these announcements support the Senate inquiry recommendations calling for action in the key areas of education, research and bereavement support.
We know there is so much more to be done, but this is an important start.
Funding aside, the conversations occurring in our parliament and in the media are proof that, finally, stillbirth is on the national agenda.
For some time successive governments, policymakers and advocates have been openly discussing policy responses to other areas involving life and death, grief and loss. We believe the discussion about stillbirth should occur in the same open way.
The fact is that the rate of stillbirth has remained unchanged for twenty years. To put the figures into perspective, more babies are born still each year than lives are lost on our roads.
While everyone knows what to do to stay safe on our roads, so many parents do not know the things they can do to help to keep their unborn baby safe.
These are simple things like educating women to sleep on their side during pregnancy. Another is learning the unborn baby’s movement routine and seeking urgent medical assistance if the movement has slowed, sped up or significantly changed.
These simple steps have shown marked reductions in the rate of stillbirth in countries like the Netherlands, England, and New Zealand.
We want to see similar reductions here because in different ways we have been touched by the tragedy of stillbirth, as has Senator Keneally. It doesn’t just affect parents, but grandparents, siblings, colleagues and friends.
It is so important we discuss this issue, reduce the rate of stillbirth, and as a society learn how to best support parents and families in their grief, which is life-long.
We applaud Senator Keneally’s advocacy on stillbirth, and her courage in sharing her own personal experience to help others. However, we hope the Senator can progress her views and those of her party in a less partisan manner from here.
While recognising that some argy-bargy is necessary in politics – the robust exchange of views is after all integral to democracy – the Australian people also rightly expect us to cooperate on fundamental issues relating to the nation’s wellbeing.
People are tired of constant political point-scoring at the expense of the national interest.
We consider that stillbirth is one of those subjects where we should put our partisan differences aside, resist the temptation to attack the other side, and put our minds together to achieve real results for our nation.
As parents of babies born still have come together in their trauma, grief and pain to advocate for a change in the way this issue is approached in Australia, so too should we as policymakers who have the power to achieve this change.
Jim Molan is a Senator from New South Wales and Nicolle Flint is the Member for Boothby in South Australia.
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