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Transcript 17295

Prime Minister Address to the Sony Foundation Australian Captain's Dinner Sydney 17 May 2010

Photo of Rudd, Kevin

Rudd, Kevin

Period of Service: 03/12/2007 to 24/06/2010

More information about Rudd, Kevin on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 17/05/2010

Release Type: Speech

Transcript ID: 17295

Thank you Alan, and thank you, Crystal, for that extraordinary performance.

When I first met Alan Jones, probably about three or four years ago, I was Leader of the Opposition and I remember him saying to me in that funny studio of his out there at 2GB, off air he said this: 'You know something? There's an epidemic of cancer out there. Everybody I know has been touched by this. Everybody I know is having someone in their family or their immediate circle of friends who has been stricken.'

That was before, of course, Alan himself faced his own challenge, and it says something about how widespread this challenge is for all Australians and for young people that that is our national story.

If I looked around this room of leaders tonight - whether they are captains of sport, captains of industry, captains of politics - I doubt that any person could put up their hand now and say they know of nobody in their immediate circle of friends or family who is not now affected.

In that conversation Alan said to me 'Have you heard of a bloke called Chris O'Brien?', and as a loyal son of Queensland and someone who never watched RPA I said I didn't have a clue who Chris O'Brien was. He said, 'You should track him down about what needs to be done on cancer.' So I did.

Chris O'Brien, for those of you who did not know him or have the honour of knowing him, was an extraordinary Australian - not just a television star on that program RPA as it was, but also a brain surgeon and someone who specialised in neurological cancers, and the ultimate, ultimate irony - the cruel and saddest irony - was that he himself became stricken with brain cancer. Our foremost surgeon, our foremost neurological surgeon in this city and probably across the nation, and certainly the public face, himself struck down.

So at Alan Jones' suggestion I actually went and tracked this bloke down when I was Leader of the Opposition. Didn't know him from a bar of soap, just sat down, and he took me through the journey of someone who has sat on one side of the bed, and someone who now lay on the other side of the bed.

I just sat there for a couple of hours and listened to this bloke as he unfolded the story, and it was an extraordinary story. In the time that I've been Prime Minister I've only authorised one state funeral in this country, and that was for him. He died a year or so ago, he fought an extraordinary fight - an extraordinary fight - and his single message was this to me: for words to become deeds, we need to invest in this killer disease.

100,0000 members of our fellow Australian family are stricken with this disease each year - 100,000. That is a truckload of people; it's a huge number of people. 1,600 of them are very young people, very young people of the type of whom we've been speaking tonight.

I was talking to Andrew from your Foundation earlier this evening and it seems that we have a friend in common, or we had one. You may have seen me on television recently visiting practically every public hospital in Australia. By the end of that tour of Australia I was ready to conduct minor surgery myself I'd received such a rolling instruction from the clinical specialists of our country.

But with one of the young faces up there, we think, I sat down with her on her bed as she slowly began to slip away. She was a very young person - one of that 1,600 - one of those very human faces.

And so when Chris O'Brien says if you want to make a difference, invest: invest in the women and men of science who are at the forefront of this; invest in those who provide the clinical treatment up front, close and personal, doing everything within their power to wrest this person back from the abyss; and do everything you can in terms of what the clinicians describe as palliative care - what we would describe as basic human love and compassion.

So, Governments can't do everything, but they can do a bit. In fact, if they are minded they can do a lot. It's one of the reasons, and I attribute this to Chris O'Brien, that I became personally and passionately engaged in this cause - cancer at large.

We've now invested $2.3 billion in cancer initiatives across the country. There are the big ones which get the headlines. That's fine. Here at RPA the Chris O'Brien Centre as it will be, a radical expansion of the Garvan in the city as it should be, a fine institute. In Melbourne the centre at Parkville - $300 million-plus. It will be a world centre of excellence as well.

But it's also the smaller things. Here's one figure which should command all of our attention, and it's this: if you live outside one of our capital cities and outside one of our major regional centres, you are three times more likely to die within the first five years of diagnosis than if you live in one of those cities - three times more likely. You see, what happens is people just shrug. They say it's too hard, why should I bother? If I'm in Townsville, where we think the young person we have in common may have been, why, why, why should I put myself through the trauma of travelling to Brisbane, 1,000km away, for the basis diagnosis, the subsequent diagnoses, the basic treatments - isn't it better just to spend what time you have left with those who are near and dear to you rather than completely uproot your family life and the life of those who are near and dear to you.

And so making sure these centres are available to people who live outside grand cities such as Sydney, the most beautiful city in Australia, but also available in Bunbury, available in Tamworth, available in Ballarat, available in Townsville - that's really important. A huge number of our fellow Australians live out there, and they deserve a fair go as well.

You know, young people in that age bracket we're talking about - they don't get dealt a fair go. As Australians we passionately believe in this thing called a fair go, but if you're a young person in the prime of their lives, 16, 17, and then the diagnosis comes in, the truth of it is you haven't been given a fair go. That's where we can make a difference - to give them a fair go, and it's not just through making sure that the clinical services are available, but we're out there at the forefront of global and national research to find a breakthrough to make a difference.

So that's what we're on about together - Government playing its role, you as captains of industry with a heart of compassion I believe doing what you can as well. That's what makes a difference.

So for young people, you can ride on. It's great, you should do it. We're in there with $15 million. I understand the state governments of Australia are collectively throwing in 20, and you, the community, are being asked to raise a further 15. That's good.

I'm confident we're going to get there - drag out your mobile phones, the old ones, all those loitering in your top drawer at the office. I opened my top drawer the other day and I was astounded at what I saw. That was before I got to the mobile phones.

It makes a difference. I understand from the campaign so far some 50,000 have been surrendered in the first month alone - each of those is worth a buck or two. Hop into it, it's worthwhile.

But I finish by saying this, and I think back again to the young girl nearing the end of her life in a hospital bed in rural Queensland - I think her voice, like those who survive, like one of the names on your website, Jess, a 15-year-old, which I read on my way in from the airport here this evening. She survived. She said, though, in her blog that at the age of 15 I began to plan my funeral. There's something very visceral about that - sort of hits you in the solar plexus. It gets you.

But the great mark of a great country is that we care and together, you in business, we in Government, together with the whole community, can make this difference - so let's do it.

Transcript 17295