The Crest of the Commonwealth of Australia Treasury Portfolio Ministers
Picture of Wayne Swan

Wayne Swan

Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer

3 December 2007 - 27 June 2013

18 June 2010

NO.016

Men's Health in Our Local Community

Address to the Prince Charles Hospital Foundation

Brisbane

18 June 2010

Thanks Greg [Meek] for the introduction. It's great to be here supporting the Prince Charles Hospital Foundation.

It was only six weeks ago that I last visited the hospital itself and as always I was incredibly impressed by what I saw. Not everyone knows that Prince Charles has one of the most extensive community service programs in the state, offers a huge number of specialist services, and has a respected research program.

I'm very proud that we have such a great hospital in our local community. And the people running it deserve our respect and admiration. Let's thank them.

The great researchers, clinicians and support staff here are pushing back the frontiers of medical science in a very practical way that's increasing the life expectancy of so many men, including me.

It's not just about research, of course, but about changing everyday behaviours. I'm glad to see I'm supported here today by the trim and terrific Sharif Deen [from the Biggest Loser] who is going to give us all some of his insights about how to keep our employees fit.

You will be pleased to hear, Sharif, that tomorrow my own staff will attempt a 10 kilometre run together. And I say attempt because after a GFC, a tax review, health reform, an intergenerational report, and another budget – they are going to need all the help they can get!

Protecting The Nation's Finances

I've been asked to talk today in my capacity as Federal Treasurer, but also as Men's Health Ambassador for the Foundation.

I guess I should start by confessing that my role as Treasurer doesn't always allow me to be a shining example of men's health! In the last four weeks I've done 14 domestic flights and five international flights (that's a lot of plane meals!), slept in four time zones, and had a few things speeding up the ageing process.

It seems an age ago since I've managed to do anything healthy and relaxing to lower the stress levels, like surfing at Maroochydore or watching my daughter's band playing at one of their gigs.

Except when I'm home I make a point of walking the Kedron Brook walkway each morning with my wife Kim and Jasper the family dog – although Kim (and Jasper) usually tend to beat me home by increasing margins these days! I enjoy few things more than those early morning walks, with the occasional stop for coffee from the local store, and it's become an important part of managing my own health.

My point is all of us go through busy periods, during which we neglect to look after ourselves. We shouldn't. We need to build healthier behaviours into everything we do. And we need to subject ourselves to a lot less angst in the process.

But we don't. So I'm going to have to ask you to 'do as I say, not as I do'. Some say us politicians have a lot of practice in giving that sort of advice.

Obviously, I've got a lot less reason to complain about long hours and stress than most, having sought the job I have for so long – a job that comes with huge privileges as well as huge responsibilities as custodian of the nation's finances and planner of its future prosperity.

Despite the rocky times the nation has faced, it's been a pleasure to hold the office of Treasurer. None of us get to choose the times in which we get to govern, much as we'd like to. I've accepted the challenge of governing in hard times as the privilege it is – a chance to pilot the nation through difficulties, always with an obligation to keep thinking about the future.

You all know the story of the Australian economy of the past couple of years. You're the ones who have lived it and seen your businesses affected.

I know for some people the going has been hard, and I'm interested in hearing about your experiences. Thankfully, though, we've been able to stay one step ahead of the global recession.

We've heard a lot of noise lately about the Government's response to the global financial crisis, including criticisms of various expenditure programs. But there's one fact that no one can deny: Australia has done better than just about any other developed economy.

  • At 5.2 per cent, our unemployment rate is around half the unemployment rate in the Euro area and the United States.
  • At 1.3 per cent, our economic growth rate last year was a full 4.5 percentage points higher than the average for all advanced economics.

I'm incredibly proud of these numbers and what they mean for Australian families and small businesses.

Labor governments stand for protecting the prosperity of middle Australia. We've done what's necessary to protect ordinary Australian jobs and their homes and to help them hang on to the assets they've worked so hard to build up. And importantly, we've managed to do these things whilst keeping to a strict expenditure target

A Responsible Budget

The recent Budget was proof of that. It has put us in an enviable position of economic and fiscal strength.

Thanks to our strict spending discipline, the Australian budget is expected to return to surplus three years ahead of schedule, in three years, and ahead of any major advanced economy. And Australian government net debt is expected to peak at 6.1 per cent of GDP in 2011-12 – one of the lowest levels of debt in the world. Compare that to a projected peak of 94 per cent of GDP for the major advanced economics collectively in 2015.

In Greece, in Spain, in Portugal, in Italy, in Germany and now the UK, we're seeing governments having to take dramatic steps. Of course Australia is in a very different position. Our fiscal position is the strongest of practically any advanced economy with our budget returning to surplus in three years, three years ahead of schedule.

And as a result, we have the capacity to keep on funding new programs in areas like education, skills and infrastructure. We've been able to deliver on our commitment to cut personal income taxes for the third year in a row, and people will see these tax cuts in a couple of weeks. And we have been able to deliver major reforms in other areas like health and hospitals, company tax and superannuation.

This is actually what the mining tax is all about – providing the means to cut company tax, boost savings, and allow more investment in things like infrastructure that will help all Australian businesses benefit from the mining boom. It's about getting the most from our mineral and energy wealth so we can build the economy of the future.

Better Health And Hospitals

Tax reform is a big priority for us and so is health reform – which is why we've backed through the most ambitious improvements to Australia's health system since the introduction of Medicare.

We are changing the way health care is financed with the Australian Government becoming the dominant funder of public hospital services and taking full responsibility for GP, primary health and aged care. From 2014-15, we will also fund the lion's share of growth in health and hospital costs – with guaranteed benefits to the states of at least $15.6 billion in the second half of this decade.

In return for providing a secure funding base into the future, we will require the states to commit to system-wide reforms that improve how the system works – by setting national quality and safety standards and ensuring transparent performance reporting. And those reforms will invest an additional $7.4 billion over five years in immediate health service improvements in areas like hospitals, GP and primary health care services, workforce, aged care, mental health, E-health and illness prevention.

For hospitals like Prince Charles, changes to the way hospitals are managed and funded will mean greater local control, a greater focus on local needs, more resources for emergency departments and elective surgery, and so much more. And it will build on the significant recent investments we have already made at the Prince Charles Hospital, including the $45.6 million we provided last year for the new 12 bay Paediatric Emergency Department now underway.

I'm proud that we are making these critical investments and the reform necessary to make our health system sustainable. I'm also very proud of our investments in men's health.

In May the PM launched Australia's first National Male Health Policy and $16.7 million to assist in addressing male health challenges. This includes $6.9 million to establish the first Australian study into the factors that affect the length and quality of life of Australian men and $3 million to recognise the important role that men's sheds have in the community.

Given it's Men's Health Week, we should take a moment to reflect on the human costs of illness, which fall predominately on immediate family, relatives and close friends.

I'm betting that like me, there are many in this room who have faced serious medical conditions – in my case prostate cancer – or watched their fathers or grandfathers lose a battle against them – as my father did some time ago. Moments like these put careers, businesses and money into their proper perspective.

Some of the leading causes of male deaths include heart disease, lung cancer, suicide and respiratory diseases. As Sharif will tell us, many of these diseases are preventable with a healthy diet, physical activity and a good work-life balance.

Men with more than three health risk factors are much more likely to not be in the workforce, even more so if they have risk factors and a chronic disease.

But if I can put my Treasurer hat on for a moment, there is also a wider economic impact of disease, injury and death amongst males of working age, because preventable illness is one of the leading impacts on our national productivity and economic well-being.

Employers in the audience probably already know that absenteeism due to illness and injury can cost business a lot. Research shows that the cost to the nation of absenteeism and ineffective work due to absenteeism and poor health is almost $33 billion per year.

We can do something about this – we can look after ourselves.

This applies especially to us blokes. You know, we can find the time to get our cars serviced, but not ourselves. And because men often delay medical consultations, their disease is often more advanced by the time they are diagnosed.

That's why it's so important for men – especially if they're in an at-risk group – to be informed. Early detection by a GP could save your life. I know. It saved mine.

My Experience

You'll see on the pamphlet for today's lunch that I have been asked to talk about my experience as a prostate cancer survivor.

I had no excuses for not taking the disease seriously, because in 1989 my father died from secondary cancers associated with the disease. He was only 67. Following his death, I moved on, and didn't think much about my own vulnerability to prostate cancer – until some 12 years later, aged 47, I received a phone call from my GP telling me I'd returned an adverse PSA test.

Take it from me – if you think it won't happen to you, the odds are not as small as you might think. Almost 3,000 Australian men die from prostate cancer each year. 19,000 new cases of it are projected to be diagnosed this year.

I had no idea that if a father or brother experiences prostate cancer, your chances of getting the disease are greatly increased. And I didn't know what the symptoms were. I nearly paid the price for that ignorance.

I was lucky. Early detection by a GP saved my life, and the skill of my surgeon saved the quality of my life.

There's a lesson in that – get a check-up every year. Don't sleepwalk to an early death. You owe it to yourself and your family.

Concluding Remarks

Your GPs, your hospitals – including the Prince Charles – would rather see you taking care of yourself and uncovering problems early rather than too late.

So, as an Ambassador for the Hospital Foundation, as the Treasurer of the nation, and as an ordinary bloke from here in the northern suburbs, let me encourage you to look after yourself and also to keep looking after the great people here at the Prince Charles Hospital Foundation.

Thank you.