17 April 2009
Official Launch of Lifehouse at RPA
The New Sydney Cancer Centre

Each of us is here today because of a bloke who has shown incredible leadership, incredible vision and incredible courage. 

He’s inspired us, each and everyone of us.

He’s challenged us, each and everyone of us.

And for many of us here today, he’s also become a friend. And I now regard Chris O’Brien as a friend of mine.

And we’re here today together, to launch the new Sydney Cancer Centre – Lifehouse at RPA.

I wanted this thing to be called the Chris O’Brien Cancer Centre, and his response to me was ’ not on your nelly’.

I wanted to name it this because I thought it was a proud product of his vision, his determination and his leadership.

And again his response was a firm and irrevocable ‘no’.

And what I’ve learnt over the last couple of years of knowing this bloke is you don’t cross him. It’s not worth the trouble. So I haven’t.

And hence we have the name of this great institution, of this great institute, which is before you today.

And Chris has defied all the odds for the aggressive, highly malignant brain tumour that he was diagnosed with back in 2006.

The diagnosis that was delivered like a “hammer blow”, as he says in his book, Never Say Die, his wonderful autobiography that I had the privilege of launching last year.

A diagnosis delivered with no hope for the future.

They gave him six months just back then.

And he’s here with us today fighting on.

And all the way along, Chris has kept battling for his vision for integrated cancer care.

A vision for the new Sydney Cancer Centre to be a true centre for excellence that brings all the elements of cancer treatment together within a single facility.

So that patients diagnosed with cancer no longer have to feel they’re on their own in finding their way through all the different elements of dealing with their illness.

Others would have been devastated by a cancer diagnosis.

But Chris has truly transformed personal adversity into national opportunity.

An opportunity to understand cancer treatment from the other side of the doctor’s desk.

An opportunity to fight so much harder for cancer patients and their families.

And an opportunity to achieve lasting change in the way we treat and prevent cancer in Australia.

I know Chris doesn’t want us only talking about him today – no matter how much he has been an inspiration for so many of us.

After all, Chris hasn’t been fighting for himself.

He’s been fighting for each and every one of us.

There is no Australian, literally no Australian, who goes through life without being touched by cancer in some way.

Whether it’s in their own diagnosis, or that of a family member, or a friend, or a workmate.

All of us are affected by cancer in one way or another. I remember as a child my mum being diagnosed with breast cancer. I was three or four years old. She was 39 years old.

Mum survived and died at the ripe old age of 83. Having been a marvelous mother and friend to me.

In the end however she died of lung cancer. And died as someone had been a teetotaler and a non-smoker all her life.

Cancer touches us all in one way or another.

And because cancer is a personal story for so many of us, it is also therefore a national story for all of us.

And all of us have a stake in improving cancer prevention, detection, treatment and cure.

The fact is, cancer steals away too many lives, far too many lives.

Before the age of 85, one in two Australian men and one in three Australian women will be diagnosed with cancer.

It claims up to 40 thousand Australian lives each year – making it the leading cause of death.

And cancer numbers will only increase as the population ages and grows – making cancer one of our greatest health challenges for the future.

Of course cancer is not just one disease – there are many different types of cancer.

For some cancers, treatment is very successful.

Five year survival rates for breast cancer and melanoma are now around 90 per cent.

Other cancers however, are far more biologically aggressive.

There are the ones that pose the greatest challenge. There are those which are more manageable.

And they are why the word “cancer” still strikes such fear for all of us when we are in a doctor’s waiting room.

The reality is––thanks to our great doctors and support staff like many of you here today––a cancer diagnosis is not a death sentence.

No matter the diagnosis there is always some hope.

Each year in Australia, there are more people surviving cancer, and living beyond it.

Indeed 60 per cent of Australian men and 65 per cent of women are alive five years after their cancer diagnosis.

By international standards, our cancer survival rates in Australia are high.

But we can as a nation do much, much better.

I want to advance a vision for Australia. For us to become world leaders in cancer detection, in cancer treatment, and in cancer research.

As we improve early detection and treatment, we can improve the body’s capacity to fight cancer, and we can continue to improve survival rates.

And we can greatly reduce the stress and anxiety of the cancer journey for patients and for their families.

This is central to the vision for integrated cancer care centres like the new Sydney Integrated Cancer Care Centre – Lifehouse at the RPA.

The integration of cancer care – represented by Lifehouse – is the next great step forward in our battle with cancer. Our national battle with cancer.

It is also the next step forward in the Australian Government’s health reform agenda.

I am proud to be here today with my colleague and friend Nicola Roxon, the Health Minister, to launch the new Sydney Cancer Centre – Lifehouse at the RPA.

Because this centre offers one the best models of care delivery in the world.

It brings clinical care, research and education, and outreach into a single organisation.

As Chris has long argued from experience in the United States where there are over 60 such centres, integrated cancer centres radically lift excellence in treatment, excellence in care, and excellence in research - each informing the other on the way through.

I remember sitting down for the first time with Chris when I was back as Leader of the Opposition, I seem to remember over a coffee in the attic of a hotel. As he carefully, painstakingly, for a poor political brain such as mine, unfolded the concept of what integrated cancer care was. And after a half an hour conversation, I finally got it. It stuck with me since. And that’s why I’m here today.

Medical research supports the case for centres such as this.

It’s also just a matter of common sense.

As Chris says if Australia can create world-leading facilities for entertainment and sport, why in heaven’s name, can’t we equally have world leading clinical and research facilities to fight one of the nation’s biggest killers?

Well Chris, that’s what we intend to do.

The Lifehouse at RPA will offer all types of cancer treatment including chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, supportive care and complementary therapies.

Lifehouse at RPA will operate as an independent not-for-profit charitable organisation, treating both public and private patients.

More cancer patients will also be able to take part in potentially life-saving clinical trials, especially for selected uncommon and more complex cancers.

The Integrated Cancer Centre – the Lifehouse at RPA – aims to increase patient participation in clinical trials from the current level of about 8 per cent to something approaching 20 per cent or more.

That means we can undertake more research and undertake better research.

And that means faster breakthroughs in improving patient care.

And with a centre of excellence such as this Australia will do better in attracting and retaining the best medical professionals from across Australia and across the world.

The centre will also give young cancer specialists, researchers and medical staff first-rate training and experience, helping us develop a new generation of world class cancer experts.

Mentoring young staff has always been integral to Chris’ vision for the practice of medicine, as readers of his autobiography can attest.

And that vision will be reflected here at Lifehouse RPA as well.

There’ll also be partnerships developed with other research networks, including the University of Sydney, the Garvan St Vincents Campus Cancer Centre and the Centenary Institute.

The vision for Lifehouse at RPA is an inspiring vision. It’s a good vision. It’s a right vision for the nation.

And that’s why last year I came here to announce that the Australian Government would give $50 million to the Sydney Cancer Centre Foundation for Lifehouse at the RPA.

But the Sydney Cancer Centre Foundation still needs another $200 million to bring the full vision of the Integrated Cancer Centre to life.

So Chris, I’m back again today, to announce that the Commonwealth will be tripling its contribution.

In addition to the $50 million we announced last year, the Government will now provide an additional funding of $100 million to the Sydney Cancer Foundation.

And there’s one reason for that, and that’s you mate.

With the additional $100 million that I am announcing today, the Commonwealth is now providing half of the $300 million required for the Lifehouse.

That takes us a long way towards delivering the vision for this new Sydney Integrated Cancer Centre.

Today, I’m also delighted to launch the Chris O’Brien Capital Appeal for the Sydney Cancer Centre Foundation with the goal of raising a further $50 million.

Chris’ model of an Integrated Cancer Centre will be a centrepiece of the Australian Government’s vision of tackling cancer over the coming years.

This will be part of our national vision to deliver integrated cancer services across the nation.

Eighteen months ago, I said that I believed Australians were sick of the blame game between different levels of government, and sick of no one taking responsibility just for making things work.

I promised Australians that if elected as Prime Minister, I would work hard to end the blame game.

One of the first things I identified was that we needed to make sure that we deal with the historical underinvestment in cancer services.

Since taking office a little more than 12 months ago, the Australian Government has invested more than $250 million in Cancer alone. This includes:

  • $87.4 million for a national bowel cancer screening program;
  • $30 million for cancer centres in Melbourne, and Adelaide;
  • $15 million for prostate cancer research centres in Brisbane and Melbourne;
  • $31 million for a new program to provide for the first time a nationally consistent framework for financial support for women who require external breast prostheses as a result of breast cancer;
  • $15 million to better support adolescents and young adults living with cancer through youth cancer networks; and
  • $12 million for the McGrath Foundation for breast cancer nurses.

Today, we open a new chapter in the Government’s commitment to tackling cancer.

Lifehouse at RPA will deal with uncommon, more complex and potentially untreatable cancers that can only be managed by co-located expert teams.

It will also manage a high caseload of the more common, large volume cancers.

This unique combination of roles will place Lifehouse at RPA at the centre of what will be a rolling agenda across the nation for the Government.

An agenda to develop better access to cancer care through connected services – which put the patient’s needs at the centre of the system.

An agenda with a long term goal of delivering consistent best practice treatment across our nation.

And the result is that we can deliver real improvements in patient care.

And we, the Australian Government will be putting our shoulder to the wheel.

And you, the business community and the wider community can also put your shoulder to the wheel, by contributing to the Sydney Cancer Centre Foundation.

Together, we will deliver on Chris O’Brien’s vision and deliver a state-of-the-art, world-class integrated cancer care centre that will set the benchmark for cancer treatment around the nation.

Capital works, as indicated just before, should commence later this year, with Lifehouse officially opening in 2012.

This new Sydney Integrated Cancer Care Centre – Lifehouse at RPA will also be the first project to be funded from the Australian Government’s Health and Hospitals Fund. Another first for the nation.

Important in generating economic activity and jobs on the way through. Critically important in building the health infrastructure we need for our nation’s future.

An important part of the Australian Government’s investment in our nation’s long-term challenges.

I would like to conclude by making a few final remarks of a more personal nature about our friend, and about my friend, Chris O’Brien.

Chris’ experience with cancer has given him the moral authority to push, to advocate this model of integrated cancer care to the highest offices in the land.

You’ve succeeded.

In the two years since I met Chris I’ve come to know him deeply. To respect him deeply. To admire him deeply. To love him deeply as a first class human being.

He embodies the finest traditions of the medical profession.

It’s one of the terrible ironies of life that a man like Chris would be diagnosed with the very type of cancer he did so much to fight against in his own patients.

But Chris has made much good of it.

He’s shared with us his cancer journey.

And on the way he’s kept reminding us – if it’s been tough on someone as knowledgeable and as optimistic as Chris, what’s it like for ordinary Australians who have to negotiate their way through the complex web of health services without any inside knowledge.

And imagine how much harder all that would have been without the love and support of Gail, Adam, Juliette and James, and the whole team here at this centre.

Chris’ message has been so very practical.

As he’s said, sometimes it comes down to little things like the difference of being driven into hospital each day by Gail for treatment, while one of his patients had to catch two buses to get there.

That’s what we’ve come to love about this bloke – a profound compassion for his fellow human beings.

His visceral reaction to injustice and to human suffering.

And his profound sense of duty to use his great talents to very good ends.

If there’s any young man or woman out there wondering whether a life in science or medicine is worth the years of struggle and hard work, Chris’ life should resolve that question for you.

This bloke is an inspiration. An example to the next generation of health professionals.

His vision for Lifehouse at RPA will come to fruition.

And it will not only benefit those living with cancer now.

It will leave a profound legacy for generations to come.

In ten years’ time, in twenty years’ time, in thirty years’ time, who knows what breakthroughs will be made possible because of this model.

And for this Chris, the nation thanks you.

I’m proud to be here today with a friend, a fighter and a builder, of our nation’s vision for the future.

Together, together. All of us here assembled, will deliver on this, your vision.

For Sydney, and for the nation, and to make Australia a world leader in this critical area of integrated cancer care.

Cancer won’t wait for the global economy to recover.

So please, do all you can now to support the Chris O’Brien Capital Appeal.

Because this truly will change the lives of many Australians now, and in the years to come.

This is what being Australian is all about.

Looking out for each other.

Looking out for each other when times are tough.

And it is my great honour therefore, to launch the Chris O’Brien Capital Appeal for this new Sydney Integrated Cancer Centre – Lifehouse at RPA.