Co-Sponsoring the Senate Inquiry into Menopause and Perimenopause

06 November 2023

I'm proud to contribute to this debate and indeed to do so as cosignatory to the motion at hand, and I want to thank and acknowledge Senator Waters for her initiative here and her genuine commitment to improving women's health outcomes. I have been working on some of these issues since I was elected to the Senate, and the fact is that, when it comes to women's health, the deeper you dig, the more you find instances where women's voices have at best gone unheard and at worst been silenced. For too many women this has meant a substandard level of care. From maternal health to menopause women's experiences too often get ignored and too often women aren't believed, so their pain and their experience in their own health journey can be dismissed and their concerns get shooed away. The problem with all of that is it impacts their care, and the broader problem with that is that it impacts the health responses we have in a policy sense and the economic responses we have in a policy sense as well.

Menopause is one of the areas in women's health where women's voices have been ignored and where stigma and discrimination have kept the issue in the dark. Of course, not every woman will experience menopause in the same way, but we know from recent statistics for menopause and perimenopause, as asked about in the Women's Health Survey, that most respondents aged between 45 and 64 have been bothered by symptoms in the last five years and 27 per cent needed to take an extended break from work or study or exercise.

We know menopause can impact a woman's physical, mental and sexual health. It can impact their relationships, their workforce participation and many other aspects of their lives. As a consequence, this can lead to women having unwanted career breaks. It can lead to women having to revert to part-time work, forgoing those leadership opportunities which come at the peak of a woman's career in those years. It can lead to women having to step back from exercise and other things they enjoy and from caring responsibilities. It really can impact their finances and their superannuation. It impacts employers. It impacts our communities. It has impacts right across our economy.

Senator Waters spoke about Sonya Lovell. I was going to share some of her story, but I think Senator Waters had it well covered. Advocates like Sonya have been trying to bring this issue into the light, talking about the economic experience of their symptoms and of their experience in our healthcare system. I want us to hear more of those voices. We have some really powerful advocates in this space, but I also know that there are a lot of women who are suffering in silence, and I think it's really important that we hear their voices and that we hear their experiences, both in our healthcare system and in terms of economic consequence. I want us to have a big, public conversation on menopause because, if we don't bring this issue out of the dark, we're never going to get the right community and policy responses to it. That's really important.

That's why a Senate inquiry can make a real difference. It's an opportunity for us to bring out the lived experience of women and to talk about where some of the challenges and problems are so that we can respond to them and make recommendations which cut across not just federal government but different layers of government and also employers and our communities and other ways in which we can seek to respond to the challenges we know that many women experience.

Of course, this isn't the only work that we're a part of in our government. We support this Senate inquiry. We're really looking forward to hearing the lived experience of women. It builds upon the other work we're doing in women's health. We as a government are absolutely determined to bring out women's voices and their experiences in our healthcare system because we know there's a gendered element to their experiences. We know you don't have to dig deep to find instances and examples where women haven't been heard, where they've been silenced and where their experiences or pain or other issues have been dismissed, ignored or not adequately prioritised. We have our National Women's Health Strategy. We've created the National Women's Health Advisory Council, which is doing a really important piece of work around lived experience and women's experience of the healthcare system too.

But this Senate inquiry will be important as well. I think the real power and potential in it is that opportunity to bring in lived experience and bring in women who may not otherwise be well engaged in formal government processes. It can bring them in to a forum and a platform on which we can have these conversations in a way which is comfortable and honest and really gets to the heart of their experiences, where they've suffered and where things have and have not gone well. It really has the potential to be very powerful. We've seen in the Community Affairs References Committee in other reports, particularly our recent report into reproductive health care, that, if we work together to get out there and listen to women and work together constructively as a committee, we can come to recommendations which have the potential to really make a big difference.

I have very high hopes for this inquiry, given the level of support across the chamber for it. I hope that we can really do something significant with it and do something significant for the women in our community who feel like their experiences haven't been heard and haven't been validated. I want to make sure that we get their voices into government but also elevate and raise their voices so that as a community we can think about how we deal with some of the issues which can surround menopause and some of the challenges that women experience and face. A big, open, honest, public conversation is a really good thing when it comes to menopause. I'm really looking forward to this inquiry. I thank Senator Waters for her initiative in moving it and for allowing me to co-sign it. Watch this space.