Universal Access to Reproductive Healthcare

15 June 2023

I wanted to rise today to make a brief statement on the recently concluded Senate Community Affairs Reference Committee inquiry into universal access to reproductive healthcare. The report was titled Ending the postcode lottery. We made the decision to call it that because we know that woman's healthcare services are a postcode lottery. We know for women across our country, particularly in rural and regional Australia, accessing the health treatments they need can be really difficult. I've spoken many times in this chamber about why this issue matters to me, about my family member who was separated from her baby for 17 weeks because she couldn't access the maternity care services she needed close to home.

Since I was elected in 2019 I've travelled around our state, and it has been shocking to me that the experience my aunty had isn't something in the distant past; it's something that women continue to experience. Women are being forced to leave their communities to give birth to their babies, have ultrasounds and receive the pregnancy care that they need. It happens across South Australia too regularly, where we have birthing services provided in the local hospital and then, due to workforce or other issues, when an obstetrician or midwife leaves the community, those services are withdrawn. And it is extremely disruptive for the women in those communities who not only have to then endure the risk of travelling many hours to have their babies but are also separated from their families, support networks, other children, elderly parents and, often, partners who aren't able to take time off work to travel with them to the community where they need to have their baby.

These are really concerning issues for women in our regions, and they're not just concerning; they can be dangerous. And that's why the committee really wanted to take a dive not just into reproductive healthcare services but into maternity care services as well. It's really important that women have choice and options when it comes to their health care. That has to include the broad spectrum of women's health issues, and sometimes maternity care is missed out of the conversation. We have many health practitioners across our system who are able to support women when given the opportunity to work to their scope of practice, an incredible workforce of midwives and nurses who are enthusiastic and ready to provide these services. And, while I don't dismiss the challenges in workforce when it comes to maintaining provision of maternity care services, perhaps one of the paths through is around scope of practice, around how we can utilise different parts of the healthcare workforce to provide the services and support that women need, in a way which is safe for women and their babies. So that's one of the recommendations we looked at.

There were over 30 recommendations. It was a big report. We had 350 submissions to the committee on what are sometimes very sensitive issues that go to the heart of conscience and to the heart of people's passions and values. I want to thank every single submitter who made a contribution to our inquiry. What was really clear to us, as we were doing this work, is that when it comes to women's health issues you don't have to dig too deep to see how the health system is letting women down when their health isn't being prioritised.

We also did a lot of work in this report around access to contraceptive care. Again, it's an issue which can be a bit uncomfortable to talk about—it's not a frequent topic of debate in this chamber, for sure—but we do know that women, again, when it comes to contraceptive care, don't have the choice that they probably should have in Australia. And that's something that we did a lot of work on in the committee. We made some strong recommendations around that, particularly around making sure that women and families with complex needs, suffering from cancer or other health conditions, are able to access the support that they need in respect of that.

In conclusion, I want to thank everyone for their contribution to the recommendations. I want to thank Senator Waters, who initiated this inquiry, as well as all of the other committee members and everyone who took part in our work. I think there are some bold recommendations before us. There is a lot of work ahead. I will continue to raise the flag on the issues around maternity care because they are very urgent indeed.