Speech to the NSW Cancer Council Consumer Advocates
Conference Wednesday 1 June 2006
I wish to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land that we meet on here
today, the Gadigal people of the Eora nation. I pay my respects to their elders
past and present.
Thank you to the Cancer Council and in particular Meagan Lawson for inviting
me to speak to you here today.
It is a very hard act to follow Bernie Banton. Bernie is nothing short of a legend.
He, in collaboration with the dedicated and tenacious people from the Asbestos
Disease Foundation of Australia have shown just what is possible when real
people who have been affected directly by an issue take action.
And in taking action not only help themselves but also help others.
What Bernie and ADFA have been able to do is win a David and Goliath battle.
At so many turns and in so many places the campaign to bring James Hardie to
justice seemed impossible, yet the people who were directly affected by the
injustice did not give up.
They told their stories and held people to account.
Every time they did so they found more people who would join them in the
In the beginning it was their unions with the support of labour law firms.
As their very clever media campaign cranked up, they were again prepared to tell
their stories to an Australian community who could see the injustice of what was
They gained more support. And built a wider coalition.
They came and told their stories to individual politicians who also rallied to the
They came and told their stories to the NSW Premier who also joined the
The James Hardie Campaign was campaign built on the real life stories of those
from ADFA is one of the best case studies in successful consumer advocacy you
will ever see.
It demonstrates what all of you here today already know.
Consumer advocates are motivated and focused on getting real results not just
for themselves but also for others who will suffer the same fate.
Consumer advocates have the direct experience that is invaluable when trying to
build a better system.
Consumer advocates should be listened to and built into any system because
they can cut through the red tape to get to the heart of the issues.
The issues that impact on real people.
Meagan has previously asked me to assist with training your young consumer
advocates when they have taken up the issue of smoking in films.
She has asked me to describe what it is like being lobbied.
As a member of parliament I am lobbied everyday, across a range of issues.
Take yesterday which was a pretty typical day.
I had people contact me in relation to:
- the cost of leases for ski lodges in the NSW ski fields
- legislation regarding the storage of reproductive tissue for people in prison
- changes to legislation for teachers
- the proposal to sell Snowy Hydro
- refugees from West Papua
- the development of a charter of rights for people in NSW
- the latest development to fight Kidney Disease
- a pat on the back for the increase in funding to disability services
For my colleagues in the lower house they would have these issues plus many
more to do with local issues at their schools, hospitals and roads.
The point I am trying to make is that a member of parliament is required to have
a working knowledge of many issues.
We have access to information from our Ministers and we have staff who do
research for us on specific issues. We are often bombarded with material.
Taking into account the expertise of those who have had direct experience with
an issue is not only an important part of decision making process I believe that it
The stories of people who have been through the system can provide the human
filter with which we have to evaluate competing demands in a decision making
system where there is rarely enough time.
It is particularly important when those stories are backed up by a good
understanding of the issue and can be described in a succinct and direct way.
The stories of ordinary people can assist to simplify complex issues, illuminate
injustice and often provide a common sense approach to what needs to happen
The work that the cancer Council and Cancer Voices have done to bring this
together is an excellent example of building consumer advocates into decision
making in a credible and powerful way.
The two day workshop has given you all the tools you need for your delegations
with your local MP’s.
I will only contribute a couple of tips:
1. Be clear about why you are going to see the MP and what you want to get out
of the meeting:
2. Be courteous but do not be afraid to be firm about the outcomes you want from
3. If possible it is good to be able to leave a good summary of the issues that you
4. Remember to summarise at the end what has come out of the meeting and
what has been agreed to in terms of action.
5. Follow up with thanks when the action has been taken. MP’s get a lot of
brickbats but we do remember the thanks.
6. Provide information about the outcomes of the campaign.
I hope that you have enjoyed the two days and I wish you well with your work to
bring the issues related to cancer to the heart of parliamentary decision making.