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Opening address - The Hon Greg Hunt MP and Mr David Laffan

James Lush, MC, says:

I want to introduce you to David Laffan, Assistant Secretary, the Australian Government Department of Health, who is going to introduce Minister Hunt. Please make him welcome. Thank you.

Change of order, we're gonna have the video of the minister first, then David will come up after that. Thank you.

The Hon Greg Hunt, MP, says:

Well, welcome everybody to the second Australasian FASD Conference, and in particular to the FASD Centre of Research Excellence and Professor Elliott, and to Carol, and to everybody who's here today on what is such a profoundly important topic.

I want to deal briefly with the challenge, the commitment, and the FASD Action Plan. In terms of the challenge, each person in this room is brought together by a common recognition that for a young baby to come into this world, with impaired capacity, through no fault of its own, in what is an entirely preventable condition is something which cannot be allowed to pass. Together, our task is to work with affected communities across Australia. And we need to be honest that we know that the rate of FASD in some Indigenous communities is significantly higher than the national average. But this can strike anyone, anywhere. So together, we are working on awareness, prevention, on ensuring that mothers-to-be have all of the information that they need and all of those around mothers-to-be because alcohol consumption during pregnancy can lead to catastrophic lifelong impact. And that is something which every Australian wants to prevent.

So firstly, I want to thank you and commend you for the work of the conference. For me, this is a deep personal passion. It's one of the areas that I want to focus on very, very heavily. I know that over the recent years since 2014 as a government, we've committed $19.7 million, so almost $20 million, focusing on FASD. We've made progress in some areas but there's still a lot more to do. We've in particular, recently launched promotional materials for information in a very balanced, practical, non-judgmental way for mums and families for communities with a strong Indigenous focus. And as we go forward though, this new action plan, the FASD National Action Plan, with an emphasis on action is what will guide us. I'm delighted to announce $7.2 million to accompany the action plan. And that will focus on information, prevention, screening, treatment, and to all of those in this room who have helped develop the action plan, I want to thank you and acknowledge you. But it only counts, it only counts if it actually helps transform behaviours and therefore protect young lives.

This is our task to work in a non-judgmental way to work in a constructive way but to actually make a difference for mums and bubs. So, as the mums know, that what happens during pregnancy can affect the very child that they are bringing to be in their own womb and this is such an important task. But it has to be done in a way, which brings the mums with us, which brings the families and the communities with us. And I think that this action plan developed by the people in this room is the way forward. I want to thank you, I want to honour you and I am delighted to officially launch the Australian FASD National Action Plan.

David Laffan, Assistant Secretary, Department of Health, says:

Hi, good morning everyone. So, I'd like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we're meeting and pay my respects to their elders, past and present.

We've just heard the video from Minister Hunt. But I'd also like to apologise on behalf of Minister Wyatt, who had really hoped to be here this morning but was called to a meeting outside of WA at late notice. So Minister Wyatt sends his apologies, along with his best wishes for successful and fruitful conference. He's asked me to deliver a speech on his behalf. And the minister commends the organisers and looks forward to hearing of the outcomes of the conference. And a final apology, I'd also like to apologise that now you have to listen to a speech from a public servant.

I thank our master of ceremonies for his welcome. And thanks the conference co-chairs Professor Carol Bower and Professor Elizabeth Elliott for their work in bringing this important conference together. The program promises a very interesting couple of days and the Australian Government is proud to be a major sponsor of this conference. I'd like to acknowledge the many prominent national and international experts that are gathered to discuss this important issue. I'd also like to acknowledge the chair of the Australian National Advisory Council on Alcohol and Other Drugs, Kay Hull and other members of the council who are here today.

So, FASD is an issue that the Ministers have a high degree of interest in. As you've heard, in Minister Hunt's video, it's a particular passion of his and even in a conversation with Minister Hunt yesterday, he referred to the issue of FASD as a key project of his. At a recent round table which Professor Elliott attended, he actually spent considerable time talking with participants about his support for FASD issues and for the work to be done. I can also say that in a recent stint where I spent working for Minister Wyatt. That Minister Wyatt has a high visibility of and a strong interest in FASD issues. When turning his mind to FASD and its associated problems, Minister Wyatt approaches the problem with some mixed emotions, firstly sadness because the story of FASD in this country is a tragic one. And it's because it's entirely preventable, and it doesn't have to happen. But Minister Wyatt also approaches the issue with hope that because of community driven successes and the unprecedented support the Australian Government is providing for the fight against this condition. As you heard on Minister Hunt's video earlier, he's pleased to announce the National FASD Strategic Action Plan. So, we have copies available here for you. And staff from the Department of Health will be able to provide you with a copy as you move out for morning tea. We'll also leave additional copies at the registrations desk so they'll be available throughout the conference. And of course, it will be online on the ministerial drug and alcohol forum website.

So, the intention of the National FASD Strategic Action Plan is to provide a clear statement of agreed national priorities and opportunities to improve the prevention, diagnosis, support and management of FASD in Australia.

Importantly, the FASD Strategic Action Plan also establishes a new national FASD advisory group, who will report to the National Drug Strategy Committee on the progress being made against the aims of the action plan, promote successful models and highlight emerging issues and evidence. This will be a key step for governments to ensure what we're doing is working.

It was just under two years ago that the Commonwealth convened a national stakeholder round table in recognition that the existing action plan was coming to an end. It was an opportunity to take stock, reflect on successes and also the things that hadn't been addressed. The discussions also confirmed that a more strategic approach was needed to tackling FASD across the full range of issues from prevention to support, across a person's lifespan and across the full range of government services. We undertook a national consultation process that saw this need confirmed by families and carers, service providers, organisations, researchers and clinicians and other government agencies. The findings of the consultations were taken through the National Drug Strategy Committee and ultimately the ministerial drug and alcohol forum, recognising that for a National Strategic Approach to have any success, we need joint ownership between the Australian Government and the states and territories. And I'm pleased that the final product being launched today strongly reflects a national consensus and agreement on what our priorities should be over the next decade.

I would like to acknowledge many of you who contributed strongly through stakeholder consultation in developing the plan, which was key for us in identifying those priorities and gaps, and hope that the final product reflects the issues you raised and gives hope that your concerns have been heard, understood and acknowledged. And I'd also like to acknowledge the efforts of my team in the alcohol, tobacco and other drugs branch in the department led by Dave McNally, who initiated and drove the development of the Strategic Action Plan.

Fundamentally, the Strategic Action Plan acknowledges the important partnerships that have been established across the sector. And I note that the conference theme of 'Our Science, Our Stories' resonates strongly with this. So, the framework of the Strategic Action Plan is really built around three key aims. Firstly, reduce prevalence of FASD, reduce the associated impact of FASD and improve the quality of life of people living with FASD. The Strategic Action Plan also seeks to deliver on these aims by taking action across the four national priorities. That's prevention, screening and diagnosis, support and management and priority groups and populations at increased risk.

The launch of this new strategy represents the start of a new journey, where we'd like to continue to build on the successes and momentum that many of you have built over the last few decades, looking at what's happening internationally for what might be applicable for Australia, support innovation, services and supports that are being provided, and continue to support the growth of evidence and raise awareness about FASD. As Minister Hunt mentioned, the Australian Government has announced more than $7 million in new funding to support projects that align with the direction of the Strategic Action Plan. This funding will be available from the 1st of July next year. This new funding will build on the investment and successful projects that are already on the ground running, where the government has already provided almost $20 million over the last six years. That funding has supported the development and dissemination of the Australian Guide to the Diagnosis of FASD, the National FASD Register, the FASD Hub - providing online access to a range of resources, research and the directory of support. Support for NOFASD to provide online and telephone support services, the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education in delivering the successful 'What Women Want to Know' and 'Pregnant Pause' programs and a range of new diagnostic services and community models of care across the country.

As you've heard from the Minister, the issue of FASD is an ongoing priority for the government, which is evidenced by this announcement of new funding. The funding is a strong signal of an immediate commitment to the Strategic Action Plan.

With funding provided across each of those priority areas that I outlined, I'm pleased to be able to provide some broad details about what the new funding will be directed towards. Although I'm sure you'll appreciate that I'm not able to go into individual program or project detail at this stage. The new funding will include around 1.5 million for prevention-related activities, including new consumer resources and general awareness activities, and support for the National FASD Awareness Day, translation and promotion of alcohol consumption guidelines and point of sale promotion activities. There'll be $1.2 million for new screening and diagnosis activities, which will include reviewing existing tools and guides and developing new tools and referral pathways to assist professionals in non-health settings. $1.2 million goes to the management and support activities, including tailored resources for people working in educational, justice and policing sectors. A further 1.3 million for priority group activities, including cultural adaption, of best practice resources that meet local needs. And finally, $1.6 million is being made available to continue some of the existing activities that were previously outlined. So finally, I'd like to highlight the comprehensive evaluation framework component of the Strategic Action Plan. The plan calls for ongoing monitoring, with formal reviews being undertaken across its lifespan. Importantly, the evaluation framework will consider data, qualitative and quantitative and draw an expert opinion, activity level reports and individual program evaluation findings and research findings. Through the new FASD Advisory Group, we expect to continue looking at emerging issues and gaps to make sure the Strategic Action Plan is active and a living national framework. There's no intention that this becomes a document that just sits on the shelf. We are committed to seeing constant improvements in this important area.

Minister Wyatt has said that it's time to acknowledge the scale of FASD issue in this country and to make greater efforts to address it. This is what the Australian Government is doing. This is what you're doing at the conference. So, all of us are part of the solution by working together, we can prevent FASD in Australian communities, protect future generations and give children the best start possible. Thank you.