Senator FIFIELD (Victoria) (9.59 pm)-One of the great joys of having the privilege of serving as the coalition’s shadow for disabilities and the voluntary sector is to meet some amazing people. Earlier this month I had the great honour to meet Melissa Noonan, the executive officer of Limbs 4 Life. Limbs 4 Life is Australia’s peak amputee support organisation, founded by Melissa together with Jacinta Dyson in 2004. The founders met after Melissa lost her right leg in an accident and Melissa was admitted to the rehabilitation centre where Jacinta worked. Melissa was hungry for information, advice and support. Unfortunately, at that time in Melbourne, it was not available. Jacinta, too, through her work felt that there were gaps in support for amputees. They worked together and a year after Melissa’s accident Limbs 4 Life was launched.
Melissa is a robust, passionate and determined woman. I suspect it would be much easier when Melissa approaches you with a request to just say yes-it would save time. She is a very determined woman indeed. After meeting Melissa, I am not surprised at all by the scope of the work of Limbs 4 Life or the speed of growth of the activities of Limbs 4 Life.
I did not know that there are 250,000 amputees in Australia. Before the establishment of Limbs 4 Life, people in this situation had to navigate their own way. The objective of Limbs 4 Life is that no amputee should go through the trauma of limb loss alone. Limbs can be lost not only through trauma but also through vascular disease, cancer, diabetes or infection. Diabetes, I learnt from Melissa, is in fact the leading cause of amputation in Australia. Limbs 4 Life advised that it is estimated that over 1.5 million Australians have diabetes. One per cent of diabetics will experience an amputation and 75 per cent of those will experience a second amputation within three to five years of the first. Over 3,000 diabetes related amputations take place in Australia each year. Nationally, there are 600 smoking related amputations each year. Amputation rates increase with age, threefold in those aged 45 to 75 years and sevenfold in those aged over 75 years. In Victoria alone there were nearly 300 work related amputations over the last three years, accounting for five per cent of all work injuries that resulted in treatment in hospital.
Limbs 4 Life provides direct peer mentoring. It develops and sources health and wellbeing information, and provides opportunities to participate in social and sporting events. Limbs 4 Life places a great deal of emphasis on sporting and social support programs, which help participants remain healthy and connected, and also assist in balance and flexibility for those who have had amputations. Limbs 4 Life, not surprisingly, works very closely with disability agencies, hospitals and rehabilitation centres to ensure that people who pass through their care are aware of the support that Limbs 4 Life can provide. Limbs 4 Life also has a very strong web presence and a range of web based tools-with over one million hits and 287,000 page views during 2008, which includes hits by 28 per cent of the total Australian amputee population.
What impressed me most about Limbs 4 Life is its peer support volunteer program. Experienced amputees mentor recent amputees. So far, 52 volunteers have been trained and there are currently 15 people on the waiting list to partake in the volunteer peer support training. These volunteers have donated almost 6,000 hours. In the estimation of Limbs 4 Life, this is equivalent to almost $100,000 in volunteer labour. These peer support volunteers have visited over 500 amputees in hospitals and rehabilitation centres. Through their efforts, recovery is faster and people return to work sooner. They gain independence and mobility sooner,
and depression is alleviated.
It is indeed fantastic work that they do. Limbs 4 Life has made its own way since its establishment. Most of its funding is sourced from the corporate and philanthropic sectors. But, as with many not-for-profit organisations, Limbs 4 Life is finding access to funding more difficult. Accordingly, Limbs 4 Life is currently circulating a petition seeking Commonwealth funding. I must say that the support which Limbs 4 Life is seeking is extremely modest. But it is support which will make a material difference as to whether or not Limbs 4 Life has to curtail its activities. Limbs 4 Life has had a huge response to its petition. I want to share with the chamber a few of the reactions which the petition has elicited.
One person said:
I have been an amputee since the age of 9 and I wish this group was available when I was growing up.
My mother became a four limb amputee in 1996 due to illness, and since then Limbs4Life have assisted her greatly.
Also, another individual said:
Limbs4Life is a fabulous organisation which provides amazing support for amputees. It is crucial that the Federal Government provide it with some financial assistance to keep it afloat. There is no other organisation quite like it.
Melissa has vowed that Limbs 4 Life will continue regardless. The question is how many people will Limbs 4 Life be able to assist. I commend the request of Limbs 4 Life for government assistance to the Senate and the government. They do fantastic work. Melissa and Jacinta deserve congratulations for this organisation that they founded which is helping many Australians through what is a difficult and traumatic time for them. They help those Australians get back into the community and back into work sooner than they otherwise would, and I commend their efforts.