October 12, 2012

Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (12:29): I rise to speak in relation to World Sight Day. At a time when we seem to have a national or international day for every cause known to man—and I do not want to be disparaging of those other causes—World Sight Day is a very important event. It is the main advocacy event to raise awareness in the global effort to prevent avoidable blindness. The campaign also encompasses the World Health Organization's VISION 2020: The Right to Sight initiative, which is a global effort to prevent avoidable blindness.

The theme of World Sight Day this year is prevention. The House would be interested to learn that over half a million Australians aged over 40 are living with some form of vision loss. Of those, over 66,000 are blind. But it is estimated that in Australia 75 per cent of blindness and vision loss is preventable or treatable. A number of members and senators on both sides of the chamber and on the crossbenches have joined the campaign as World Sight Day Champions, including me. Many of us attended a breakfast here in the parliament this morning that actually doubled as the 80th birthday celebration of a former member for Lalor, Barry Jones. Barry is the Chair of Vision 2020 Australia and I do not think it would be stretching things too far to describe the former member as somewhat of a national treasure. As World Sight Day Champions, the members of parliament have been actively engaging with our local communities to raise awareness about preventable blindness and encourage local residents to have their eyesight tested on a regular basis.

There are many causes of vision loss. The major eye diseases that can cause blindness and vision impairment in Australia are macular degeneration, glaucoma, cataract and diabetic retinopathy. Together with under- or uncorrected refractive error, they account for more than 90 per cent of vision impairment among older Australians. It is also more common for people to develop a vision impairment as they age; however, some of these conditions, if caught early, can be treated. That is the key prevention message of World Sight Day that is being promoted here today in the parliament.

There are a lot of things that Australians in particular can do to protect their eyes. In a hostile environment like many of us experience in our rural and regional communities, wearing sunglasses and sunhats wherever possible in the sun is a good preventative measure, not only for your eyes but also for protection against skin cancer. Also, wearing eye protection at home and at work and quitting smoking are valuable measures. It is a known fact that smoking is one of the major contributing factors to poor eye health outcomes.

The prevention message of World Sight Day is emphasised in the need for people to have eye tests on a regular basis. On Monday, before I came to the parliament I met with an optometrist and good friend of mine in Lakes Entrance, Evan Bryant. Evan passed on the following recommendations to me. The average eyesight test only takes about 30 minutes and is painless for the majority of clients. People who have a family history of eye problems, are dealing with other medical conditions such as diabetes or are in the older generation should have annual check-ups. People over 40 should have their eyesight tested every two years, while younger people with good vision should have their eyes tested every five years. That is all good advice from Evan and I thank him. Evan and his wife, Elaine, are heavily involved in World Sight Day, as they donate all their fees on World Sight Day to Vision 2020: The Right to Sight.

The impact of vision loss on an individual's contribution to our community is very significant and also affects a person's emotional wellbeing. People who are blind or vision impaired are much less likely to work and are less independent than those with normal vision. That is not to say that they cannot make a major contribution to our community in many ways, and the overwhelming majority do, but there is no question that our sight is important to us and there are poor health outcomes related to people who have a loss of vision or are vision impaired.

Eyesight is something that we should never take for granted. I can only encourage the people of Gippsland to be proactive and to take a simple eye test that could save their sight. People with vision loss are twice as likely as others to use health services. They are twice as likely to have a fall. They have a rate of depression three times that of someone without vision impairment. The message again from World Sight Day 2012 is that the overwhelming majority of eye problems are preventable or treatable. I congratulate Vision 2020 Australia on its work in promoting good eye health and I encourage other members to support its work in the future.

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