Muecke, Dr J.


It is with considerable pleasure and pride that I stand to support this motion and thank the member for bringing this to the attention of the house. I hope all members in the chamber watched the ceremony when Dr James Muecke was recognised as the Australian of the Year this year. I hope we are all flush with pride as he is the second South Australian in two years to achieve this high honour.

He and his wife, Mena, as the Premier has pointed out, have both been recognised with Australian orders for their work, in particular in the development of the Sight For All program. I suppose as South Australians, on the one hand, and as Australians, we recognise how important this occasion was for the advancement and advocacy of eyesight, particularly in the adult population, which was the specific cause for bringing the spotlight onto diabetes in relation to the consequences and loss of sight. We feel enormous pride, and we congratulate Dr James Muecke on this honour.

I also recognise the work of the Hon. David Tonkin, also an ophthalmologist, who has been a premier of this state. I do so not in any way to diminish the contemporary work now that has been continued by Dr James Muecke but to acknowledge that in our own communities, we have had exceptional areas of leadership in advancements in relief for those who have the plight of blindness or are sight impaired. One of those is Dr David Tonkin, himself a trained ophthalmologist. In fact, he continued his practice in this area while he was in the parliament, including when he was premier. He continued a Saturday morning practice to continue to support his existing clients.

I bring to the parliament's attention that in 1990 the Lions Club in South Australia established a SightFirst program, which emanated from the Burnside division of the Lions Club in particular. It has now had the benefit of assisting 27 million people in prevention and training around the world. There have been 80.5 million treatments administered through this program. It has close to 1,000 programs across 90 countries in the world.

Very importantly, it has been a program that has supported the training of over 305,000 nurses, ophthalmologists and other eye care workers around the world. This is all because people who cared about this issue gathered together, developed it here in South Australia and it is now a program that is around the world. That is what happens when you combine a problem that has to be solved, people who are committed to the cause and an endurance quality to ensure that that is maintained, and that is exactly what Dr James Muecke and Mrs Mena Muecke have undertaken with their colleagues in the development of this program.

I also applaud Dr Muecke's determination to use his time wisely in those speaking engagements to ensure that he spreads the message that we need to do everything we can to improve the nutrition and increase the physical activity of our population. This is a very important public health policy that he is committed to.

Dr Muecke has already established his war on sugar and highlighted that we need to consider—and this will be a matter that will come to all of us in state and federal parliaments—whether we have a sugar tax, whether it should apply to products where there has been an excess amount of sugar, whether there are further requirements that we should be looking at for food labelling and whether there are restrictions on advertising, particularly to children during children's television viewing and the like. He maintains that sugar is as toxic and addictive as nicotine. Clearly, with these messages, he is intent on making sure that he makes a difference in his year of this recognition.

I also wish to identify a number of other areas that need to be improved. There is a program called the Get Healthy Information and Coaching Service, which provides free telephone coaching to any South Australian adult to assist them to make healthy behaviour changes and to assist with physical activity, weight management and the like.

There is also the SA Healthy Towns Challenge, which has committed $1 million over four years to fund community projects in regional towns. Across the first two rounds of grants, 12 towns have been provided with funds. All projects are addressing nutrition by physical activity. Again, a big tick to Wellbeing SA, which of course is the newly established agency established under the stewardship of the Hon. Stephen Wade, Minister for Health and Wellbeing. It is a considerable compliment to him in advancing a rebalancing of our health system to understand that this preventative role not only is it important but it needs to be active, it needs to be funded and it needs to be effective.

I am sure that, with Wellbeing SA's work, together with the support of Dr James Muecke and his valuable advice and experience to promote the social media campaigns that are necessary to look at preventing diabetes through good nutrition and the importance of screening for diabetes, these will all be important initiatives. They will have the spotlight shone on them during this year—and it is not before time. It will advance the work that is absolutely necessary to ensure that we can bring people through healthy lives and that, if they do fall victim to a diabetes diagnosis, we are able to assess that, and with early screenings and the like ensure that eye health is maintained as best it can be, and hopefully we can combat the preventative lapse into blindness or severe eyesight impediment.

Congratulations to Dr James Muecke. We look forward to hearing from you, seeing you, supporting you and recognising the extraordinary contribution you have already made, particularly as a result of your professional achievements and diverse involvement around the world and, indeed, to see your richly deserved applause from others.