International day of the Midwives - Hansard

We love midwives, because midwives always deliver. International Day of the Midwife is an important occasion for us to reflect on the great fortune we experience in Australia and, indeed, in New South Wales. Women in New South Wales have a comparatively high life expectancy, and their risk of dying in childbirth remains at historically low levels.

Australian women experience a risk equal to women in Switzerland, Japan or Belgium. This risk is so low that most Australian women do not even consider it when choosing whether or not to have children. It is a great luxury that we experience, but we should be mindful that not all women are so lucky. Around the globe approximately 290,000 women and over three million infants die as a result of complications from childbirth.

The risk faced by women in countries that do not have a modern health system is immense. In Somalia, Chad and the Central African Republic, maternal mortality is more than 800 deaths per 100,000 births. In Chad the figure is almost 1,000 deaths per 100,000 births—that is one in 100 women die while giving birth.

If one in 100 Australian women died in childbirth we would be outraged. That this is allowed to exist anywhere on earth is a tragedy. The only comforting part of this statistic is that rates of maternal death in childbirth continue to fall around the globe. Belarus and Israel currently are the top two nations with the lowest rate of maternal mortality—a position that any nation should covet.

The low risk faced by Australian women is largely due to the efforts of midwives. In Australia there are more than 30,000 midwives, the majority being both nurses and midwives. However, in recognition of the community demand for specialist midwives, it is now possible to complete a standalone degree as a midwife.

Midwifery, like other care-based industries, continues to be a female-dominated industry. In recent years there has been increased discussion around choice in childbirth and a growing number of women are choosing to give birth at home, supported by a midwife. A midwife's support during childbirth is incredibly important. While deaths during childbirth remain rare in Australia, women do face the risk of embolism, thromboembolism, haemorrhage and eclampsia, which are the cause of more than three-quarters of all direct maternal deaths.

I benefited from the care of midwives and their expertise and skills when giving birth to my two children at John Hunter Hospital. After my first child was born I suffered a postpartum haemorrhage. I am truly thankful to the midwives who looked after my daughter for the following four hours.

To celebrate International Day of the Midwife the Australian College of Midwives organised a series of Walk with Midwives events across the country.

These events raised money for the Rhodanthe Lipsett trust, established in honour of long-serving midwife Rhodanthe Lipsett who spent more than 40 years assisting mothers in Adelaide, Broken Hill and Canberra. Rhodanthe had a particular interest in supporting mothers in regional communities, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mothers. Since 2000, Rhodanthe has assisted 23,000 new mothers. Her trust provides a scholarship for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women to be trained as midwives to boost the number of Indigenous midwives, which is currently under 100. This is a vital goal.

In New South Wales, while most women face few risks, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women remain at an increased risk of death during childbirth. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are almost three times more likely to die during childbirth than non-Indigenous women.

This is not the only area where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women face higher health risks than their non-Indigenous peers and we must remain committed to closing the gap in all stages of life. Achieving this goal will take time, but an essential component of meeting this goal is supporting professional midwives to support women in an environment that is welcoming and caring. I fully support this matter of public importance.