Back to All News

Stillbirth inquiry report

Speeches in Parliament
Janet Rice 4 Dec 2018

No bad guys is exactly how it was. I really want to start by thanking everyone, because it was such a journey that we were all on. It was a journey for the committee and we worked so well together. It really was about bringing together, across the parties, people who are passionate about achieving change. I particularly want to thank the people who had the bravery to submit—those who shared their stories in writing and those who had the bravery to come and present in person and tell their stories to us, knowing that by sharing their stories they were making a difference. It was hard. The inquiry was triggering for virtually everybody who was involved in hearing those stories and the emotional journeys that people had gone through, hearing the awful stories of loss and wondering how people could get through that and share it. For all of us, we knew there was going to be some good that came out of it, that there was purpose in it and purpose in us all being able to work together to learn from these experiences and the stories that we all shared to get some better outcomes in reducing the rates of stillbirth in Australia.

I really do want to thank Senator McCarthy for her leadership and the way that she conducted this inquiry, which was a genuine collaborative approach of creating a space where everybody's story and input was welcomed, whether it was from the people submitting or the people who were part of the committee. I want to thank Senator Keneally for her leadership and drive initially in making sure that this inquiry happened. It is an important moment for the Senate. It's an important process that we've gone through. It truly is representative of the Senate working at its best.

There are some important things that we learnt during the inquiry that, for me, personally, I was shocked to hear. Just the stark rate of six babies a day dying in Australia of stillbirth was shocking, and then so was the fact related to that—that your average person in Australia doesn't know that, with the level of taboo and silence there is around stillbirth. The very fact of us having this committee inquiry is tackling that and is helping to break that silence. That is something important that I think we have all learnt—the extent of families suffering the trauma of stillbirth and the need to be able to talk about it and to give people the space to talk about it. That in itself will reduce the rate of stillbirth.

We learnt that there has been no change in the rate of stillbirth in Australia over 20 years, but other countries are doing significant things that are reducing the rate. That gives us hope because we know that there are some mostly fairly straightforward measures that we can take that will have a real impact on changing the rate and reducing that level of trauma and suffering.

We learnt about the level of inequality and how, if you're an Indigenous woman in an Indigenous family or if you're a woman from a non-English-speaking background, you have much greater rates of stillbirth than the rest of Australians. That's just not fair. We need to be doing something about that.


The recommendations of this inquiry go to some of those things—having an awareness strategy and really raising the profile so that people can talk about their experiences. That in itself means that, when a woman is pregnant, she can feel that she can learn about prevention and the things that need to happen in order to reduce the risk that she is going to have a stillbirth. In fact, we learnt that there are some very simple, straightforward things, like changing the way you sleep and having a process of continuity of care—simple things like measuring the growth of the baby so you have measurements that are accurate and continuing that throughout the pregnancy so that any reduction in fetal growth can be picked up. That will make a significant difference. At the moment, we're just not doing that effectively in Australia.

We learnt about the importance of more research and the importance of collecting good data. Again, it's just about getting things coordinated and nationally organised so that that data is there so we can learn from the data. In particular, the main thing I took from the inquiry, which was reflected in the way the inquiry operated of listening to people, was listening to women and their stories and their intuition being valued. That in itself is going to make a huge difference. Clearly having a model of care, having continuity of care, and having the people who are caring for the woman during her pregnancy actually listening to and being able to have evidence from the woman and the family really maximises the chances of a healthy outcome. That continuity of care in itself was something that I really strongly focused on during the inquiry. To me, it was really important to make sure that that in itself was going to help women be heard and have their wisdom and their knowledge valued, meaning that we were more likely to have positive outcomes.

Thank you to everyone who was involved and all of the committee members. Thank you so much to the people who submitted to the inquiry. You have taken part in and we have all been part of a very significant outcome for this parliament in this process.

Back to All News