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Vale, Lou Williams (SENATE SPEECH, 9 MAY 2017)


I rise to pay to tribute to one of Australia’s greatest advocates against the curse of asbestos, Lou Williams.

And, in doing so, I send my condolences and sadly inform the Senate that Lou passed away last month. She never, never gave up and she has left us a great legacy.

Lou fought for the many Australians with an asbestos-related disease for decades. Her father was killed by mesothelioma at the age of 54. It took 8 months. Lou fought her battle against mesothelioma for 14 years.

She underwent major surgeries to remove tumors. She endured regular sessions of heavy chemotherapy.

She kept saying her story was only one of thousands of stories out there where families have suffered and have been torn apart by this insidious substance.

Australia, of course, has one of the highest rates of mesothelioma in the world – due to the high rate of asbestos use in the country for many years, and the number of people being diagnosed with asbestos-related illnesses will not peak until 2020.

Since 1980, there have been more than 13,000 cases of mesothelioma diagnosed in Australia.

It is estimated that more than 25,000 Australians will die from asbestos-related diseases in the next 40 years.

These statistics spurred Lou on to advocate for the sufferers of asbestos-related diseases and their families in Australia and, indeed, around the world. She kept calling for greater awareness of the dangers of asbestos and to prevent people being exposed to asbestos.

She was a persuasive voice for the Asbestos Disease Foundation of Australia (ADFA), the Australian National Director for the Global Ban Asbestos Network, and also worked with the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization in the United States.

She was the embodiment of compassion. If there was someone – anyone, anywhere in the world – who was suffering from an asbestos-related disease, Lou found them and reached out to them. She was the heart of an enormous support network with friends all over the world.

She was heavily involved with the establishment of the Australian Government’s Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency - implemented by a Labor Government - describing it as, quote, “the ultimate and very important step in asbestos safety and eradication for Australia and also leading the way worldwide.”

In April 2014, the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO) honoured Lou with the Alan Reinstein Award at the 10th International Asbestos Awareness Conference; recognising her commitment to education, advocacy and support to countless patients and families around the world.

In 2015, Lou’s family paid for an experimental immunotherapy drug known as Keytruda. The treatment worked to an extent.

She re-booted her advocacy work to have Keytruda listed on the PBS for mesothelioma patients – citing her own story where she was paying between $5000 and $10,000 per infusion. Russell Broadbent MP, and I, the co-chairs of the Parliamentary Group for Asbestos-Related Diseases met with the Minister for Health in support of Lou’s efforts to have the drug listed on the PBS in 2015.

Of course, it will be too late for dear Lou Williams.  It was an honour to know Lou. It was an honour to know of her story, and her fight, and how it represented that of so many in Australia and, indeed, aroud the world sufferering from asbestos-related disease. 

She never, never gave up. We will miss her and her fighting qualities every day in the battle against asbestos-related disease, but like her, we will never, never give up. My sincere condolences to Lou's family.

Rest in peace, Lou Williams.