Chris Bowen MP
Chris Bowen MP

MP reveals tragic family secret to right wrong

HIGH-profile federal MP Chris Bowen has been hiding a secret pain that has tortured his family for decades.

The former Labor treasurer will today reveal he'd lost two older brothers growing up - siblings he and his older brother Paul never got to meet.

His grieving mother Christine, 82, had one stillbirth and a year later gave birth to another boy Douglas, who lived for just two days.

The babies were then taken from Christine. She never got to kiss them goodbye or even attend their burial.

On Thursday, drawing on a connection with others touched by stillbirths, Labor's health spokesman will break his silence and "urgently" call on the Morrison Government to end a harsh anomaly for grieving parents.

Addressing a two-day annual National Stillbirth Forum in Brisbane from today, where medical leaders and advocates throughout Australia will share their latest research, Mr Bowen will pledge to stop the "throwback to the attitude of the era" that his mother had to endure.

Parents who lose a baby, and are eligible to receive Family Tax Benefit, receive a bereavement payment of 14 weeks of the tax benefit - for an average family it equates to about $1500.

Labor health spokesman Chris Bowen will speak at the conference in Brisbane on Thursday. Picture: Toby Zerna
Labor health spokesman Chris Bowen will speak at the conference in Brisbane on Thursday. Picture: Toby Zerna

But they are only eligible for the payment if the baby's heart beats after birth.

"If it beats once, they receive a payment, if a baby is born without a heartbeat, they don't,'' Mr Bowen will say.

"This is wrong. Now let's be crystal clear, no amount of money can take grief away and it is not intended to.

"But our social security system recognises that grieving parents can do with a little extra support and help with unexpected costs and reduced earning capacity that go with losing a loved baby.

"That support should apply equally for a family that has lost a baby who has lived briefly beyond child birth and a baby who hasn't made it through child birth. The grief is the same. The support should be the same."

He said the change would cost about $2 million a year.

Mr Bowen's mother gave birth to the deceased boys in 1959 and 1960 in the UK.

While living in Australia, where she gave birth to Chris, Christine never gave up on tracking down Douglas.

She contacted councils and hospitals seeking any dot of information.

Once she found where her little boy was buried, she travelled to the UK to erect a memorial.

There is no record of where her first boy, whom she did not get to name, is buried.

Almost 2200 Australian children are stillborn every year - about six a day.

Mr Bowen said he would also keep the pressure on the Government to fully adopt the recommendations of a recent Senate inquiry into stillbirths.