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Labor demands end to stillbirth injustice

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Federal Labor frontbencher Chris Bowen says the parents of stillborn babies are being denied a bereavement payment and is demanding an end to what he says is a terrible injustice.

The opposition health spokesman has told a national forum on stillbirths about the loss of two baby brothers, 60 years ago in the UK.

He says financial discrimination being suffered by Australian parents of stillborn babies has echoes of the unspeakable wrongs his mother endured all those years ago, before the family emigrated.

The parents of babies who die in the womb are being denied a bereavement payment that is given to other grieving families whose babies die soon after birth, he told the forum.

"If your baby is born without a heartbeat, you don't get the payment," he said in Brisbane on Thursday.

"No amount of money deals with grief. But the social security system should recognise all bereavements."

He says the denial of the Family Tax Benefit Bereavement Payment to some couples had echoes of the awful way his mum was treated after she delivered a stillborn son.

A second baby boy named Douglas died two days after he was born.

"My Mum wasn't allowed to hold her babies. She wasn't allowed to attend the burial of her babies. She wasn't even told where they were buried."

Thirty years later she decided to find out. She did learn where Douglas had been laid to rest, but was told no records were kept about the other baby's resting place.

On the payment, he said: "It is, frankly, a throwback to the attitude of the era that mum and many of you have had to deal with, that somehow a stillbirth is not equivalent to the death of others."

The forum heard 2200 babies are stillborn in Australia each year, a figure that has barely changed in 20 years. That's six babies a day.

One in every 137 women who reach 20 weeks will suffer a stillbirth. The rate is double for indigenous women.

Professor Vicki Flenady, the director of the Stillbirth Centre of Research Excellence, says better data is essential if the statistics are ever going to improve.

"The latest data we have is from 2016, and that's not good enough," she said.

Federal Labor Senator Kristina Keneally, whose daughter Caroline was stillborn 20 years ago, says there must also be a focus on educating people about the value of autopsies on stillborn babies.

Up to half of all stillbirths are still listed as unexplained.

"I had an autopsy done on Caroline and I'm very grateful looking back ... because we learned things that helped us prevent stillbirth and we had a subsequent child.

"Most of our states don't fund autopsies for stillbirths and that's why they're not done.

"They are also not done because we don't know ... how to talk to parents at one of the most awful points in their lives about why the should have an autopsy."

The federal government has backed all 16 recommendations from a recent Senate inquiry into Australia's stubborn stillbirth problem, including extra funding and developing a national action plan to drive down deaths.

It's also seeking advice on the cost and benefits of adding stillbirth autopsies as a new Medicare item.

© AAP 2019