NSW NATIONALS Senator John “Wacka” Williams has publicly revealed his two year battle against Parkinson's disease and says he would not be surprised if his crippling heath condition was caused by a lengthy pre-political life, working with farm chemicals.
Last week, Senator Williams publicly stated he had Parkinson’s – but it won’t hinder his ability to do his job, ahead of a scheduled resignation from the federal Upper House in mid-2019.
Before entering federal politics in 2008, the hard hitting Senator held numerous farm-related jobs including as a shearer and livestock and grain truck driver and also ran a piggery and sheep property near Inverell in NSW, with his brother.
He told Fairfax Media it was no secret that at the end of this Senate term he’d be leaving federal politics, despite the new revelation about his health issues.
Senator Williams said before the double dissolution election was called last year, he’d indicated he’d be leaving on June 30, 2020, at the end of his previous set six-year term.
But he said he’d now be departing a year earlier on June 30, 2019 and had officially informed the National party that he wouldn’t be running again for election.
“Come 2020 I’d have been 65 and by 2019 I’ll be 64 and now I’ve been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease,” he said.
Senator Williams said the disease was “pretty common” with 32 people a day diagnosed in Australia and in his case, “my marble came out”.
“How am I going with it?” he said.
“The first thing I said to my neurologist was, ‘Will I be able to do my job for another three years?’ and he said I shouldn’t have a problem.
“I haven’t got tremors but they may come on soon - who knows?
“But they’re making good inroads into the treatment of Parkinson’s and the disease has been around since 4000BC apparently.
“Why do we get it?
“We don’t really know but some say it’s genetics and my grandmother had it too.
“Others say it’s from farm chemicals and it would not surprise me if that had a big contribution to it.”
Senator Williams said he’d been around farm chemicals since he first left school in South Australia and grew up on a farm; whether it was 24D when loading agricultural aircraft, sheep dips, drenches, roundup and “all sorts of chemicals”.
“Many farmers have been around chemicals and the incidences of Parkinson’s disease are higher per capita in some rural areas, I’ve been informed,” he said.
“But we’ve just got to take it on as we move along and everyone is affected differently.”
The Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority says the findings from both epidemiological and laboratory research to date have not provided any clear scientific evidence linking the use of agricultural chemicals with Parkinson's disease.
But hypotheses from a variety of research sources over a number of years have proposed there may be links between the use of some pesticides and the disease, the national farm chemical regulator says
The APVMA said in 2014, it examined the results of an extensive review of published epidemiology studies, including those studies looking at exposure to herbicides, fungicides and insecticides.
“The conclusions were that: based upon available data, there was no scientific basis to conclude a causal relationship between any variable reviewed and Parkinson's disease,” a statement said.
“There may be specific risk factors for Parkinson's disease that are associated with rural living, farming or well water consumption but studies to date were not adequately designed or conducted to identify these factors.
“In addition, of the chemicals used in agriculture 30 or 40 years ago - most have either been removed from the market, or regulatory action has been taken to require greater personal protection for users or to limit their use.
“The passage of time makes it difficult for researchers to establish direct links between the use of particular chemicals and current diseases, including Parkinson's disease.”
Senator Williams said he decided to go public with his revelation after running into an old friend in Inverell last Thursday who has had Parkinson’s for four years and was “a bloody wreck; crouched up with tremors and so on”.
“I’ve had it for two years and thought, ‘oh God, how am I going?’ so it gave me a bit of a scare,” he said.
He then told some close contacts in the media before making an announcement on Sky News.
“There’s no definite cause and it’s a simple case of the nerve cells in your brain dying,” he said.
“Those nerve cells produce dopamine; an important chemical for the whole coordination of your nervous system.”
Senator Williams said he’d watching closely for the results of research trials being conducted in Melbourne using stem cell implants; the results of which are due in 12-months’ time.
“We’re lucky to live in a generation where specialist medical research can help you in many ways,” he said.
Federal Agriculture and Water Resources Minister and Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce took to Facebook to speak out about his “good mate” Senator Williams having announced he had the degenerative neurological disease.
“Wacka is a fighter and looks forward to a few big years at the Parliament of Australia,” he said.
“He wasn't expecting to be diagnosed with this.
“He is calling on us all not to ignore symptoms, but to go to the doctor and get a check-up, because it affects everyone in different ways.”
Senator Williams has already met twice with Parkinson's Australia and plans to do what he can to support the group’s push to increase the number of specialised nurses qualified to work in dedicated Parkinson’s care.
He said the current number of specialist nurses was “desperately lacking”.
“We’ll be pushing that issue and to keep up the funding for medical research to try and find a proper and complete solution,” he said.
“It may take many years to come but we certainly want to be an advocate for them.
“Especially in regional Australia, we need Parkinson’s nurses so that’ll be something I’ll also be backing but we need more nurses, full stop.
“By the year 2025 we’ll be short of nurses to the tune of 109,000 in Australia so we need nurses and they’re saying we need specialist Parkinson’s nurses out in country areas.
“You may not have enough work for one nurse in one town but they can certainly be located in areas where they can travel to a number of country areas to give that support, and the care that people need as time goes on and they become disabled; if I can use that terrible bloody word.”
Senator Williams said the support he and his wife Nancy had received since revealing he had Parkinson’s disease was “wonderful”, with hundreds of messages via Facebook, email and text.
“I really appreciate the strong show of support for my wife Nancy and me at this time,” he said.