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Wednesday, 26 May 2010
Page: 4195

Mr KATTER (3:09 PM) —I have a question without notice to the Minister for Health and Ageing. Is the minister aware that bats carry lyssavirus, leptospirosis, salmonella, SARS and hendra virus and that of the six people in Australia who contracted hendra virus four have died, which is nearly a 70 per cent death rate? Four people in Queensland now await their fates. Is the minister also aware that, between February and December, of 119 bats tested 16 tested positive for lyssavirus? The Queensland Health information bulletin says: ‘It is a rabies-like virus that is probably always fatal.’ Finally, is the minister aware of the CSIRO report by Dr Eaton and Dr Linfa Wang that nipah virus was a mutation of hendra virus and that out of 260 infected people in Malaysia 106 died? Dr Lau described the SARS outbreak that devastated southern China as: ‘Demonstrating that bats are now known to be reservoir hosts of nipah, hendra, ebola, marburg and rabies.’ In light of this, could the minister advise what action she will be taking to head off a nipah or similar virus-like outbreak in Queensland and Northern Australia? This would be in light of the rising mass civil action which puts the lives of people, families and loved ones ahead of an invasion by this species into the growing urban environment, which is never their territory.

Honourable members interjecting—

Mr Katter —I do not really think it is a matter for laughter.

The SPEAKER —Order! The member for Kennedy will resume his seat. I do not think he should misplace any reaction to the question and its seriousness.

Mr Katter —I do not think my anger was unreasonable, Mr Speaker.

The SPEAKER —If the member for Kennedy wants to hear the answer he should sit there quietly and listen. The minister has the call.

Ms ROXON (Minister for Health and Ageing) —Thank you, Mr Speaker. I agree with the member for Kennedy that this is actually a very serious issue. The hendra virus has already, as he mentioned in his question, taken four lives—one recently of a vet in Queensland. I am sure people on both sides of this House would like to extend condolences to the families affected. I understand that this is a very real concern for communities.

I have been working with the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry as you would expect to get advice from our team about steps that should be taken particularly to avert the hendra virus. It is probably worth reminding people in the House—I am sure the member for Kennedy is aware—that this disease is mostly found in bats and horses. It can be passed to humans with very close contact, but we have no evidence to date of there being any human-to-human transmission, which is an important factor in being able to assure the community that the virus is being closely watched and that there are serious issues. In fact earlier this week the government announced that they were investing some additional funds with the Queensland government to deal with a vaccine which would be available for horses. Of course the best way for us to stop the hendra virus, which is now known in Australia because it is transmitted amongst animals, is to look at treating it as an animal disease and therefore reducing exposure to humans. I will have to take on notice the member for Kennedy’s reference to the CSIRO report.

Mr Katter interjecting

Ms ROXON —I would appreciate it if you would let me finish. I am taking it seriously and I do not want to be dismissive of a serious question that is raised. I will have to take on notice the reference to the CSIRO report and make sure I get particular advice about the question raised for the nipah virus. That is not something that I can answer on the run but I am happy to provide an answer to it at a later time when I get that information. I think everyone in the community is concerned about these growing viruses. We take them seriously and I am happy to provide more information to the member.