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Thursday, 21 March 2013
Page: 3020

Mr LYONS (Bass) (10:58): The report Diseases have no borders arose out of the inquiry by the Senate Standing Committee on Health and Ageing into health issues across international borders. This was a very interesting inquiry for a number of reasons.

Firstly, the increasing movement of people across international borders poses many problems. The World Health Organization explains that infectious diseases are caused by pathological micro-organisms, such as bacteria, viruses, parasites or fungi, and that diseases can be spread directly or indirectly from one person to another. An outbreak of an infectious disease can be triggered by any of a range of factors, including poor population health, poor hospital and medical procedures, contamination of water or food supplies, international travel and trade, and changing climatic conditions. Professor Tania Sorrell of the Sydney Emerging Infectious Diseases and Biosecurity Institute told the committee:

When we think about emerging infectious diseases within Australia, we are thinking about what we can do within our own borders—to detect them, to control them et cetera. But we need to recognise that the Asia-Pacific region is quite an important incubator for emerging infectious diseases and for increasing antimicrobial resistance.

As the numbers travelling to and from Australia rises, so too does the risk of transmission of infectious diseases across international borders. We know that infectious diseases do not respect international borders and can take many forms and spread in many different ways. Scientists and medical practitioners tell us in a rapidly changing environment it is difficult to predict when the next pandemic will occur, how severe it will be or how long it will last. Influenza poses a threat to Australia, with Australia and other countries worldwide preparing to respond to a pandemic. As stated in the report, other emerging disease threats of national and international concern are slower to progress but equally of concern to infectious disease experts. Such threats include the emerging antimicrobial resistant diseases both in Australia and abroad, such as multidrug-resistant tuberculosis in Papua New Guinea.

In this inquiry, the committee considered how Australia responds to the challenges posed by the emerging infectious disease threats, and I encourage members and senators to read the report and look at the recommendations drawn by the committee. I also wish to note that the committee reviewed screening measures implemented at Australia's borders, Australia's ability to respond to national and global health crises and Australia's role in controlling the spread of infectious diseases within the Pacific region. I hope the reductions in services by the Newman government in Queensland do not put Australians at greater risk, but I know they will. The committee also considers the porous border between the Torres Strait Islands and Papua New Guinea and how this impacted on Australia's ability to control the spread of infectious diseases from international sources. Lastly, the committee debated a question looming large among infectious disease experts in Australia: should Australia have a national centre for communicable disease control?

I encourage members and senators to read this report and I thank all those who took the time to talk to members of the committee about these matters of international significance. May I also pass on my thanks to the committee secretariat for all their work on this inquiry. In conclusion, at a national level, Australia's federal system of government means that responsibility is shared between the Commonwealth and state and territory governments. Australia's infectious disease policy framework also sits with a broader global policy content. The committee is reassured by the continued efforts of a number of Commonwealth agencies working in collaboration with the relevant state and territory authorities to implement a range of health screening measures to identify infectious disease before it spreads to the Australian population. It is evident that lessons have been learned in recent times as the Commonwealth and states and territories have responded to the risk associated with infectious disease outbreaks such as SARS and pandemic influenza. We must remain vigilant and alert to properly manage these concerns.