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Wednesday, 15 May 2013
Page: 3346


Mr MURPHY (Reid) (19:34): A medical condition, be it a disease, syndrome or disorder, is classed by the European Organisation for Rare Diseases as rare if it affects fewer than one in 2,000 people, while in Australia the Therapeutic Goods Administration describes a disease as rare 'if it has a prevalence of one in 10,000 people or less'.

On behalf of one of my constituents, I wish to record in the House that Lyme disease in Australia falls within the official definition of a rare disease, yet it is the most common, serious, multisystem, tick borne disease in the Northern Hemisphere and growing evidence shows that, despite official denial by New South Wales Health, it does appear to be a growing problem in Australia. According to the Karl McManus Foundation, a private organisation set up to promote awareness of Lyme disease in Australia, as of March 2013 there were 394 confirmed cases in Australia and 335 suspected cases, based on evidence from people who had contacted the foundation.

New South Wales Health states that Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi and typical symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue, sore muscles and joints, and a characteristic bull's-eye skin rash called erythema migrans. Lyme disease is classified as a zoonosis—that is, an infection that is transmitted by a vector, such as a tick, from animals such as rodents or deer to humans. In a review of 1,415 pathogens known to infect humans, 61 per cent were found to be zoonotic, so it should not be surprising that if a disease-causing organism such as a bacterium is widespread in a population of wild animals then there is, given the existence of a vector such as ticks, a high risk that humans will be infected. An organism that causes a serious illness in humans is frequently far less harmful to its natural host, simply because the host has evolved a tolerance over time to the infection.

Although the official position of New South Wales Health is that Lyme disease in Australia is the result of an infection acquired overseas, the fact that three surveys by Makerras in 1959, by Carley and Pope in 1962 and by Wills and Barry in 1994 all found the presence of Borrelia bacterium in Australian native animals should give cause for serious concern to all.

I would now like to move on in this debate to climate change. The Leader of the Opposition has sworn to make the next federal election some sort of referendum on a price on carbon. Never mind that the evidence that the ever-increasing concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide is driving record changes in the number of extreme weather events, such as a recent study by NASA shows; evidently many in the opposition still do not appreciate that there is a high probability that recent weather related disasters can be linked to the effects of an increasing concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Here I point out tonight that the difference between a natural event that has a high probability of recurrence like the rising of the sun and a study that shows that, for instance, a 0.5 degree centigrade increase in sea surface temperature can be associated with an approximately 40 per cent increase in Atlantic hurricane activity. Every punter understands that, even though a good horse has been ridden by a successful jockey, there is only an increased probability, rather than a certainty, that the horse will win. So it is with global warming. Although it is difficult to say that every severe storm is caused by global warming, just like a horse with many wins, the chances are increased with the ever-growing number of extreme weather events.

A study published in August 2012 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America looks at the past six decades of global temperatures and finds a 'stunning' rise in the frequency of extremely hot summers. The study compared what is happening now to what was happening between 1951 and 1980 and found that in those years extremely hot temperatures covered less than 0.2 per cent of the planet's land surface. Now those temperatures annually cover about 10 per cent of the land area—a fiftyfold increase. The study used recorded temperatures rather than computer models to demonstrate that climate change is responsible for recent extreme weather events, probably including last year's droughts in Texas and Oklahoma, the Russian heatwave in 2010 and the European heatwave in 2003 that, according to a peer reviewed analysis, killed some 70,000 people. The study's author, James Hansen, wrote:

The odds that natural variability created these extremes are minuscule, vanishingly small. To count on those odds would be like quitting your job and playing the lottery every morning to pay the bills.

Yet that is exactly what the Leader of the Opposition would have us do by abandoning measures to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. I state again: it is very, very important that we have put a price on carbon to show the world that Australia treats global warming very seriously.