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Monday, 26 November 2012
Page: 13382


Mr GEORGANAS (HindmarshSecond Deputy Speaker) (20:52): It gives me great pleasure to be able to speak on this motion. I welcome the opportunity to speak on this particular motion of the member for Leichhardt. It goes to the issue of transitional management and treatment of infectious diseases, specifically tuberculosis and drug-resistant tuberculosis. I do so because I had the pleasure of visiting this region with the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Health and Ageing in preparation of our March 2010 report on regional health issues jointly affecting Australia and the South Pacific. We visited Daru and the Western Province, including some of the most isolated villages in the world, on the Fly River.

There was very clear evidence of AusAID's ability to deliver results on the ground. We saw firsthand projects in these villages on Daru where outcomes were being realised. That visit was a couple of years ago and a lot has changed since then, but the evidence is that the work of AusAID is well regarded by everyone that we met in PNG. Whether it was in the capital, Port Moresby, with the minister for health and many others that we met, or whether it was village chiefs in many isolated villages or the head director of the Daru hospital, they told us that AusAID is a vital part of their health program and that they endorsed AusAID's work in the region. Of course, AusAID's work is endorsed by public health experts, including the Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer and the WHO. The assistance given by Australia to PNG through AusAID to assist with the management and treatment of tuberculosis in PNG's Western Province is a very positive step and very positive results are coming from it. Australia is assisting alleviate the problem of tuberculosis. The member's motion asserts that AusAID assistance is not hitting the ground and that medical assistance is not being delivered for the benefit of people's health. Let us be clear about this: the Queensland government cut funding to this region.

AusAID stepped in this February with $11 million over four years. This funding has enabled AusAID to pay for specialist doctors; the training of health workers; drugs to treat TB; the refurbishment of an interim TB isolation unit; construction of a new TB isolation ward, which will be delivered by mid-February 2013; a new X-ray unit; and a GeneXpert machine that diagnoses drug resistant TB within two hours of having the test. That is supported by laboratory diagnoses here in Australia to identify the strains of drug resistant TB. This funding has also been used to improve communications with clinics in the Fly River region. It has also funded annual monitoring by the World Health Organisation, as well as advice on infection control. There is a master plan for the redevelopment of Daru hospital to which AusAID will also commit funding for further capital works. These are things that are being done on the ground in the Western Province in this region, which is one of the world's most isolated. To extend treatment in communities outside Daru, AusAID has also provided a sea ambulance, which has conducted 12 outreach visits to villages on the Fly River coast since May.

The member's motion goes to the AusAID approach not working, being deficient and ineffective. Let us be crystal clear: AusAID's efforts in support of PNG's approach to the effective management of TB in the Western Province are working. Our health and ageing committee saw evidence of this first hand, with PNG officials, the health minister and other people on the ground telling us that AusAID was a vital part—an integral part—of their health system. Advice is that TB mortality rates in the Western Province have fallen by 80 per cent in just one year and fewer Torres Strait people have TB. AusAID support has also led to many more people with TB in the Western Province being detected. It is very important to be able to detect those people so that they can be treated. The member opposite says that we should restore funding to the Saibai and Boigu clinics. And yet the best available advice is that this would make things worse.

Debate adjourned.