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Monday, 21 November 2011
Page: 13058


Ms HALL (ShortlandGovernment Whip) (11:11): I thank the Chief Opposition Whip for bringing this important motion to the parliament, a motion that is quite close to my heart and to that of the member for Kingston and that of the member for Hindmarsh, as in the last parliament we visited PNG, in particular Saibai Island. We were all members of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Health and Ageing that put together the report on regional health issues jointly affecting Australia and the Pacific. So we saw firsthand the issues on Saibai Island, including what it was like at Daru Hospital, as we spoke to the doctors that were working in the hospital and the patients in it. We visited the Torres Strait Islands, going to islands that had never been visited by anyone from Australia and that had not even been visited by their own political representatives beforehand.

Mr Entsch interjecting

Ms HALL: I understand the Chief Opposition Whip may be very passionate about this. He wants me to name the islands. I can, as I have them here, but I do not want to waste my contribution to the debate by naming islands. I suggest that he has a look at the report that was brought down following that, as there is a lot of useful information in it that may help him when he is formulating some of his ideas.

When we visited Saibai Island we met with the elders and we went to the health clinic. We felt a strong feeling of resistance from those island elders to people coming across the Torres Strait to use that clinic. They saw that as a health hazard. Those at the health clinic itself talked about the dilemma of treating people from PNG when they were funded to treat the people of the Torres Strait Islands. So it is important to note, when we are talking about Saibai Island, that it is not necessarily the wishes of the people on the island that they undertake the treatment of people from just across the Torres Strait, those some eight kilometres from where they are or half an hour's trip away in a banana boat. The approach the government has adopted will empower the PNG people to be able to deliver their own health services. We do not want to just provide assistance to the few people who can make it to Saibai Island in a boat; we want to provide ongoing assistance to all people in PNG. As I said, we visited Daru Hospital. I am disappointed that the Chief Government Whip is opposed to giving money to Daru Hospital to upgrade its facilities and provide better services to the people in the Western Province. He highlighted the fact that there is a shortage of drugs. Isn't the issue assisting PNG to be able to have the drugs in Daru Hospital to be able to treat all the people who go to the hospital rather than treating just the few people who make it across the Torres Strait?

It is a really important issue. In those hospitals I saw many people suffering from multiresistant TB. They were in beds beside mothers who had just given birth. They were there with people who were suffering from malaria. The big issues are assisting that hospital to become a functional hospital with proper infection controls in place and ensuring that the hospital has the drugs. It is also about making sure that the communities we visited in the Torres Strait also have the health infrastructure that they need. All people, not just the one or two who make it across, have the right to have that sort of care.

This government—and it started under Prime Minister Rudd and has continued under Prime Minister Gillard—gave the strong message that Australia intended to engage with the Pacific in a way that had not happened in the past. That started with the Port Moresby declaration, which symbolised a new era of cooperation between Australia and the Pacific. It also started a new era of giving significant funds to that country to be able to improve its own health infrastructure.

The member opposite mentioned that the government is helping the PNG government to develop its health plan. That is really positive. That is a way that Australia can make a real difference. If we can help them put in place a health plan that will ensure these drugs are delivered and that will ensure those island communities that we visited actually have drugs and the right sort of infrastructure in place then we will really be making a long-term difference. Providing drugs to the few people who can make it across the Torres Strait to the clinics on the other side will not make a difference in the long term and that is not even popular with the people who live there.

I suggest the member opposite not just read the newspaper reports of what is happening in Daru but hop on a plane and have a look. If he visited some of the areas we visited, he would see the real issues. It is not just about reading it in the paper; it is about going and talking to people in those communities. It is about learning what they want. We do not need to adopt a paternalistic approach where we tell them what they need; it is about actually making real reform in the health system. I see that the member opposite finds that amusing. But I do not. I think it is really important that we make a big difference in those people's lives, that we do not just treat a few people but look at changing the way health services are delivered in PNG.

When the Howard government was in power, they were not giving money. They were not offering the assistance that has been offered since the Labor government has come to power. For instance, there has been $133 million and $72 million to PNG for health services. This is about the future and changing the way things are done. It is not about providing handouts; it is about building capacity. I suggest that the member opposite looks at ways that he can contribute to that in a positive way. (Time expired)

Mr Entsch: I am speaking next. Andrew Laming has deferred to me.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. Peter Slipper ): An honourable member is only able to speak a second time in a debate in the event that leave is granted and no other member stands.

Mr Entsch: I seek leave to speak next.

Ms Hall: Mr Deputy Speaker, I do not give leave for the Chief Opposition Whip to speak a second time.

Leave not granted.