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Tuesday, 16 November 2010
Page: 1315

Senator MILNE (2:37 PM) —My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Health and Ageing, Senator Ludwig. Given that climate change and the increasing movement of people, animals and goods around the world are increasing the risk of outbreaks of diseases—everything from Hendra virus to swine flu—in both human and animal populations, does the government intend to maintain a national disease intelligence capacity and Australia’s ability to respond quickly and effectively across state boundaries to such outbreaks?

Senator LUDWIG (Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) —I thank the senator for her question. The research around all of these issues certainly has been an area where the Commonwealth has done a significant amount of work. The research has dealt with H1N1—swine influenza—and of course the government continues to ensure that it has an emergency response to that. Through the Department of Health and Ageing, the government has been coordinating and working with the state and territory organisations to ensure that we do have a coordinated response to issues such as the Hendra virus outbreak in Queensland. The government takes seriously the issues around this because they are potentially significant and go to health and health related matters. They pose issues not only for human health but also, as in that instance, for animal health.

The Australian and Queensland governments have each provided $300,000 to the Australian Animal Health Laboratory for the development of a Hendra virus vaccine for horses because through that virus there is a vector to humans. The government remains at the forefront of ensuring, both in terms of the H1N1 outbreak and other examples such as the Hendra virus, that we do lead on key research issues. I will ensure that if the health minister has any additional information she wishes to bring forward to the Senate— (Time expired)

Senator MILNE —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I thank the minister for his assurances that the government remains on the front line. Can the minister please tell the Senate why the government has decided not to renew the federal funding for the ANU’s Master of Applied Epidemiology program, which is, in the absence of a national centre for disease control, Australia’s only front line flying squad of doctors, vets and nurses to protect the Australian people and animal populations from epidemics of communicable, infectious disease?

Senator LUDWIG (Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) —In response to that question from Senator Milne, I say that of course the government remains committed and at the forefront of ensuring that we continue research and development within the health and hospital area. I will seek further and better information from the Minister for Health and Ageing to provide a response to the specifics of that question, but bear in mind that this government does spend significant amounts in the area of health and hospital reform. The government does continue to ensure the health of the Australian population, and it does continue to ensure that research and development within the health and hospital area is maintained. For example, we have recently made significant announcements to ensure mental health issues are being addressed. In terms of dealing with broad responses around emergencies such as the H1N1 virus—swine influenza—I am sure those people here in the chamber would be— (Time expired)

Senator MILNE —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Given what he has said, I ask the minister to explain to the Senate, perhaps through the Minister for Health and Ageing, why the termination of this funding has occurred. Was there a deliberate intention to remove the funding or was that an unintended consequence of the government’s decision to terminate the Public Health Education and Research Program? Will the minister come back and tell us whether the government has found alternative sources of funding to continue the operation of the ANU program, which has been so successful in stemming the spread in Australia of about 200 epidemics— (Time expired)

Senator LUDWIG (Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) —It was a very long question, and I would like to have the same amount of time to reply. Funding to support the national centre for this area, including epidemiology and population health, was provided through the Department of Health and Ageing. In 2010 the government provided research funding for the ANU through a range of sources, as I think Senator Milne outlined, including research block grants and the Australian Research Council’s competitive grants program, and this amounted to $139,000. The Australian government also supports research into infectious diseases directly through CSIRO. CSIRO spends approximately $73 million annually on these activities. CSIRO provides a Commonwealth vehicle for spending in this area of research and development. It is not the only area that we spent in, but I use it as a way of highlighting an example of where the Commonwealth does lead research in this area, does spend significant— (Time expired)