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Monday, 26 May 2003
Page: 14838


Mr LLOYD (1:01 PM) —I am pleased to rise today in support of the member for Fairfax's motion. I am pleased to see that there are so many members in the chamber today whilst this motion is being debated—members who are associated with the Australia-Taiwan Parliamentary Friendship Group. What we are talking about here is not a political issue; it is a health issue, as has been mentioned by previous speakers. Taiwan has been seeking to fulfil its responsibilities to its constituents—23 million people—and as a responsible member of the world community by being admitted as an observer at the World Health Assembly in Geneva. Unfortunately, as heard previously, this has been rejected for the seventh time.

Taiwan's population is larger than 75 per cent of the World Health Organisation member states. Taiwan is an important Asian trade and transportation centre, with hundreds of thousands of inbound and outbound commuters each year. This application to be admitted with observer status is not prerequisite on having UN membership or participating in the World Health Organisation. Already the Cook Islands and Niue are both full members of the World Health Organisation, despite the fact that neither is a UN member state. Obviously, Taiwan understands Australia's one China policy. We are not talking about that today; we are talking about the health concerns. Taiwan is seeking observer status in the WHO as a health entity, without seeking to change any government's one China policy. It is an important request and, unfortunately, the SARS virus has highlighted these concerns and how important it is for Taiwan to be admitted as an observer to the World Health Organisation. Media reports today indicate that the death toll in Taiwan has now reached 72, which is an absolute tragedy. A number of new cases have been confirmed today.

It is interesting that, from the time of Taiwan's first SARS case in March 2003, they began contacting the World Health Organisation to report the situation and to request advice and assistance. The World Health Organisation, however, did not respond to their communications and gave them no support. They referred to Taiwan as a province of China and were dealing directly with China. They are quite within their rights, of course, to do that, but there is virtually no communication between mainland China and Taiwan at this stage, so any information that was provided to China was not passed on to Taiwan. It was some time until the World Health Organisation agreed to allow two experts to travel to Taiwan to assist them in their battle against SARS. Of course, this is a world problem; it is not just a problem for Taiwan. Every effort that can be made to ensure that all areas are given up-to-date information and assistance is important because Taiwan have important trading cultural links with Australia. There are many hundreds of thousands of travellers who travel to Taiwan and through Australia, and we have seen how quickly the SARS virus can be transmitted throughout the world.

I know that Taiwan is an advanced society. I have had the privilege of visiting Taiwan. The Taiwanese have excellent medical facilities, and all they were seeking was further information and assistance from the rest of the world through the World Health Organisation to assist them in dealing with the SARS virus. In conclusion, I would also like to pay tribute to Vanessa Shih from the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office for keeping us all informed of what is happening in Taiwan with the tragic SARS virus. I am very pleased to see that Vanessa is actually in the chamber today to hear this debate.