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Wednesday, 19 March 2008
Page: 2203


Ms ROXON (Minister for Health and Ageing) (9:29 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I am pleased to introduce the Quarantine Amendment (National Health Security) Bill 2008. This is the second bill to come before the parliament to implement Australia’s international obligations relating to public health security—obligations of course that this government takes extremely seriously.

The entry into force of the International Health Regulations, also known as the IHR, in June 2007 was a public health landmark for the World Health Organisation and for all member states, including Australia. It provided the global community with a new legal framework to better manage its collective defences against public health risks that can spread internationally and with devastating effect.

The bill I am introducing today gives effect to these IHR agreements, the international standard, in three important ways.

Firstly, the proposed amendments to the Quarantine Act 1908 will require travellers who are subject to quarantine, or people performing quarantine, to submit themselves to vaccination or other prophylaxis if this is necessary for the prevention of the spread of a quarantinable disease, or if the vaccine or other prophylaxis is specified in the IHR or recommended by the World Health Organisation.

While Australia has had, for some time, the capacity to require vaccination, this has not extended to other prophylaxes, nor has it extended to diseases recommended by the World Health Organisation that are not quarantinable diseases. Other forms of prophylaxis include antivirals to treat influenza or antibiotics to treat bacterial infections.

Secondly, the amendments also provide for the issuing of health certificates proving vaccination or other prophylaxis in accordance with the requirements set out in the IHR for standardised certifications.

At this time, yellow fever is the only disease specifically designated under IHR for which proof of vaccination or prophylaxis may be required for travellers as a condition of entry to a country. However, there is a very real prospect that new vaccines or other prophylaxis will be developed for other existing or new diseases. It is therefore critical that Australia, along with our international neighbours, has the capacity to require any necessary prophylaxis and to issue all essential paperwork in line with international standards.

Thirdly, the amendments take the existing provisions in the Quarantine Act relating to charges for certain health measures and align them with the requirements of the IHR.

The amendments provide that, except for persons seeking temporary or permanent residence, charges will not be applied for the certain health measures administered to international travellers to protect public health. This includes measures such as medical examinations to ascertain the health status of a traveller, certain vaccinations or other forms of prophylaxis and restrictions on travel that may be necessary to prevent the spread of a disease.

Charges for such measures will not be levied on travellers who are Australian citizens or who are in transit to other destinations.

However, charges will be able to be levied on persons seeking temporary or permanent residence in Australia. The bill authorises the minister to set, by legislative instrument, fees for the provision of health measures in these cases. Such fees will be limited to the actual cost of the necessary health measures and must be published 10 days before they come into effect.

The Commonwealth may also seek reimbursement of expenses from insurance companies or, in the case of crew members travelling to Australia, from the master, owner or agent of the vessel.

In addition to the amendments giving effect to the IHR, the opportunity has been taken to make some minor, technical, ‘housekeeping’ amendments to the Quarantine Act. One example is to clarify the status of certain documents under the Legislative Instruments Act 2003.

I stress the importance of this bill in ensuring that we deliver on both our international commitments as well as the national imperative to actively improve our capacity to respond to public health risks. I commend the bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mrs Bronwyn Bishop) adjourned.