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Thursday, 29 May 2008
Page: 3880

Mr COULTON (10:00 AM) —As a member state of the World Health Organisation, Australia is party to the International Health Regulations. In the old days, the IHR applied mostly to cholera, plague and yellow fever. However, the world is going through a phase of globalisation. The dynamics of the way infectious diseases spread have changed. These days more people travel by plane and international trade is common. So a health crisis in one country can quickly become a health crisis in another country, including in Australia.

Polio was a disease that was close to being eradicated worldwide and had not been seen in Australia since the 1970s, but in 2003 unfounded fears about the safety of the vaccine emerged in Nigeria and authorities simply stopped vaccinating children. From that period we saw the polio eradication program set back significantly. Polio ended up as close to our borders as Indonesia and there were very real fears that polio cases would re-emerge here. The World Health Organisation kicked in and in a relatively short time the program was restarted. Today only Afghanistan, India, Nigeria and Pakistan have endemic polio. The International Health Regulations provide a binding legal arrangement by which the World Health Organisation can minimise the impact of outbreaks of communicable diseases. The IHR were bought in on 15 June 2007. They require countries to report certain disease outbreaks and public health events to the WHO.

Living in a globalised society brings risks, benefits and obligations. We in Australia are blessed with high levels of clinical care and the very best doctors, nurses and other health workers. We have a duty to endorse the hard work of groups such as the World Health Organisation. We also have a duty to Australians to protect their health in the best way possible. In this regard the Minister for Health and Ageing has a lot to answer for. In her first six months in the job she has put in train a series of steps that will seriously diminish the health and wellbeing of many vulnerable Australians. The minister wasted no time in office and immediately dismantled Medicare dental. This program allowed people with complex medical conditions to access a dentist rapidly and to qualify for $4,250 worth of dental treatment over two years through Medicare. So popular was this program that its intake doubled every month peaking in March, the month before it was scrapped, at over 92,000 services.

Ms Hall —Madam Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order going to relevance. Unfortunately, as much as I hate to say it, the comments by the member for Parkes have absolutely nothing to do with the legislation.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Ms AE Burke)—I thought the member was straying from the topic of quarantine amendments by going on to dental. I will ask him to come back to the bill at hand.

Mr COULTON —Dental disease is a serious problem for Australians—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —The member is completely disregarding my call. I ask him to return to the bill at hand. You can continue your remarks. I know you have been put in an untenable situation and I appreciate that, but if you could continue your remarks in regard to the bill.

Mr COULTON —I will endeavour to move on. Similarly, the minister has taken a baseball bat to private health insurance, raising the Medicare levy—

Ms Hall —Madam Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order going to relevance. This is about quarantine. It is a very specific kind of legislation. I believe the member needs to return to the topic.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —Member for Parkes, I do appreciate that you have been put in a very awkward situation. I appreciate you filling the gap that we have, but I do need you to refer to the legislation before us.

Mr COULTON —At that point I will close my remarks but in doing so point out the importance of the World Health Organisation in securing our borders with respect to the incredibly mobile population that our world has become. I ask that this bill be given due consideration.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —I want to thank the member for Parkes for his endeavours before the House today.