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Thursday, 29 May 2008
Page: 3882

Mr MARLES (10:05 AM) —At the risk of attracting the same objection, I start by commending the member for Parkes on his taste in ties. I seek your indulgence, Madam Deputy Speaker—and risk social death—for wearing the same tie as the member for Parkes today. It is a very beautiful tie, and clearly he is a man of great taste. I will return to the matter at hand before an objection is raised about the relevance of my speech.

I rise to speak in support of the Quarantine Amendment (National Health Security) Bill 2008. This is a very important bill for the future safety and health security of our country. It has enormous implications for all of Australian society. Evidently, a breach to our nation’s health security has the potential to give rise to devastating effects on our economy. It can have the effect of threatening our way of life and of jeopardising the health of all Australians.

Under the Constitution the Commonwealth government is granted the power of dealing with quarantine. The principal act by which this is done is the Quarantine Act 1908, and this bill today seeks to amend that principal act. This bill builds upon a very significant history of Labor attention to the issue of quarantine in this country and to making sure that we have strong quarantine security. The Fisher government enacted the Quarantine Act in 1912. The Chifley government amended the act in 1947 on two occasions, the Hawke government amended it in 1983, 1984, 1985 and 1991 and the Keating government similarly improved the quarantine regime around this country in 1994—and that is just a sample of the bills in this area throughout the history of Labor governments.

The Rudd government is very much committed to building upon the strong Labor tradition of having a secure quarantine network around Australia. It would also be fair to say that many of the initiatives of the Howard government in relation to quarantine are a result of thinking which occurred through the eras of Labor government. A ground-breaking report in relation to quarantine, Australian quarantine: a shared responsibility, also known as the Nairn report, was from an independent review commissioned by the Keating government and chaired by Professor Malcolm Nairn into Australia’s quarantine policies and programs in October 1996. Indeed, in 1997 the Howard government accepted the majority of the review’s outcomes and legislated accordingly as a result of that. Whilst that review was predominantly around plant and animal quarantine issues, the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service, AQIS, commissioned its own report in relation to human quarantine issues in response to the Nairn report. This AQIS report formed the basis of much of the activity of the Howard government’s policy initiatives in relation to quarantine, in particular in relation to human quarantine issues in the early years of that government.

The existing legislative environment sees that the Australian Quarantine Inspection Service conducts most of Australia’s quarantine duties. However, its duties in relation to human quarantine are largely administrative. Broadly speaking, the role of the Department of Health and Ageing, which is charged with the construction and maintenance of Australia’s public health and human quarantine policy, is to ensure national health security by implementing public measures to guard against the potential outbreak of quarantinable diseases. Of course that includes the identification and monitoring of people who are potentially exposed to such diseases and the provision of appropriate medical treatment when that is necessary.

The communicable diseases which are the subject of quarantining control in this country are smallpox, yellow fever, the bubonic plague, cholera, rabies, avian influenza in humans, SARS and viral haemorrhagic fever. Furthermore, the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, in screening visa applications, is also required to ensure that appropriate prophylaxis has been undertaken so as to permit entry to this country. Importantly, at present the financial obligation arising from the costs of meeting the quarantine requirements of a temporary or permanent visa for entry to this country falls upon the applicant.

The basis of this bill lies very much in the International Health Regulations 2005, otherwise known as the IHR agreement. Australia was a negotiating party at the 58th World Health Assembly where the current IHR 2005 framework was established. The IHR is a set of regulations which exists under the auspices of the World Health Organisation. Together, they are a longstanding framework which deals with the international community’s response to international health issues. There is a long history to the World Health Organisation and the International Health Regulations, which it administers. In fact, it dates back to the cholera epidemics in Europe between 1830 and 1847, which gave rise to the International Sanitary Conference in Paris in 1851, which led to the first international response to health epidemics and dealing with communicable diseases.

In 1948, the World Health Organisation was constituted and came into force, and it took over the management of those same international sanitary regulations. These were replaced in 1969 and renamed the International Health Regulations, which, of course, were the first guise of the regulations we are currently dealing with today. The International Health Regulations were then modified in 1972 and 1981 before again being dealt with in the recent modification in 2005. The 2005 reforming of the International Health Regulations was to meet the challenges of the new global village in which we are living in the early part of the 21st century. In the discussions around the development of the International Health Regulations 2005, it became clear that the previous framework of 1969 was very much outdated, dealing with only three diseases—cholera, the bubonic plague and yellow fever. They did not require any mandatory reporting of disease outbreaks, which then led to a number of countries not fully reporting disease outbreaks in their own countries for fear of trade and travel restrictions being imposed upon them.

The 2005 International Health Regulations framework has become a much more robust regime to deal with the contemporary environment. It requires participant states to report ‘all events that may constitute a public health emergency of international concern and to respond to requests for verification of information regarding such events’. As part of the World Health Organisation’s encompassing of the epidemic and pandemic alert response measures, of which incorporate the International Health Regulations, coverage of new diseases extends to anthrax, avian influenza, Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever, dengue haemorrhagic fever, Ebola haemorrhagic fever, hepatitis, influenza, Lassa fever, Marburg haemorrhagic fever, meningococcal disease, the bubonic plague, Rift Valley fever, severe acute respiratory fever—which is SARS—smallpox, tularaemia and yellow fever. From that list, you can clearly see that the International Health Regulations are now a far more robust regime, one which is much more fitted to the 21st century environment, where far more global travel is occurring.

The International Health Regulations came into effect on 15 June last year. So that Australia can meet its obligations under these treaties, it is now incumbent upon the Commonwealth government to legislate in accordance with those guidelines. That is what this bill is doing today. It needs to be done in a timely manner as the agreement, which is the basis for the International Health Regulations, states:

Countries that are States Parties to the Regulations have two years to assess their capacity and develop national action plans followed by three years to meet the requirements of the Regulations regarding their national surveillance and response systems as well as the requirements at designated airports, ports and certain ground crossings.

This bill, in essence, brings Australia into line with the International Health Regulations obligations. It seeks to enact, if you like, those regulations into the Australian jurisdiction, and it does so in three key ways.

Firstly, this bill ensures that Australian travellers and quarantine support staff can be required to submit to a vaccination or other prophylaxis as defined by the International Health Regulations—or as recommended by the World Health Organisation, when required, which is obviously with a view to preventing the spread of disease. To make clear how that differs from the current environment, currently there is a requirement for travellers and quarantine support staff to submit to vaccinations but not to other prophylaxes. Nor is there a requirement to submit to vaccinations or other prophylaxes for diseases which are otherwise recommended by the World Health Organisation. In other words, this amendment extends the range of diseases that can be the subject of compulsion to have a vaccination or a prophylaxis. This legislation increases the range of prophylaxes that can be required to be used in relation to travellers and quarantine support staff. An example of that may be antiviral drugs for influenza. That is the first way in which the legal regime will be changed in Australia by virtue of this bill.

The second is that it expands the current certification requirements to bring them into line with the International Health Regulations. At the moment, the only disease where there is required to be certification of a vaccination in order to enter certain countries is yellow fever. Now, as a result of the International Health Regulations and as a result of this bill, there will be an expanded range of diseases and vaccinations and other prophylaxes which can be certified. That is a very important advance because it increases the amount of documentation which exists in relation to travellers and what vaccinations and other prophylaxes they have received.

Finally, this bill ensures that the costs associated with maintaining these more stringent quarantine requirements will not be borne by travellers, except for persons seeking temporary or permanent residency in Australia. These are very important measures. They bring Australia into line with the new international quarantine regime. It strengthens the quarantine network around Australia and enacts the International Health Regulations of 2005 into our jurisdiction.

This is an important piece of legislation for my electorate of Corio. In the seat of Corio is the port of Geelong, which is the second largest port in Victoria and handles 25 per cent of the state’s exports. It is an avenue by which people, particularly crews of vessels, enter into Australia, so this quarantine regime obviously applies to them. It is very important for the safeguarding of not only the Geelong community but the Australian community that there be a proper quarantine network which applies to these people. Also, as I have mentioned previously in this place, there is a hope that at some point in the not too distant future Avalon Airport, which is currently a domestic airport servicing about 1.4 million travellers in Australia, will expand its operations internationally. Were that to be the case, there would be another international gateway into this country coming through Geelong, and an expanded quarantine network would be important for dealing with those passengers.

In conclusion, this bill is not large in terms of its measures but it is very important for ensuring the public safety of all Australians and our national health security. For those reasons I very much commend it to the House.