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Thursday, 29 May 2008
Page: 3885

Ms HALL (10:20 AM) —I congratulate the member for Corio on the very detailed and insightful speech that he just made. He touched on all the really important issues associated with this Quarantine Amendment (National Health Security) Bill 2008. I can see how this legislation is important for his electorate, but I see it as being important for all electorates and for all of Australia. As he so aptly pointed out, these days of international travel—where people are travelling from country to country and continent to continent on a very regular basis—and the global economy make this legislation, although small in content and very technical, very important to the health security of Australia and of the people who live here.

This legislation amends the Quarantine Act 1908. It is the legislative basis for implementing Australia’s treaty obligations under the International Health Regulations 2005, the IHR. In relates to vaccinations and vaccination certificates for international travellers and charges levied on travellers for public health measures. The proposed amendments will enable persons seeking permanent or temporary residence to be charged by the Commonwealth. Very importantly, there will be no charge borne by Australian citizens. Only a very small group of people will be charged under this legislation. It is not expected that there will be any great costs associated with the implementation of this legislation, but any costs associated with it are well and truly worth while because this health measure can prevent the spread of communicable diseases in Australia which can have most serious implications for the Australian community.

The amendments are required to enable Australia to fully comply with the IHR 2005, which came into force on 15 June 2007. The IHR is an international agreement aimed at protecting public health security. It does that by controlling the spread of infectious diseases in ways that avoid unnecessary interference with international trade and traffic. Once adopted by the health assembly of the World Health Organisation the IHR 2005 is legally binding—and that is fairly important—for all WHO state parties that neither rejected nor filed a reservation to the IHR 2005 by 15 December 2006. The IHR 2005 came into force on 15 June, as I have previously stated, and Australia neither rejected nor registered an objection, so we have obligations and this legislation is delivering on those obligations.

The IHR was revised in 2005, broadening its scope to include all public health emergencies of international concern. The IHR 2005 requires state parties to develop certain minimum core public health capacities to detect, assess and notify the WHO of health emergencies that are of international concern. You only have to look back to the crisis of the SARS virus and the talk of flu pandemics to understand just how important this legislation is and its implications for the community as a whole.

There are three key parties involved in this legislation. Obviously, the Commonwealth government is responsible for the legislation, but the legislation comes under the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service, AQIS, so they have responsibility in this area. The Department of Health and Ageing has responsibility for developing human quarantine and public health policy in Australia. Human diseases that are subject to quarantine control in Australia are plague, rabies, cholera, yellow fever, viral haemorrhagic fever, smallpox, SARS and avian influenza in humans. The last two in particular are new diseases that the government has to turn its mind to when it is looking at immunisation, quarantine and the protection of the population in our country. Those diseases really emphasise the importance of this legislation. This bill is part of a package of new health security legislation which specifically addresses the requirements under IHR 2005 regarding vaccinations and related health certificates and charges.

The Quarantine Amendment (National Health Security) Bill 2008, as I have already pointed out, implements Australia’s international public health security obligations under the International Health Regulations. Proposed amendments will require travellers who are subject to quarantine to submit themselves to vaccination or other prophylaxis if this is necessary. Australia currently has the capacity to require vaccination; however, this is not extended to other prophylaxis or to diseases recommended by the World Health Organisation that are not quarantinable diseases. It is very important that this is addressed, which is another reason that this legislation is very important.

The issue of health certificates ensures vaccination and other prophylaxis is in accordance with the requirements set out in the IHR. As has previously been stated, currently yellow fever is the only disease for which proof of vaccination or prophylaxis may be required of travellers. There is potential for new vaccines to be introduced, and therefore it is important that we extend the legislation to cover new vaccines that come on the market. It is critical that Australia, along with our international neighbours, has the ability to require the necessary prophylaxis and it is essential that the paperwork is in line with international standards. Once again, that is what this legislation ensures.

The amendments align the current provisions relating to certain health measures with the requirements of the IHR. The amendments provide that, except for persons seeking temporary residency, there will not be any charge. When I was reading up on this piece of legislation, I noted that in some circumstances insurance companies may be required to actually pay for the vaccinations. Basically, this legislation is delivering on Australia’s obligations under the IHR of the World Health Organisation and should be supported by all members of the House.