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Thursday, 29 May 2008
Page: 3886

Mr SHORTEN (Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Children’s Services) (10:30 AM) —I thank the members who have spoken on the Quarantine Amendment (National Health Security) Bill 2008. I appreciate their contributions to this debate. The bill before parliament today is the second to implement Australia’s treaty obligations relating to public health security under the International Health Regulations, also known as the IHR. It builds upon the Rudd government’s commitment to ensure that all Australians continue to be protected in case of a major health emergency such as pandemic influenza.

The entry into force of 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 international community with a new legal framework to better manage its collective defences against public health risks that can spread globally and with devastating effect. The National Health Security Act 2007 was passed by the parliament in September 2007. It provides the legal authority and establishes the operational arrangements for Australia to meet its IHR obligations to notify the World Health Organisation of health emergencies and to exchange surveillance information.

The proposed amendments to the Quarantine Act 1908 will implement IHR requirements in relation to vaccinations and prophylaxis and health certificates and charges that may be levied on travellers for measures to protect public health. Firstly, travellers who are subject to quarantine may be required to submit to vaccination or other prophylaxis if this is necessary to prevent the spread of a quarantinable disease or if the vaccination or other prophylaxis is specified in the IHR or recommended by the World Health Organisation.

Under our Quarantine Act, Australia has had the capacity to require vaccination for quarantinable diseases for the past 100 years. However, this has not extended to other prophylaxis or to diseases recommended by the World Health Organisation that are not quarantinable diseases. Other forms of prophylaxis include antivirals to treat pandemic influenza or antibiotics to treat bacterial infections. This provision would only be applied for diseases with the most serious of consequences such as SARS, plague, rabies, cholera, smallpox or avian influenza. A decision requiring a traveller to be vaccinated or take other forms of prophylaxis would be made on the advice of a qualified medical practitioner having balanced the wishes of the traveller with the broader public health interest in preventing the spread of a dangerous disease in Australia. A person refusing to comply cannot be forcibly vaccinated but could, for example, be kept in isolation until any danger to the community had passed.

Secondly, these 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. It is critical for public health and to facilitate travel that Australia, along with our international neighbours, has the capacity 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 requirement of the IHR. These amendments provide that, except for persons seeking temporary or permanent residence, charges will not be applied for 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, vaccinations or other forms of prophylaxis, and restrictions on travel that may be necessary to prevent the spread of disease.

Charges for such measures will not be levied on travellers who are Australian citizens or who are in transit to another destination. Charges will, however, 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 necessary health measures and must be published 10 days before they come into effect. The Commonwealth may also seek reimbursement from insurance companies or, in the case of crew members, 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.

I stress the importance of this bill in ensuring that we fully implement our international treaty obligations. The Rudd government is committed to ensuring that Australia has the capacity to respond appropriately to public health risks, and this bill will help to ensure this.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.

Ordered that this bill be reported to the House without amendment.