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Monday, 26 November 2012
Page: 13378


Ms GAMBARO (Brisbane) (20:37): I rise to support the private member's motion of my parliamentary colleague, the Hon. Warren Entsch, the member for Leichhardt. No-one can doubt the member for Leichardt's passion and diligence when it comes to pursuing this issue on behalf of his constituents of Far North Queensland and in consideration for the welfare of our nearest neighbours in Papua New Guinea. As much as I respect the parliamentary secretary who just spoke, there is one difference between him and the member for Leichardt. The member for Leichardt has actually visitedDaruand has actually visited the Western Province more than once. He has visited the hospital, has taken photographs and has shown me and the opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman a range of photographs which display an appalling situation, an appalling excuse for a hospital. I will never forget some of the gut-wrenching scenes that I saw in those photographs. That is where the $11 million that the previous speaker, the parliamentary secretary, was talking about.

The member for Leichardt has for a long time lobbied, spoken to the government and notified us all that he believes AusAID has been asleep at the wheel, and I wholeheartedly support him. He, more than anyone, has had firsthand knowledge and has seen firsthand what has been going on in the Western Province. AusAID has, indeed, been asleep at the wheel in its funding and its management of the failed tuberculosis programs in Papua New Guinea.

During Senate estimates on 22 October this year it was revealed that, out of AusAID's $104 million allocation to the PNG health sector's budget for 2012-13, only $5.8 million was dedicated to programs relating to tuberculosis. As the member for Leichardt quite rightly said, this amount of money is absolutely pitiful. The facts are disturbing, and the parliamentary secretary is quoting figures that have obviously been given to him by AusAID. PNG has one of the highest infection rates of TB in the world and a reported 43 per cent increase in TB infection rates over the last decade, and they are the facts. The most recent World Health Organization country profile—and I really support the World Health Organization; they do great work—said that there were 3,700 deaths due to TB in 2011. The mortality rate was reported as 53 per 100,000 people—hardly a ringing endorsement that the program is doing fantastically well. This is hardly a result that creeps up on you in the dark and it is not something that we should be proud of for our nearest and dearest neighbour.

What is even more disturbing is that this is just an estimate of the size of the problem. We do not really know how bad it is because, according to the School of Veterinary and Biomedical Science at James Cook University, there are insufficient diagnostic techniques and limited resources, and case detection rates of TB in Papua New Guinea are only 19 per cent. So as much as the parliamentary secretary can quote figures that health workers are getting to the problem, it is a huge problem. He spoke about the patrol boat. That particular patrol boat cannot even get to the villages, and they recently also sacked their TB specialist, Mr Morrow. That is pretty disturbing news.

This has been a piecemeal approach by AusAID and what is disturbing is that it is not tackling tuberculosis. The World Health Organization has described the level of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis in PNG's remote south-west as being of crisis proportions. AusAID's commitment of just five per cent of the current foreign aid health sector budget to PNG for combating tuberculosis is like putting a bandaid over an artery, and the epidemic levels of TB infection in PNG pose a huge risk to Australia. More needs to be done to halt the disease in PNG owing to the increased risk of the spread of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis and extremely drug-resistant tuberculosis.

Despite this being an international matter, the federal government has refused to fully fund health services for PNG nationals. Instead, what this government has done is force the Queensland government to accept a funding project agreement or risk losing $8.1 million in funding for 2010-11 and 2011-12. But the actual cost to the Queensland government is not $8.1 million; it is actually $32 million. So not only is this government without vision but it is also penny-pinching and buck-passing onto the Queensland government as a smokescreen for its own failures.

PNG is our nearest neighbour. We need to be doing more. AusAID has to stop and reassess what it is doing in PNG. Unfortunately, so much of the talk is about what has been happening with tuberculosis in PNG and so much of it has been about excuses and not finding solutions. This is not a small problem; it is huge. (Time expired)