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Monday, 26 November 2012
Page: 13379


Mr GRIFFIN (Bruce) (20:42): This is an important motion and it covers a very important issue. As all speakers have said so far: it is a serious issue. It is a crisis with respect to tuberculosis for our near neighbour and it is an issue that demands action. However, that is when we start to divert, and the circumstances are very much a matter of what is the best way forward, what needs to be done, what is the real state of the problem and what particular aspects are keys to dealing with these issues.

I put on record my respect for the member for Leichhardt and his commitment to his area. He is a man of considerable ability with a real commitment to the top end of Queensland and with real knowledge of issues around the Torres Strait; however, I would also say I have met a lot of people in politics. It is an old saying—I cannot use the exact words on the record about calling a spade a spade and I think that some would say that Warren calls it a certain type of shovel. That bluntness is something that I admire on many occasions, but I sometimes wonder if it necessarily focuses on what needs to be done in a situation such as this. I think that he raised some important points in his speech and I only caught the last half of it in my office. What I would say is that some of those points probably need to be looked at. The real question is: where do we go from here? What do we need to do to address this issue?

We can all agree: TB in the circumstances that are now being faced in PNG is a very serious problem and there are real concerns about drug-resistant TB developing. We can then go to the question of what is best to do now. The question around Queensland Health's withdrawal of support and funding is something that I think the Queensland government needs to consider itself. What has been occurring in the province with AusAID, their attempts to try and work with PNG authorities, is showing some real signs of starting to work. I think some of the figures quoted by the parliamentary secretary point to the fact that there has been a real financial commitment from AusAID and from the federal government to deal with this issue. There has been a range of initiatives. The parliamentary secretary mentioned numbers in relation to: specialist doctors; training of health workers; the provision of drugs; the refurbishment of an interim TB isolation unit; a new X-ray unit and GeneXpert machine, which diagnoses drug-resistant TB within two hours; improved communications with clinics in the Fly region; annual monitoring by the WHO; and a master plan for the redevelopment of the Daru Hospital. They are all things that need to be done and all things that need to be part of a programmatic approach.

The one thing we can all agree on is that there needs to be an approach which basically works on both sides of the border. There needs to be an approach which maximises the coordination and development of integrated support by Australian and PNG sources. There is an article in this weekend's Cairns Postby Geoffrey Miller. Geoffrey Miller is a public health practitioner who recently returned to Australia after three years based in Daru as the health advisor to the Western Province government. Some might say that he comes with particular views because of his position, but I think he makes some very good points with respect to the circumstances there. His point, in terms of reviews that have recently been done, and his view with respect to the way forward is that there needs to be a continuing development of the approach that is currently being undertaken.

It is going to take time to get this right, but some of the initial figures—for example, something like 80 per cent of the patients who were taken over post the withdrawal from Queensland Health having now completed with treatment—are a very good sign for the future. Therefore, the development of these services is something which I think we can have some confidence in. Is it a serious issue? Absolutely. Are we are in a situation where we are going to be having difficulties with TB in that area for the foreseeable future? Absolutely. But, working off the review of this area by Professor Emma McBryde, Head of Epidemiology at the Victorian Infectious Diseases Service, we can say some important steps are being taken in the right direction. There has been increased funding and there is, through that process and through the development of services, the opportunity to work through these issues and provide better health outcomes for the people of the Torres Strait and for the people of PNG in the Western Province. (Time expired)