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Tuesday, 15 October 2002
Page: 5117

Senator FERGUSON (2:12 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Health and Ageing, Senator Patterson. Can the minister update the Senate on how Australia's health sector is helping the victims of the Bali terrorist attack?

Senator PATTERSON (Minister for Health and Ageing) —I thank Senator Ferguson for the question. First of all, I would like to take the opportunity to offer my sincere condolences to the families and loved ones of those who have lost their lives and those who are missing—it must be incomprehensible to be waiting for news when you are not there—and also to those who have suffered and are suffering through the horrific events of the last few days. I want to say that I appreciated very much a phone call yesterday from Jane Aagaard, the new health minister for the Northern Territory, updating me about what was happening in Darwin and thanking the Commonwealth for its cooperation and for the speedy way in which it responded. I also had a telephone call from Bob Kucera today, asking me to pass on to Robert Hill his gratitude for the tremendous effort that has been put in by the defence forces and telling me how well he thought the operation was going. He thought maybe we could look back and clear up some things about communications, but he said that overall it had been an enormous response. He also said that two young people from the major burns unit in Perth who happened to be in Bali have been working round the clock. As we know, so many of our doctors, nurses and allied health professionals just happened to be there on holiday and have been doing a tremendous job under the most difficult circumstances. I am sure the survivors will thank them for the fact that they were able to be there and assist.

I also assured Jane Aagaard and Bob Kucera that if they felt there was some way in which things had fallen between the stools—and that can sometimes happen when you are working across departments and across states and territories—we were ready to assist in any areas in which they needed assistance from the Commonwealth. In times of tragedy, some comfort can be found in the way in which Australians work together. I am proud to report that officials of the federal, state and territory governments, the medical community and all those in the allied health professions and of course many others who have been involved have responded to this crisis with the highest level of cooperation.

The government's response to the emergency has been led by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The whole emergency operation is under its leadership. My department is working closely with Emergency Management Australia, the Department of Defence and state and territory health departments to ensure that critically injured Australians who have been airlifted to Darwin can be safely transferred to major hospitals in other capital cities. The Department of Health and Ageing has been in touch with all state and territory health departments to ensure the use of our health resources is managed in a coordinated way. For example, the Department of Health and Ageing arranged for the dispatch of four medivac teams to Darwin and for a quantity of medical supplies to be sent to Bali and it also played a role in facilitating the transfer of 15 critical burns patients to major hospitals in other states. The department has been working closely with state and territory health departments to ensure less severely injured people are transported from Darwin to hospitals in southern capitals. These transfers have now been completed and should relieve the pressure on the Darwin hospital. So far, 28 less critical patients have been airlifted from Darwin to hospitals in other states. We have the notional capacity to supply the medical services required by the victims of the Bali bombings.

Because of the unique circumstances of this tragedy, my department, in conjunction with the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service, has put in place arrangements to waive the normal requirement for a death certificate to accompany a body being brought into Australia. This action will simplify the process of returning deceased Australians from Bali to their families. Again, my sincere condolences go to the families and friends of the victims of this terrible tragedy. (Time expired)