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Thursday, 19 June 2008
Page: 2847

Senator COLBECK (12:27 PM) —The Senate is considering the Quarantine Amendment (National Health Security) Bill 2008. This bill amends the Quarantine Act 1908 to implement certain requirements of the International Health Regulations, which entered into force in June last year and which were a landmark for the WHO and supporting member states, including Australia. I commend the work of the officers of the Department of Health and Ageing and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade who did so much to ensure that the International Health Regulations came into force. It is vital, given the increasing transience of people through air travel, that globalisation with regard to public health protective measures is understood and accepted.

The bill requires travellers who are subject to quarantine, or quarantine officers themselves, to submit themselves to vaccination or other preventative measurers, if this is necessary, for the prevention of the spread of quarantinable disease or if the vaccine or other prophylaxis is specified in the International Health Regulations. The bill also makes provisions for certain other changes to align the Quarantine Act with the International Health Regulations, and these are detailed in the minister’s second reading speech.

In the excellent Bills Digest prepared by the Parliamentary Library, there are two matters of concern which are raised, and I invite the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Health and Ageing to respond to these points when she sums up the debate. The first matter of concern is that the bill does not amend the sections of the Quarantine Act which provide that people who refuse to be vaccinated or have other prophylaxes administered, say, for religious or medical reasons, are taken to be guilty of a strict liability offence punishable by 20 penalty points or $2,200.

In addition, there is no appeal process set out in relation to a decision taken to administer a vaccine or prophylaxis in the absence of consent. The explanatory memorandum to the bill says that a quarantine officer may require a person to be vaccinated in ‘extraordinary circumstances’, but that is not defined. The opposition appreciates that a vaccine would only be forcibly administered in a very extreme case, but it is unsettling for the appeals process not to be spelt out in such a case, however rare. It is also not clear how a medical practitioner would be protected if he or she was compelled to give a vaccination. I would like the parliamentary secretary to explain these points or, if she is unable to do that now, give an assurance to the Senate that a statement will be provided to explain what will occur in these circumstances and what guidance will be given for the exercise of discretion by both quarantine officers and medical practitioners.