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Thursday, 22 November 2012
Page: 9590

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS (New South Wales) (19:18): I rise to speak on the National Health Security Amendment Bill 2012. This bill seeks to amend the National Health Security Act 2007 in order to tighten the regulations around the acquisition, handling, storage, transport and disposal of security sensitive biological agents, otherwise known as SSBAs. SSBAs can come in the form of viruses, bacteria, fungi and toxins. Some more commonly known tier 1 SSBAs include the Ebola virus, SARS, smallpox and the plague.

This bill seeks to help further reduce the security and public health risks posed to the Australian community by SSBAs by providing a streamlined reporting regime applicable to entities that only handle SSBAs on a temporary basis, which has been determined to be less than seven days; by providing the Secretary to the Department of Health and Ageing with a discretion to adjust as they see fit the necessary conditions on any registered facility that is undertaking emergency maintenance in order to maintain security; by providing the secretary with the authority to impose the necessary conditions on any entity that is handling SSBAs during a period of noncompliance during which the entity is taking the required corrective action to become compliant; and by providing consistent exemption and reporting requirements for entities that have been deemed to be exempt while handling SSBAs or suspected SSBAs.

The government has advised that during the past several years, while the SSBA Regulatory Scheme has been in operation, it has worked closely with various stakeholders and experts in this field. It was during this period that a number of areas in the legislation were identified where improvements could be made, which has subsequently led to the current bill before us. The strict regulation of SSBAs is vitally important in the prevention of bioterrorism and biocrime, where these lethal agents could be deliberately released into the community. However, this bill also endeavours to strike a balance to ensure that members of the community who have a legitimate need to have access to SSBAs can do so. The coalition does not oppose the bill.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.