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Thursday, 23 September 1999
Page: 10440

Ms MACKLIN —The graphic pictures that have come from East Timor in recent weeks have shocked us all. The death and misery that have been brought to the island by the militias are well known. But we are only just starting to come to terms with the sickness and disease that is spreading due to hunger and exposure of the refugees who fled into the hills to escape the militia's genocidal attacks.

One news report this week stated that 20 people had died in one village as a result of malnutrition and disease. Thousands of people are currently suffering from wounds they have received in fighting and many will die without early medical help. Our first priority should be to provide security throughout East Timor to enable medical teams to enter the areas of refuge and start the provision of emergency aid. There will be a huge job to rebuild the health system to cope with this crisis and to provide for East Timor after it achieves independence.

I am told that there are two health systems in East Timor: one previously provided by the Indonesian government and the other based around 27 hospitals and clinics run by the Catholic aid agency, Caritas. Caritas have only recently been able to re-enter East Timor and, along with other aid agencies, they will face a huge task. I was very pleased to hear there are moves afoot within the pharmaceutical industry to provide large quantities of urgently needed pharmaceuticals to assist the work of the major aid agencies. This is being coordinated by the aid group OPAL—Overseas Pharmaceutical Aid for Life. This group is run out of South Australia. Manufacturers around Australia are donating their products to meet the needs identified by major aid groups. A large container load is being loaded in Adelaide and will soon be dispatched.

Caritas has also collected a significant stock of materials through Catholic Health Australia by donations of medicines from Catholic hospitals. These will be distributed quickly in packs accompanied by advice in the local language so that local doctors and paramedical staff can get the medicines they desperately need. I understand another collection is being coordinated by the Australian Nurses Federation. These are all excellent initiatives which demonstrate the generosity of spirit that Australians have to help those in need. I am sure there are many other ways in which the health community in Australia can play a vital role in helping East Timor start on the road to recovery.

I also understand that many people have expressed an interest in assisting East Timor. Many are health professionals with important skills to contribute. The avenue for interested people to get involved is to register with Australian Volunteers International, the largest body in Australia supporting overseas aid projects through recruitment of volunteers. AVI has opened a special register of interest for people who have skills to offer in East Timor, with the intention of providing recruitment and training services to support delivery of emergency aid and longer term projects to support the development of the country. (Time expired)