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Monday, 3 November 2003
Page: 21718

Ms HALL (1:28 PM) —I rise to support the very important motion that has been moved in the House today by the member for Throsby. Hepatitis C is a very insidious type of disease. It is one that you are not aware that you have contracted at first. When we listen to the figures that have been quoted in the House today, we hear that 240,000 people in Australia are infected with hepatitis C. That is more than one per cent of our population, so it is a significant public health issue. I join the member for Throsby in calling on the government to immediately release and act on the report. Unless they do that, their inaction is going to create more problems within the community and will lead to a greater spread of the disease. I feel that it is something that needs to be taken very seriously.

It is interesting to look at some of those people who are at risk of contracting hepatitis C. They include people who receive blood products before screening. In my previous occupation I dealt with a young man who had an immune deficiency. He contracted hepatitis C. His one goal was to get his driver's licence. He got his driver's licence and died two weeks later.

The point I am making is that hepatitis C can be lethal. People can be infected in ways they know nothing about. Unless we as legislators ensure that research into hepatitis C is adequately funded, more and more people in our community will be infected. Health professionals are a group at extreme risk. Other ways by which people can be infected are body piercing, tattooing and intravenous drug use.

This brings me to the report entitled Road to recovery, which was recently brought down in this parliament. That report recommended that the strategy to deal with drug use be changed from harm minimisation to prevention. I think this has serious implications for dealing with hepatitis C. If we are going to engage in a war on drugs rather than ensure that a minimum of harm is caused by drug addiction, it will lead to an increase in the rate of hepatitis C infection.

I was very disturbed to hear on the news today that the Prime Minister is going to introduce into this parliament legislation to make it okay to discriminate against a person who is a drug user or a drug addict. That might sound fine when you put it in those terms, but it has serious health connotations, particularly when we are looking at hepatitis C. I would urge the Prime Minister to think about the implications of that type of legislation. I know that, when the committee was considering the Road to recovery report, a number of members on the government side of the House argued strongly for the needle exchange program to be ended. The previous speaker said that the rate of notification of hepatitis C in our community had decreased and that we had it under control.

To be quite honest, Australia's efforts have been recognised worldwide. At the core of those efforts is the needle exchange program, a program that minimises the spread of hepatitis C. I would strongly argue that we should continue down that path. We should look at minimising the spread of hepatitis C, we should invest money in the treatment of hepatitis C, we should invest money in education and we should invest money in bringing this disease under control in our community. I will finish where I started, by saying once again that this is a serious public health issue which impacts on people from all walks of life. I urge the Prime Minister to move away from the legislation that he is planning to introduce which will make it legal to discriminate against drug users. (Time expired)