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Monday, 3 November 2003
Page: 21720

Mr BRENDAN O'CONNOR (1:38 PM) —I am very happy to speak to this motion, which is a very important one. It recognises how important hepatitis C is in this country and how we should be looking to redress it. Historically, it is fair to say that Australia has been internationally well regarded for the manner in which we dealt with HIV-AIDS and the way we were able to, through the early eighties and mid-eighties, mitigate the adverse effects of that awful disease by a great program of education which particularly focused upon prevention. Whilst I do not want to necessarily compare the two illnesses, it is fair to say that they are both infectious diseases and there are some areas of commonality between the two. Therefore, it is important for us to look at the way in which we dealt with what was an epidemic then—and a potentially far worse one—and look at the way in which we are dealing with hepatitis C.

Hepatitis C is now—certainly in some areas—being called the silent epidemic. Therefore, it is unfortunate that the member for Boothby, in spending more time contradicting the member for Throsby than focusing on the motion, encouraged unnecessarily some complacency in relation to this matter. Whilst there might be some positive signs that the rate of increase is diminishing, the fact is—and every speaker on the motion has mentioned it—that almost one-quarter of a million people are now infected. Approximately 16,000 people per year are recognised as new sufferers. Therefore, it is something that we should not be complacent about; indeed, we should be vigilant in ensuring that that rate of increase drops. The only way that will happen is if the Commonwealth, in conjunction with the states, of course, targets properly and spends sufficient resources to ensure that we can do exactly that.

I am very happy today to get up and speak to this motion moved by the member for Throsby. It is one that should be moved in this place. Other than those criticisms that I had of the member for Boothby, it appears that, on almost all grounds, all speakers to this motion agree on the importance of us tackling this awful disease. As the member for Throsby said, there is quite often a social stigma attached this disease. It is a very difficult disease in many ways because you can be infected without knowing it. It is an asymptomatic disease in that respect, until it becomes chronic or acute. For those who do suffer from the symptoms of the disease, they can suffer anything from sore joints, headaches and acute stomach pain to chronic fatigue, blurred vision and dizziness. Combined with that social stigma, the actual symptoms certainly make it very difficult for sufferers to lead an ordinary life, and it takes some courage for them to do just that.

It is important that we underline the effects this disease has on the sufferers and that we propagate, as far as possible, the way in which this disease can be contracted so that people do not contract the disease. Whilst I concur with the comments of some members of the government in relation to what has already been expended in this area, more can be done to achieve the objective of mitigating the adverse effects. One way would be to fully implement the national health strategy in this area. It is something that has to be done. As I said, I think the government could take a leaf out of the book of previous governments in the way in which they dealt with HIV-AIDS, really focusing on education and prevention so that this disease can be reduced and, hopefully, one day will attract no further sufferers. (Time expired)