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Wednesday, 4 June 2008
Page: 4558

Mr KERR (Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs) (10:16 AM) —The debate on the Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2008-2009 and related bills gives all members an opportunity to speak broadly on subjects of their interest but, sadly, it also gives occasion for members such as the speaker immediately preceding me to repeat the drone of routine political drivel that passes for serious comment on public affairs. It is a great tragedy that we traduce the opportunities that are presented to us in this parliament to really get to grips with the larger national issues and our own local concerns when we waste our time repeating, ad nauseam, the kinds of rote opposition lines that the member delivered unto us in this chamber.

I want to focus on three specific issues which have emerged from this budget and which will benefit my electorate of Denison. The first builds on the work of previous Labor and coalition governments and has seen Hobart effectively the focus of much international work in the southern oceans and Antarctica. Certainly as far as Australia is concerned, Hobart has become the centre of almost all research activity in the southern oceans and Antarctica. And there is a further initiative, cemented in the most recent budget, where Australia will become the home of the secretariat for the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels—the great seabirds that we associate with the southern oceans and whose preservation and support is well supported by many Australians. That will now be cemented, in terms of the architecture of the international community, through this secretariat.

The permanent home of the secretariat will now be Hobart. The government will be providing income tax, customs duty, GST and other Australian government tax relief to this secretariat and the secretariat’s non-Australian staff. That is the same kind of relief that has been granted to other international organisations in Australia, including the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, CCAMLR, which is also in Hobart. I am delighted to recognise that, with the new home of the secretariat for the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels coming together with the work of CCAMLR, the work of the University of Tasmania and the work of the CSIRO, Hobart is very much cemented as the centre for international conservation efforts focusing on the southern oceans and Antarctica. I want to congratulate all who have worked so hard to achieve that end.

The second issue, again, has a conservation bent but is more focused on my own home state with $10 million in funding for Tasmanian devil research over the next five years. I am certain that members from all sides of the House would share my concern about the future of the Tasmanian devil and what that species is facing as it is decimated by rather grotesque facial tumours and about the struggle to find a solution that will enable the species to survive. That will of course be part of a larger program, the Caring for Our Country initiative, which altogether is worth $2.2 billion. The funds will go into research into the facial tumour disease and allow the necessary management actions to be undertaken to save the devil from extinction.

Last week, the Tasmanian devil was recognised as being in danger of extinction; it was declared endangered by the Tasmanian state government. So we need to do all we can to minimise the spread of this disease amongst Tasmanian devils, to try to establish an insurance population and to engage the community in a suite of recovery actions.

There are some promising signs. The most recent research conducted out of the University of Tasmania’s Menzies Research Institute focused on a Tasmanian devil that has been nicknamed Cedric. Cedric is a three-year-old Tasmanian devil. He apparently has a specific genetic make-up which has rendered him immune to the disease that has affected the rest of his community and he has resisted infection even after being injected with the deadly disease. There are apparently a number of other devils which have the same genetic make-up, and tests are now being undertaken to see whether a sufficient number of Cedrics and Cedric’s close genetic relatives will be able to form a population immune from the disease. We do hope that there can be greater resistance. We are certainly continuing to work on immunisation programs. We are trying to do all we can to identify the means by which the disease is transmitted and to build robust survival populations.

The tragedy is that the facial tumour disease is estimated to have already killed almost half of the devils in the wild and has been found in over 60 per cent of Tasmania. Anybody who has seen photographs of Tasmanian devils that have been affected by the facial tumours will see what a cruel and painful disease it must be for those that suffer it, and the suffering of those animals is enough reason for us to take action.

A division having been called in the House of Representatives—

Sitting suspended from 10.24 am to 11.04 am

Mr KERR —Immediately prior to the division being called, I was mentioning the fate of the Tasmanian devil and the fact that more than 50 per cent of devils in the wild are understood to have died. The cruel and painful way in which that would happen has everyone very concerned. The hope that would be common to all members is that the research that has recently seen a young three-year-old devil, nicknamed Cedric, being able to resist infection proves to be fruitful so that the species has a good chance of survival. Sadly, Cedric’s brother paid a price for that research because, in order to test whether a genetic benefit was able to provide immunity, both Cedric and his brother, who did not have that similar genetic make-up, were injected with the facial tumour disease, and the brother has contracted it. Whilst the researchers are obviously doing all they can to treat that, so far treatment has proved pretty unavailing in most instances, and it may be, in the end, that that is a price that will be paid in that individual case. If it can be established that a genetic group of devils can be found to breed and be immune from the disease, the benefit will be profound; it is something that we all hope can be established.

Finally, I will comment on something that I know all Tasmanians have been very keen to see, and that is the availability in Tasmania of a PET scanner. There are presently about 350 Tasmanians having to travel interstate for specialist diagnostic services. The availability of a positron emission tomography machine at the Royal Hobart Hospital, to provide a nuclear medical imaging technique for three-dimensional imaging of functional processes in the body, is going to be very much appreciated. It is especially useful for cancer diagnosis and treatment, and of course it has been something that my community has been seeking for a long time. I am very pleased to say that this budget has delivered that facility for the people of Hobart, and I look forward to it providing very useful assistance to those in my electorate—and in your electorate, Mr Deputy Speaker Sidebottom—when they need diagnosis for those measures.

I conclude my remarks there and indicate that I am certain all members of this House will join together at least in appreciation of the two budget measures that I mentioned previously—the Antarctic sea birds, the petrels and the albatrosses, and the Tasmanian devil. Whilst we do have our political differences and our rhetoric sometimes becomes a little inflamed in these kinds of debates, there is no doubt that where we do have common agreement—and we would around the need to do all we can to ensure the survival of petrels and albatrosses in the southern oceans and the survival of the Tasmanian devil—we actually come together as a parliament. Those measures in the budget, whilst monetarily not large perhaps, are going to be very important in terms of our national self-image. I commend those measures to the House.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr S Sidebottom)—I thank you for your contribution.