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Tuesday, 9 October 2012
Page: 11711

Ms HALL (ShortlandGovernment Whip) (19:02): This is extremely important legislation that we have before us tonight. While the National Health Security Amendment Bill 2012 is non-controversial in nature, I feel it is legislation that both sides of this House will support. It introduces greater flexibility to better manage the security risk of sensitive biological agents handled by a number of entities.

The controls currently imposed by the NHS act are quite inadequate to manage the security risks posed at facilities that handle SSBAs on a temporary basis, usually less than seven days before disposal of the SSBA. As the previous speaker mentioned, the minister talked at some length about the situation in hospitals about SSBAs and the need for reporting and disposal. The minister told how changes included in this legislation would improve the safety, efficiency and effectiveness of the way SSBAs are handled. There are lots of facilities that perform emergency maintenance. Following inspection, facilities need to take effective action to fully comply with the standards. There are an increasing number of facilities handling on a temporary basis the post implementation phase of the scheme. The entities may be sent SSBAs to perform specific tests, after which the SSBAs are sent back to a registered facility or destroyed. It is quite important that they be returned or destroyed. It is a matter of being aware of where these SSBAs are at all times.

Inspections have found that some registered facilities which are given time to implement corrective action need to have conditions imposed on them during this time to ensure secure handling of SSBAs. But there has to be some flexibility in performing emergency maintenance.

Inadequate controls mean that there is no management of security risks in these facilities. I know that all members of this parliament are very concerned that security risks are managed at all times. Potentially, there will be increased risks of incidences of non-secured handling. That is the last thing that we would like to see happen. There may be unforeseen consequences of that and there may be effects on public health. For the record, the National Health Security Act has enhanced Australia's obligation to secure certain biological agents. These agents are very harmful, such as anthrax and the foot and mouth virus. SSBAs are security sensitive biological agents. The House notes that the agents that I mentioned are definitely SSBAs. The SSBA regulatory scheme imposes stringent requirements relating to the notification of the type and location of the SSBAs along with standards that must be met by entities handling SSBAs.

The government has worked closely with the entities that handle SSBAs. A number of areas where improvements to the regulatory scheme can be made have been highlighted. The bill will make an impact in two important ways. The proposed amendments provide for streamlined reporting, particularly in relation to where SSBAs are only temporarily handled. I mentioned that a little bit earlier. The second thing that the bill will do is to allow the secretary to better manage potential security risks for entities undertaking emergency facility maintenance, a very important part of this legislation. This is legislation that members on both sides of the House can get behind. It is about ensuring security and public health. I commend the legislation to the House.