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Monday, 20 August 2018
Page: 7845

Mr GOSLING (Solomon) (11:53): I also rise to support the motion of the member for Leichhardt. I'm pleased to be joining with him and my friends—the member for Kingsford Smith, the member for Macarthur and the member for Canberra—on this. The member for Leichhardt is the co-chair of the Australian Tuberculosis Caucus and, together with Senator Lisa Singh, runs a cross-party group of 20 parliamentarians focused on building Australian support for ending TB as a global epidemic. As the member for Canberra was saying, now is the time for mobilisation. It would be good to see more members from the other side getting behind this but, nonetheless, I thank the member for Leichhardt and commend him on his continued work in this area.

TB is a worldwide problem, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region, in our country and also in the place that I represent, the Northern Territory. In 2015, TB killed 1.8 million people globally—that is a shocking statistic. It's the world's greatest infectious disease killer. It's a disease that certainly hasn't gone away.

In our region, it's a serious problem: just across the Torres Strait and Papua New Guinea, there were an estimated 33,000 cases of TB in 2015. In another of our near neighbours, where I've spent a quite a bit of time, Timor Leste has the highest prevalence of TB of any country in our region. I want to commend the Australian groups—including Maluk Timor, Menzies School of Health Research and the Burnet Institute—who are working alongside the national TB program in Timor Leste to improve early case detection, recognition of drug-resistant TB and the prevention of TB in children.

TB is described as a disease that is a problem in developing countries, and that's true, but we should not overlook the fact that it is still a problem here at home in Australia. My electorate of Solomon, the northern capital of Australia, is in the Northern Territory where we still have cases of TB reported annually. The stats are much lower than those reported in other countries, such as PNG, but are still significant. Thanks to the good work of bodies such as the NT government Centre for Disease Control, these stats are trending downwards. Confirmed cases of TB in the Northern Territory have declined from annual numbers in the 40s and 30s in the 1990s down to the 20s more recently. This year so far, 11 cases have been confirmed, and rates of TB incidence in the Northern Territory between 2000 and 2015 have been approximately 17 cases per 100,000 population—that is, about three times the national average.

The rates of TB in the NT Aboriginal population are decreasing, which is good news, but, unfortunately, the rates in those born overseas is increasing. This highlights the need to tackle TB globally and for Australia to support countries in our region in their efforts to eliminate TB. The decline of TB in the Aboriginal population has followed years of hard work in TB control measures, contact tracing and high priority given to support and completion of curative treatment.

Contact tracing is crucial. TB infection can occur when a person with TB coughs, spits or even laughs. The risk of infection through contact with a person with infectious TB can be as high as 50 per cent. Hence the need to trace the people with whom the infectious person has been in contact. This has been a high priority for NT Centre for Disease Control staff, working in conjunction with hospitals and primary care providers. When a contact person is tested and shows as positive, treatment is provided that can prevent the contact from going on to get TB and is an important measure in working towards TB elimination. In the Territory, the mobility of Aboriginal community members presents a challenge for tracing and screening. and it's vital to provide services to diagnose cases, educate about TB transmission and support the follow-up of contacts and completion of treatment for patients.

I support this motion. It's important that Australia supports global action to eradicate TB, but it's also important for us here in Australia. I commend the member for Leichhardt on his work.

Debate adjourned.