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Wednesday, 13 February 2013
Page: 1334

Mr BRUCE SCOTT (MaranoaDeputy Speaker) (16:27): I rise this afternoon on very important health issue for the nation and particularly for my own electorate of Maranoa. The topic is rather sensitive but I am taking this issue very seriously. I would like the government to take note of what I am saying, particularly in relation to this appropriation bill, to make sure that money could be appropriated to increase community and nationwide awareness of the issue that is growing across Australia—sexually transmissible infections, STIs. The Queensland Health department state:

Sexual health is not just for people who have had sex or have a Sexually Transmissible Infection (STI). It means taking care of your body, your health, and your partner's health and making decisions about having sex. Trying to avoid STIs is part of sexual health.

That is a direct lift from the Queensland Health department pamphlet promoting sexual health.

Previously there have been successful campaigns, even now, against smoking. Some of the images are graphic and I believe that has had an effect and is having an effect. We all know the effect that smoking can have on human health. It is important that we send a message, graphic as that is, in relation to smoking, across the nation. There have been ones about diabetes and how to avoid the possibility of diabetes because of its consequences on your health. We have had them on obesity as well. I believe these campaigns in relation to the health and wellbeing of our nation are important. I well remember the Grim Reaper campaign when the AIDS epidemic took off. It was graphic in its portrayal of what could happen but it sent a very, very strong message across the nation.

Australia-wide, there is now an alarming increase in sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV-AIDS. In my electorate of Maranoa there is a new transient demographic that presents its own unique set of sexual health issues for my constituency. Education and awareness is the key, because the statistics are alarming. With HIV-AIDS, prevention is the only cure we have. The statistics for Queensland show increases for cases from 2007 in relation to gonorrhoea—some 1,328 cases were reported in 2007 and in the latest statistics available, for 2011, some 2,878 cases were reported, a doubling from 2007 to 2011. Chlamydia: 12,696 cases in 2007 and in 2011, 18,320 cases. Syphilis: some 200 cases in 2008 and in 2011, 340—almost a 60 per cent increase in reported cases. HIV: one diagnosis in 2008, five in 2009 and eight in 2010—so those reported cases are also rising, perhaps as small numbers but the trend is there.

In 2011, chlamydia was the most frequently reported notifiable condition in Australia with some 79,833 new notifications for persons aged 15 years and over, or 435 cases per 100,000 of our population. This is nearly seven times the rate of the most frequently reported notifiable STI, gonorrhoea. This rate has more than tripled over the past decade, increasing from 130 notifications per 100,000 in 2001.

The past decade has seen rates of sexually transmittable infections—STIs—increase across Australia. STIs are predominantly contracted through unsafe sexual practice and can show no symptoms. If untreated, STIs can have serious long-term consequences for a person's health. Do we need to bring back, perhaps as part of this program, the Grim Reaper-style health awareness programs that were put out during the AIDS epidemic, given the rapid progressive increase in reportable STIs? However, this year is 2013 and we are not in the 1980s. We know that HIV-AIDS and STI diseases are not limited to any particular demographic in our society.

My electorate has a new demographic emerging. A report tabled today by the member for New England on fly-in fly-out workers highlights some of the changes in demographics that are happening in my electorate and many of those rural and regional communities where resources are being developed and exploited. Being active is the 'common cold' of sexual health. People are taking more risks with their sexual health by dabbling in unprotected sex. The Daily Mercury reported:

Australian Medical Association (AMA) Queensland president Dr Richard Kidd said it was not just the young, single miners spreading diseases.

I am not suggesting it is the miners spreading it, but they are his words, not mine. The article continued:

'We're aware of anecdotal reports concerning pregnant women presenting with STIs, being treated, and getting a STI again before pregnancy concludes,' Dr Kidd said.

'So presumably their partners are infecting them again.'

Dr Kidd said the mix of a large disposable income and boredom meant fly-in, fly-out mine workers were responsible for the increase in cases of STIs in towns—

like those in my electorate in particular.

I think the committee report on fly-in fly-out practices that was tabled today by the member for New England touches on the social change that is occurring in many of our communities where these resources are located. While FIFO is not much of a holiday—I can assure you of that because I talk to many of these people—it can induce a disconnection from normal restraint and behavioural patterns, and we are seeing the results: we have seen a doubling of gonorrhoea over four to five years; we have seen an increase in syphilis by two-thirds in that same time, a 66 per cent increase; and an increase in chlamydia by one-third since 2007.

The other issue that is exacerbating the situation is the lack of doctors and nurses in mining towns. I was speaking with the Mayor of the Western Downs Regional Council only last Friday in my electorate and I asked: 'How many fly-in fly-out workers have we got in camps in the Western Downs Regional Council area?' They are trying to get an idea of that because of the impact it has on the traditional population of many of our towns. They do not know but they are trying to go to the mining companies and ask them just how many people are in the 40-odd camps that are located in the Western Downs. Their estimate is that they have got something like 24,000 workers in camps in the Western Downs region. I know, in my home town of Roma, there are camps of 3,000 or 4,000 people. I estimate that, in the Maranoa Regional Council area, there is something like 20,000 workers—most of them fly-in fly-out.

It is difficult for those communities when all of a sudden a population increase hits their town. It also has an impact on the ability of the local doctors and nurses who are dealing and coping with the existing population prior to fly-in fly-out workers. Because of the resources and the construction of these resource camps and the resource development, it has an impact on the ability of health services that are there to cope with this massive influx.

If I can use the figures that I was given towards the end of last year, in a town north of Roma—Injune, in fact—in 2008 there was something like 80 to 130 presentations per month at the local hospital, where there are a nurse and a doctor present. In January 2012, there were 1,000 presentations at that hospital. Compare that to 80 to 130 only three years earlier—the average since that time is about 600 to 700 a month. These are people who have legitimate health issues, who want to see a doctor or a nurse for whatever reason, but it has almost been impossible for the staff to cope. I commend the staff there for the work they are doing, but it highlights not only the significant change in demographics but also the challenge that is out there for all of us. I know that a number of mining companies have contributed to new facilities for communities but I am not aware of any support for increased health services where they are really needed.

What goes on behind closed doors is the individual's business, but let me take you on a tour of the local newspapers in my electorate. It is open for everyone to see. FIFO sex workers in Maranoa is the title:

'Misty' is a FIFO prostitute, one of hundreds to descend on Queensland's roaring mining towns in Surat and Galilee basins in the Maranoa.

She has a lot in common with her clients: she lives on the east coast but she's flexible about where she'll work.

I am astounded because the story the local paper ran stated what she could earn in a week. This is something quite new, I can assure you, to some of the towns and the local papers in my electorate, a very conservative area. But they ran the story. She remained anonymous in the sense that there was no photograph of her, but she said she was earning 'as much as $10,000 a week'. That is 10 times the average weekly wage. It goes on:

A sex worker can put their mobile phone number in an ad on the internet or in the local paper and they're free to go where the work is.

The only problem is finding a hotel room—

or a motel room—

in a town with such a transient population.

It is an issue. Whilst I know prostitution is a regulated industry, the lure of lucrative mining communities means that illegal prostitution activities are increasing and people are taking chances with their sexual health. Education and awareness is the key, because these figures that I have put on the Hansard this afternoon are quite alarming.

People should not be ashamed of visiting their local doctor. They should be prepared to go and have a check-up. Health professionals respect your privacy. They do not discuss your private business with anyone in the community. Also, the earlier you find an STI, the easier it is to treat and the less damage is done to your body. So don't be ashamed to talk about your sexual health and ask for a test if you think you might have an STI. Put your mind at ease.

What I am saying is that, with the changing demographics in many of these fly-in fly-out transient populations and the illegal prostitution that I know is out there, given some of the advertisements in the local papers and the reports that are flowing back, the risk of STIs is rising. The numbers that are now starting to be reported in relation to STIs are alarming. I call on the government, particularly in response or part-response to the report tabled in the House today on FIFO workers, to run awareness ads that target this issue of STIs and your sexual health. It is in the nation's interest.