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Tuesday, 19 March 1985
Page: 417

Senator PETER BAUME(5.58) —The Opposition supports the Quarantine Amendment Bill because we think it is an appropriate, timely and good piece of legislation. This Bill effects a rearrangement of functions in the quarantine area. Quarantine has traditionally been a function of the Commonwealth Department of Health and, for reasons which were appropriate, it was historically right that quarantine be placed in the Department of Health when the administrative order was first written; but it is quite clear that there has been an emerging reality in which animal and plant quarantine has assumed greater and greater importance. This Bill seeks to put into effect new administrative arrangements whereby functions of animal and plant quarantine, both in relation to policy and administration, will be transferred to the Department of Primary Industry while matters of human quarantine will remain with the Commonwealth Department of Health, with reports being made directly to an appropriate senior officer, in fact to the Deputy Director-General, who is the Chief Commonwealth Medical Officer.

Because the Opposition agrees with what the Bill proposes I do not intend to recite all the provisions of the Bill or all the things which it proposes. However, I want to talk about the genesis of this Bill and the process which was undertaken. The Bill really arose out of the work of this Senate. It is one example of the Senate operating at its best and of a Senate committee providing a report which was timely, relevant and first class-a report to which governments have responded because the Senate Committee got it right. I notice that several honourable senators in this chamber now were members of that Committee, the Senate Standing Committee on National Resources. I draw attention to my colleague Senator Teague and to Senator Robertson, who were both members of the Senate Committee. I noticed also former Senator Maunsell present in Parliament House tonight. He was a member of that Committee.

Senator Robertson —And former Senator Thomas.

Senator PETER BAUME —The Committee was chaired by former Senator Thomas. I say to those honourable senators that this Committee prepared a first-rate report. It set out its appreciation of the problem with quarantine arrangements and it then set out what it thought should be done. Included amongst those things were the administrative rearrangements which we now see being put into effect by the Hawke Government. There were other suggestions-for example, the publicity campaign-which were put into effect by the Fraser Government. I think honourable senators might recall Harry Butler appearing on their television screens extolling the values of quarantine to Australia's national needs.

Like the Minister for Community Services (Senator Grimes), who is at the table, I am a medical practitioner. It might have been argued that, in some way, this rearrangement would be detrimental to human quarantine. That is not the case. This rearrangement is being carried out in a very logical way. Human quarantine will still be catered for adequately. Responsibility for human quarantine policy will still rest with the Department of Health. That Department will still have responsibility at an appropriately senior level. But the increasingly important questions of animal and plant quarantine will now be placed with the Department of Primary Industry, where so much of the policy direction lies and where so much of the brunt of any quarantine failure will have to be borne. It makes a lot of sense.

This island continent is very fortunate in terms of its natural barriers, which have left us free of many of the scourges found in other parts of the world. Our task and our challenge is to maintain that freedom in a world where communication is becoming quicker, where travel is becoming quicker and where the incubation periods of certain plant, animal or human diseases may now be less than the time it takes to bring those plants, animals or humans to Australia. I do not have to set out the consequences as I think some of my Queensland colleagues and Senator Teague will set out what they see as some of the consequences if we do not have an adequate system of quarantine. I think it is sufficient for me to say that we cannot afford to have anything less than the very highest standard of quarantine arrangements. What this Bill proposes has the enthusiastic support of the Opposition. Because we support the Bill there is no need to prolong my remarks. On behalf of the Opposition I wish the Bill a speedy passage.