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Wednesday, 26 November 1986
Page: 2786


Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE(3.40) —I will refer very briefly to the report of the Senate Standing Committee on National Resources on the adequacy of quarantine in the Torres Strait area. I suspect very little comment is required on this report because the Committee was given precise and distinct terms of reference and the report is clear and precise in terms of identifying perceived problems and in putting forward recommendations that might ensure security of quarantine between Papua New Guinea, the Torres Strait and the mainland of Australia. The concern I still have is about the movement particularly of people but also of goods and animals which may take place with very considerable ease between Papua New Guinea, the Torres Strait and the Australian mainland. Of course there are Torres Strait islands within walking distance of Papua New Guinea. At low tide it is possible to wade across to the nearest islands from Papua New Guinea. Very considerable communication and transportation takes place on a regular basis amongst the island people and the Papua New Guinean people who also move to Thursday Island and the mainland.

The real problem is that a number of exotic diseases and pests are to be found and can be identified in Papua New Guinea. I refer to plant diseases such as black leaf streak, downy mildew, moth and weevil borers, white grubs, Fiji disease, citrus canker and a number of others. In terms of exotic animal diseases one can find, particularly in Irian Jaya, the old world screw-worm fly and the virulent Newcastle disease which, as we all know, affects domestic poultry. If it were to get into Australia it would probably have the effect of destroying the total bird population, particularly our domestic bird population.

As I have said, there are very many opportunities for movement between the islands. There are a number of other diseases such as tapeworm, foot and mouth disease which have been found in Irian Jaya, and rabies is prevalent in certain parts of Indonesia. These diseases take on a new dimension when one contemplates the refugees who are on the Irian Jaya-Papua New Guinea border and the fact that there seems to be some movement across that imaginary line. From that point it is not difficult for diseases and pest to move south through the Torres Strait Islands to Thursday Island, to Cape York and down to the heart of mainland Australia.

It was my experience when travelling through the area that there is not a clear understanding by many Torres Strait people of the inherent risks and dangers in the free movement of goods and animals between Papua New Guinea and the islands. Honourable senators will understand that a number of traditional feasts take place which require the movement of pigs and the like. They move freely and there is no certainty that there is not an infestation of one type or another. There is a very real and immediate need for an educative program for these people, explaining to them the various types of diseases and pests so that they can identify them and at the same time taking cognisance of the movement of people particularly those from Papua New Guinea to the islands.

There is some virtue in the Government contemplating the prospect of having a voluntary Australian Customs Service officer or quarantine officer in the form of one of the Torres Strait Islander people on each island so that they could not only educate their own people but also be vigilant towards the movement of other people in and out of their islands.

Another matter that also causes me concern is that there seems to be no proper quarantining of the movement of people from Horn Island, in particular, or any of the Torres Strait Islands into Cairns. There is no supervision of the movement of people from the islands to Cairns although I think they go through some sort of a Customs barrier at Cairns. However, it seems to be very loose particularly for movement from the north to the south and that matter ought to be looked at with some considerable care.

Finally I refer to the fact that there is some considerable movement of shipping. First of all the Strait is an international shipping route which provides an opportunity for ships to discharge people and goods on to the islands. There is also very considerable movement of shipping between the islands and the north-east coast of Australia. Under the present laws quarantine officers do not have the free right of inspecting domestic shipping. It would be appropriate if the legislation could be amended to provide scope for quarantine officers to be able to board south bound ships, to inspect them and to ensure that they are in no way likely to be carrying any exotic diseases or pests which would in any way harm, damage or risk particularly the animal population of Australia. If one really examines the sorts of diseases that can be found in Indonesia and in the islands slightly to the north, one quickly comes to realise that if the diseases were to find their way into Australia-particularly foot and mouth disease and Newcastle disease and the like-they could have a devastating effect on our animal population, our rural industry and subsequently, of course, our export earnings. The report touches on those matters in its recommendations and it is worthy of some serious consideration by the relevant authorities.