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Wednesday, 29 June 1994
Page: 2348

Senator COULTER (7.07 p.m.) —I move:

  That the Senate take note of the document.

I only want to make one point tonight on this very important document. The Creutzfeldt-Jakob syndrome is caused by a virus where people have been infected by pituitary material prepared from human pituitary glands and some of those glands, clearly, were infected with a slow virus which many years later caused the onset of this disease.

  The pituitary hormone extract was used for treating children of short stature or women who were infertile. That is the background to the disease. Because of the slow nature of the onset, these cases only started to appear more recently even though treatment was begun in the 1960s. It is possible that some cases will continue to appear for quite some time into the future. It is a fatal disease and is the cause of very great concern.

  The point that I want to make this evening is simply this: the very first recommendation of the committee is that research funds be allocated for the provision of adequate laboratory facilities equipped to conduct research into the effective CJD agent. The Senate would be aware that the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories that prepared these extracts has recently been sold. The Senate would also be aware that this government is very committed to the privatisation of as much research effort in Australia as possible. I draw attention to the fact that only 2,100 people in Australia were treated with this pituitary hormone. That might sound a large number but, so far, four women have died as a result of this treatment.

  The point I want to make is a very simple one: that small incidence of disease, even though it is a very serious and fatal disease, is not likely to attract private investment in research. The numbers of people involved are far too few to attract private research. This is typically research which must be carried out in government laboratories at government expense. The sorts of things that private funded laboratories are interested in are those diseases which affect large numbers of people, where there is a sale of a product to large numbers of people and where profits can be made.

  I would like to stress to the government that this primary recommendation is one which it will find hard to meet if it continues with its present program and the cutback in funds for CSIRO, medical research and other areas of research as well. This is typically an area of research which falls outside the area that will attract private funding. If this recommendation is to be taken up by government, it is urgent that it recognises that it must involve government expenditure.

  Debate (on motion by Senator O'Chee) adjourned.