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Thursday, 17 October 2002
Page: 5396

Senator TCHEN (2:20 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Health and Ageing, Senator Patterson. Will the minister update the Senate on further information she has on how Australia's health system is managing the impact of the Bali terrorist attacks?

Senator PATTERSON (Minister for Health and Ageing) —I thank Senator Tchen for his question. I do not think we can thank our health workers too often for what they are doing in caring for the people who have been injured by this tragedy. I have tried to keep in touch with the relevant state ministers. I have spoken again to my state and territory colleagues Jane Aagaard, Bob Kucera, John Thwaites and the senior staff of Craig Knowles and Wendy Edmond. I was not able to speak to Lea Stevens. They, quite rightly, keep telling me about how stretched some of the sections of the medical profession are, in particular the burns units, but how they are coping. We can marvel at what those people have been able to achieve. Each of them has spoken very highly of how their hospitals are dealing with the crisis, and I join them in this.

Since the beginning of the crisis, my department has been in constant contact with the states and territories to ensure the coordination of health resources. I want to assure people this will continue. My department is liaising with state health authorities on the availability of hospital treatment, especially in relation to the burns patients. I wish to advise the Senate that one Indonesian victim of this tragedy arrived in Darwin for treatment last night. Unfortunately, another, who was identified for evacuation, died before being airlifted. The government has offered to bring Indonesian victims to Australia for treatment, but ultimately this decision will be made by the Indonesian authorities. We stand ready to assist them, as the states have indicated to me as well, and we will work with the states and territories to determine the best locations for their treatment.

On behalf of all the states and territories, the government has agreed to the Australian Red Cross Blood Service exporting albumen to Bali to treat casualties from the terrorist bombing. I wish to thank the states and territories for their cooperation in this. As I said, in my discussions today I have been advised that, although critical care units are under stress, they are managing. The need for counselling, both now and ongoing, is quite significant and has been identified as a significant area of need. I think we all need to remember that many of the people in counselling, especially in mental health departments within the states, are under a particular burden. Many of them knew Margaret Tobin, so they are working under a double disability of working with these people who have faced the tragedy and also of facing the loss of a coworker and colleague. Because she played a significant role in the mental health field, she was known not just in South Australia but also across Australia in the area. For those of us who maybe had not thought about that, something that we need to realise and to understand is that the counsellors, many of whom knew her, are also suffering personally. But I was told by one of the health ministers that they were still managing to do a fantastic job, despite the fact that they had this added load.

Further to this, a part of the national coordination role that the department has been undertaking is the compilation of a full list of people who have been admitted to Australian hospitals as a result of injuries received in Bali. My department has asked the states and territories to advise immediately if assistance in the provision of counselling is required. Our consulate in Bali is providing counselling services, and yesterday the Consul-General held a briefing session for families in Bali, involving the embassy doctor, the DFAT counsellor and other officials. My department is working with the other Commonwealth agencies and states and territories to ensure that victims and relatives will be able to avail themselves of counselling, not just now but also in the future. In other such traumatic events, experience has shown that it can sometimes be weeks and months before the victims or families realise the need and benefit of professional counselling assistance. Yesterday I commented on the significant goodwill and effort being displayed by many private companies and community organisations across Australia in assisting the victims and families of the tragedy in Bali. (Time expired)