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Thursday, 19 June 2008
Page: 2850

Senator McLUCAS (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Health and Ageing) (12:40 PM) —I thank Senators Colbeck and Bartlett for their contribution to the debate. In the four minutes we have left, I will provide a summing up of the debate to this point. Some reasonable questions have been asked and they warrant a full response. Perhaps we will get to those questions when the debate on this legislation resumes later today, but I do intend to respond to the questions from both Senators Colbeck and Bartlett.

I thank senators who have spoken on the Quarantine Amendment (National Health Security) Bill 2008 and appreciate their contributions and questions. The bill before the parliament today is the second to implement Australia’s treaty obligations relating to public health security under the International Health Regulations, also known as the IHR. The entry into force of the IHR in June 2007 was a public health landmark for the World Health Organisation and for all member states, including Australia. It provided the international community with a new legal framework to better manage its collective defences against public health risks that can spread globally and with devastating effect, as we all know. The National Health Security Act 2007 was passed by the parliament in September 2007. It provides the legal authority and establishes the operational arrangements for Australia to meet its IHR obligations to notify the World Health Organisation of health emergencies and to exchange surveillance information.

The proposed amendments to the Quarantine Act 1908 will implement IHR requirements in relation to vaccinations, prophylaxes, health certificates and charges that may be levied on travellers for measures to protect public health. Firstly, travellers who are subject to quarantine may be required to submit to vaccination or other prophylaxes if this is necessary to prevent the spread of a quarantinable disease or if the vaccination or other prophylaxis is specified in the IHR or recommended by the WHO.

Under our Quarantine Act, Australia has had the capacity to require vaccination for quarantinable diseases for the past 100 years. However, this has not extended to other prophylaxis or to diseases recommended by the World Health Organisation that are not quarantinable diseases. Other forms of prophylaxis include antivirals to treat pandemic influenza or antibiotics to treat bacterial infections. This provision would only be applied for diseases with the most serious consequences, such as SARS, plague, rabies, cholera, smallpox or avian influenza. A decision requiring a traveller to be vaccinated or take other forms of prophylaxis would be made on the advice of a qualified medical practitioner having balanced the wishes of the traveller with the broader public health interest in preventing the spread of a dangerous disease in Australia. A person refusing to comply cannot be forcibly vaccinated but could, for example, be kept in isolation until any danger to the community had passed. I think that partially answers one of your questions, Senator Colbeck.

Secondly, the amendments also provide for the issuing of health certificates proving vaccination or other prophylaxis in accordance with the requirements set out in the IHR. It is critical for public health and to facilitate travel that Australia, along with our international neighbours, has the capacity to issue all essential paperwork in line with international standards.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Chapman)—Order! It being 12.45 pm, the debate is interrupted and we move to non-controversial legislation.