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Wednesday, 3 November 1976
Page: 2261

Mr BUNGEY (CANNING, WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - My question is addressed to the Minister for Health. I note with appreciation that the Minister in the past few months has visited the north-west of Australia to inspect quarantine enforcement in that area. Can the Minister inform the House of the deficiencies in quarantine procedures that he detected in that area and, more importantly, of the steps that have been taken to correct those deficiencies?

Mr HUNT (GWYDIR, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Health) - I give credit to the honourable member for Canning for the interest that he has taken in quarantine matters and to other honourable members who have shown a great interest in this area. Because of reports which the honourable member for Canning made to me I decided to undertake a tour of north-western ports with the Director-General of my Department. The honourable member will be pleased to know that as a consequence of that visit we decided to appoint a full time quarantine inspector. The inspector took up duty on 11 October at Karratha. He is on temporary transfer from Perth. Permanent staffing arrangements for that location are under discussion with the Public Service Inspector in Western Australia. Two additional part-time quarantine assistants have been appointed to the Port Hedland area. This has effectively doubled the amount of surveillance of incoming vessels in the area. One of the things that really surprised us all was the tremendous turnaround of shipping that has developed in the area over a period of years. Perhaps past governments had not increased the staffing in that area to meet the actual needs.

A tougher approach to breaches of quarantine requirements by ships' masters has been implemented and all Commonwealth directors have been instructed to proceed with prosecutions if a breach follows an initial warning on a current or subsequent visit to Australia. The Government is also looking at the penalties for breaches of quarantine laws. The Government feels that the current penalty of $500 is insufficient and is undertaking a review of all available quarantine manpower resources. I have had discussions with the Minister for Transport and the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs, expressing some concern about the quarantine surveillance during peak periods at major airports. Discussions are being held at the present time between the Minister for Defence, his Department and myself in relation to coastal surveillance in respect of quarantine matters.

We are also looking at an improved rat guard which has been the subject of some concern to the honourable member for Canning. A new design is currently being tested and, hopefully, it will prove to be far more effective than the old one. We are also constructing incinerators at the airport in Perth and are considering the construction of an incinerator at Port Hedland to ensure adequate disposal of garbage from ships at that port. I can assure the honourable member that the Government is concerned to ensure that the no-risk policy in respect of quarantine is implemented in a proper manner at the northwest ports and elsewhere.

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