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Tuesday, 8 November 1977
Page: 3026

Mr E G Whitlam (WERRIWA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I ask another question of the Minister for Health. He has identified the complaint about employees of the field teams under the trachoma survey in Queensland as having come from the Premier, the Premier's Department and the State Department of Aboriginal and Islanders Advancement. I ask: Was their complaint, as reported, that the field workers had encouraged Aboriginals to enrol for the State election? If not, what was the complaint? I also ask the Minister whether he has noted the remarks of Professor Hollows, quoted in today's Age, to the effect that 'they are the best two field workers we have ever had'; that they 'have been too busy working their arses off to help save sight to have time to get into politics' and 'that the team could not function efficiently without the two men'. I ask finally whether the Minister has discussed the issue with Professor Hollows to whom, on earlier occasions, he has very properly paid the highest tributes?

Mr HUNT - I have not received any specific complaints. The complaint to which the honourable gentleman referred was seen by me for the first tune in the Press this morning. The broad complaint that has come to my notice is that the people involved with the program are unacceptable to Queensland authorities because they are political activists and are unacceptable when an election campaign is being conducted. The Royal Australian College of Ophthalmologists does not wish to become embroiled in a political situation. The complaint is a general one and I have not had the opportunity of discussing the matter with Professor Hollows. I would like to discuss it with him ultimately. He has been out of contact because he has been operating on Thursday Island. I have a very high regard for the work that he has done. I do not want to detract in any way from his work or the work of the Royal College. If the Leader of the Opposition is agreeable I shall seek to have incorporated in Hansard the Press statement that was cleared by the Royal College and me.

Mr E G Whitlam (WERRIWA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The one you issued last night?

Mr HUNT - Yes. I seek leave to have that statement incorporated in Hansard.

Mr SPEAKER -Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.

The statement read as follows-


National Trachoma and Eye Health Program

The Minister for Health, Mr Ralph Hunt, has advised the Royal Australian College of Ophthalmologists that some employees of the field teams of the National Trachoma and Eye Health Program ( at present working in Queensland ) are unacceptable to Queensland authorities.

Because of the importance of this medical program obtaining complete co-operation from both Commonwealth and State Governments the College has accepted the advice of the Federal Government that the screening and diagnosis program be deferred. Accordingly, the field team workers are to cease work from Wednesday, 9 November.

The field Director, Professor Fred Hollows, is to discuss the timing of resumption of the Program with the Executive Committee of the College.

Last week the College President, Dr James Rogers of Hobart, went to Thursday Island to explore alternatives to deferring the Program with Professor Hollows. However, Professor Hollows considered that the field teams could not function efficiently with other than the present arrangements.

The trachoma program is conducted by the Royal Australian College or Ophthalmologists and is funded by the Commonwealth Government. The Commonwealth Government has responsibility for obtaining the co-operation of the State authorities.

So far, there have been excellent results from the Program and the Government is most grateful to the Royal Australian College of Ophthalmologists for their efforts and for the very good work done by Professor Hollows.

The Minister and the College consider that this important Program, which to the present has examined more than 60,000 persons, must not be jeopardised in this way and that a delay of one month in completion of the Program will allay any concern.

Meantime, the on-going aspects of the Program will continue: mass treatment for trachoma is being arranged for some 9,000 persons in the Pilbara and Kimberley regions of Western Australia, and surgery is continuing in Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory.

Canberra, 7 November 1977

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