Senate debates

Wednesday, 4 May 2016


Community Affairs References Committee; Report

6:51 pm

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I present the interim report of the Community Affairs References Committee on Lyme like illness in Australia together with the Hansard record of proceedings and documents presented to the committee.

Ordered that the report be printed.

I move:

That the Senate take note of this report.

I will make my comments extremely brief, because I am aware there is a lot of other business to get through in a very short space of time. This was a very important inquiry and we thought it was very important to table an interim report on the progress we have made. It is quite obvious that there is a lot more work to do on Lyme and Lyme like illness. It is very clear that there are thousands of people who are sick from some illness. Whether it is classical Lyme or a Lyme like illness it is very clear there are a number of people who are sick, and it is very clear that there is a disagreement on the cause of that. So it is very important that we get to the bottom of what is going on. We had over a thousand submissions. We had some very emotional submissions. It is very clear that this illness—whatever it is—is having a very significant impact on a number of Australians. The committee has made some recommendations and expressed some views. We could not reach significant conclusions, because there is further work to be done. We have recommended that the next parliament take up this inquiry again because we have only started scratching the surface on this work.

I would particularly like to thank the submitters to the inquiry so far and the witnesses that appeared at the inquiry, at quite considerable personal cost, to explain their particular symptoms. Some people have taken their lives as a result of this illness, so it is very clear that it does have a significant impact on people. There is still debate over what the cause of this illness is and there was evidence presented to the committee that the bacteria that causes this Lyme illness in Europe, America and Asia is the Borrelia species of bacteria. The evidence was that they have not been able to find that, although there is a bit of conflicting evidence there. There was very strong evidence around other pathogens associated with ticks and other vectors, such as fleas and leeches, which also need to be considered.

There is a limited amount of work going on. The Chief Medical Officer presented evidence, which we have in the committee report, that there is not Lyme disease in Australia, but then Dr Lum, as part of the Chief Medical Officer's office, said that there has not been enough work done on other pathogens. It is very clear that work needs to continue. We have highlighted a number of areas that we suggest a future community affairs committee—if it chooses to take this up, and we hope that it does—continue to look into.

I would also like to strongly thank our secretariat. They did an amazing job dealing with the range of submissions that we had and pulling this interim report together. I also commend Senator Madigan for bringing this issue to the chamber. I will sit down now and cede to him because I know that he wants to make some comments as well.

6:54 pm

Photo of John MadiganJohn Madigan (Victoria, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

This was a landmark inquiry and I was pleased to co-sponsor the motion that led to this inquiry with Senator Wang. The inquiry has received more than 1,200 submissions, many of them are extraordinary accounts of debilitation and courage and in some cases desperation and hopelessness. Lyme sufferers in Australia and their families are courageous people. In the face of life-destroying sickness and uncertainty, Lyme sufferers continue to wage a fight against inaction amongst the medical community and against ignorance and often scorn. I hold the people of the Lyme community, sufferers I have met and their families, in the highest esteem.

The time for a coordinated response by health authorities is now. The lives of thousands of Australians are at risk. I hope this is only the first step in addressing this astonishing injustice. I thank my fellow committee members and the secretariat for their work to date. I look forward to us going forward with this in the next parliament and addressing these people's concerns and getting justice for them. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.