Wednesday, 9 November 2016
Questions without Notice
International Development Assistance
My question is to the Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Senator Fierravanti-Wells. Can the minister advise the Senate what the Australian government is doing to strengthen health security in the Pacific region?
I thank Senator Back for the question. Australia is the largest health donor in the Pacific.
Senator Kim Carr interjecting—
Senator Carr, if you kept quiet you might learn something. Just listen.
Senator Kim Carr interjecting—
Absolutely, Senator Carr—this is a very serious issue. But we had to wait till yesterday to get a question from the ALP on a very important area. Australia is the largest health donor in the Pacific. In 2015-16 we are providing $150 million for health, water and sanitation as well as basic nutrition. Australia's overseas development assistance supports Pacific countries to build strong health systems that are capable of detecting and responding to existing and emerging health threats such as TB in Papua New Guinea. We closely monitor the spread of infectious diseases in the Pacific and support the region to strengthen disease surveillance and response mechanisms. Papua New Guinea has the highest rate of TB infection and is in the global top 10, with an estimated 39,000 cases and 25,000 new infections each year. We have committed $60 million between 2011 and 2017 to improve prevention, detection and treatment of TB, and this is, most importantly, in the Western Province, which is close to the borders at the Torres Strait. Recent outbreaks of zika virus infection have been reported in the Pacific and, of course, mosquitoes do not respect borders—
Opposition senators interjecting—
Well, they don't—they don't respect borders! Therefore, it is very important that we ensure that zika virus is not imported into Australia from affected areas. Therefore, the local risk of transmission particularly in Central, Northern and South-West Queensland— (Time expired)
Thank you, Senator Back. Instability beyond our shores, including health challenges, affects our health services; our own economy and, in turn, our growth prospects; and, ultimately, our national interest. Some countries in our region are not as well prepared as they could be in managing emerging health threats and infectious diseases that cross borders very easily. As a responsible neighbour, we have an obligation to assist to help to protect our neighbours, which is, in turn, in our own interest to protect ourselves. Uncontrolled disease outbreaks can have large, long-term economic consequences such as suspension of trade and travel, and even small, uncontrolled outbreaks can have large effects, particularly in countries that rely on tourism. For example, the University of Melbourne looked at the large Ebola outbreak in the Asia-Pacific region, which indicates— (Time expired)
Thank you, Senator Back. Australians take around 10 million trips a year and they are travelling to an even wider range of places. There are more people over the age of 55 travelling, with the cruise market continuing to grow for all demographics. This includes high numbers of Australians travelling between Australia and the Pacific every year, including 350,000 visitors on cruise ships. Infectious disease outbreaks put these people at risk and make the importation of disease into Australia more likely. Outbreaks of illness or disease reduce economic activity by lowering worker productivity, and they impact on business environments for local and international investors. Therefore, it makes good sense for us to help our neighbours achieve better health security, because not only is it the right thing to do but it is in in our national interest to do so. It helps protect our population and therefore it is not just in our self-interest; it is actually an obligation on our part.