Senate debates

Tuesday, 4 December 2018


Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee; Report

7:15 pm

Photo of Alex GallacherAlex Gallacher (SA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I present the report of the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee on the use of antimalarial drugs in the Australian Defence Force together with the Hansard record of proceedings and documents presented to the committee, and I move:

That the Senate take note of the report.

As chair of the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee, I'm going to make some remarks. I know I'm on a fairly tight time constraint. It's fair to say that this has been a very complex and challenging inquiry. At the outset, I, along with the other committee members, would like to acknowledge and thank the veterans who shared their stories by appearing at public hearings and providing written submissions. I know that other senators on the committee would like to make some remarks, but that will have to be if the matter appears on the Notice Paper later on.

Suffice to say, it was a bipartisan effort, as most of these efforts are in this very contested space. There are real, visible, emotional and widely held and deeply felt issues and problems, which require careful evaluation and conclusions drawn from evidence taken. The committee, ably resourced by a very good effort as always from the secretariat, has made a number of recommendations to government which, I hope, will be considered carefully. They are bipartisan recommendations, as is quite often the case in these very emotional areas, in some respects, but the evidence has been drawn over a number of hearings. The submissions have been in some cases quite complex. None of the senators on the committee had any medical experience, yet we were faced with significant challenges in interpreting data and the like.

What we've really achieved, I think, is consensus on the way forward. I'm sure that we will not keep all of those who submitted to the committee happy, but the committee was unified in one purpose only. Where we saw people who were suffering as a result of their service, there ought to be a commensurate response from the Department of Veterans' Affairs, the Australian Defence Force and the medical practitioners in the area. If there were concerns about the complexity of the condition and the treatment that they were able to access, then that should be resolved. We attempted in this inquiry to bring all those streams together, and present some useful recommendations. Hopefully, the Minister for Veterans' Affairs will take those on board and conclude that there is, and has been, useful evidence taken; that genuine people have made very genuine efforts to get their story on the public record in cases where it was extremely emotional; that the committee without medical experience has relied on the medical evidence and the medical practitioners in this space; and that there are many individual sectors that have looked at this vexed issue of the use of the tafenoquine and mefloquine. I seek leave to table the speaking notes in respect of this important report and I commend the report to the Senate.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.