Mr ENTSCH (Leichhardt-Chief Opposition Whip) (19:38): I rise tonight to acknowledge World Tuberculosis Day, this Sunday, 24 March. It is with great sadness that I highlight the case of Catherina Abraham, a 20-year-old girl from Daru Island who last year made a desperate journey to Australia to seek treatment for this killer disease. She had originally gone to Saibai clinic and was turned away. She went back to Daru and eventually made her way to Cairns. Catherina caught extensively drug resistant tuberculosis from her best friend, who died. She made the decision to travel to Port Moresby and then to Cairns and presented herself at Cairns Base Hospital last May. It was thought that she could spend two years in isolation, but on 7 March she died. What a waste of a life-and, unfortunately, it was totally preventable.
If, as AusAID and the Australian government keep saying, the situation in Daru is getting much better, why would Catherina, a very sick young girl, travel to Port Moresby and then to Cairns, going straight past the Daru hospital, to live in isolation for two years when she knew she could get better treatment at the hospital on her home island of Daru? It just does not add up.
Right now, the Chair of the Treaty Village Association, Mr Kebi Salee, is in hospital along with his wife, gravely ill with multi-drug resistant tuberculosis. The other day I asked the acting chair, Mr Anton Narua, how Mr Salee was travelling and he said to me that he did not know because he was frightened to visit the hospital in case he ended up with this disease.
Meanwhile, a meeting was held between officials from AusAID, the Department of Health and Aging, Queensland Health, the Western Province health office and others on Daru last month. But, unfortunately, none of the elected leaders from the Treaty Village Association were invited to attend or to contribute. When I spoke to Anton Narua, the acting chair, about this later on, the language that he used was far too blunt to repeat in this place, but I can assure you he was not at all impressed. Unfortunately, this is the treatment that these people have been getting now for a long time. Respiratory specialist Dr Steve Vincent, in a Courier Mail article of 15 March, said that Catherina’s death:
… is not unexpected given the fallout of this killer, incurable disease … Despite all the first-world medical treatment, it shows how difficult it is to control … doctors may soon face the ethical dilemma where it might be ‘more humane not to treat them and let them die’.
A sobering fact is that the foreign aid spent by the Australian government to United Nations agencies has trebled over the last five years from $97 million in 2006-07 to $296.3 million in 2010-11. At the same time, AusAID is currently investigating 178 active allegations of fraud within the program. In PNG, which is the largest recipient of Australian aid money, the administration of funding must be either grossly incompetent or blatantly corrupt.
To address this health crisis in the Western Province and to stop people like Catherina from coming to Australian hospitals, we do not really need any additional money. This was made quite clear in a private member’s motion which was passed on the voices on 14 February. The government had ample opportunity to vote against the motion or to speak against components of it, but they chose not to.
We now ask some very serious questions, such as: when is the government going to reopen the Saibai and Boigu clinics in the Torres Strait to act as support bases to assist those people in the Western Province? Will there be a review of AusAID’s South Fly District TB management program? When will that take place? When is the government going to start talking to the South Fly leaders with regard to this issue?
I have written to both the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister for Health to seek some answers. Unfortunately, I have been told that, even though it was passed in this place, the motion is non-binding. What is the point of going through all this work and raising the hopes of so many desperate people if the government can turn around and say, ‘It really doesn’t matter; we’re not bound to do anything anyway’?
I am certainly determined that this motion will form the basis of our policy on this side of the parliament on tuberculosis and the serious threat that we are faced with in the Torres Strait Protected Zone. We will certainly be taking this policy to the election on 14 September.
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