Mr ENTSCH (Leichhardt-Chief Opposition Whip) (20:17): This is an issue that is very close and dear to my heart. After a recent visit to Daru in the Western Province, I remain absolutely committed to raising the profile of this issue and getting some level of resolution to the dreadful situation in which we found ourselves in that area. I welcome the opportunity to speak here today.
The tuberculosis situation has deteriorated over the last decade at the same time as Australian aid funding has continued to increase. Papua New Guinea is now Australia’s largest recipient of aid money, receiving more than $490 million in the 2012-13 financial year, yet at Senate estimates last month it was revealed that only $5.8 million is spent on programs relating to tuberculosis. This is despite Papua New Guinea having the highest infection rate of tuberculosis in the world and having a 43 per cent increase in tuberculosis infection rate during the course of the last decade.
I appreciate that managing, distributing and ensuring that the funds are effectively used is not a simple job and there are language and cultural barriers, differences in systems, a lack of accountability-corruption is quite rife-and there are physical barriers such as distance and terrain and technological barriers such as a lack of communication in many areas of Papua New Guinea. But I am stumped as to why time and again this government continues to take advice from AusAID officials who do not accurately reflect the reality of what is happening in that region.
The government continues to feed money into World Vision, which, by their own admission, has no presence in the Western Province, with their closest presence being in a village called Tabugal, which is 470 kilometres up into the mountains adjoining Ok Tedi. Tabugal is actually a holiday destination for expats who live in the area and work in Ok Tedi. Access to those areas for treatment of tuberculosis is impossible for people living in the coastal areas of the Western Province.
The sea ambulance was bought by AusAID more recently at a cost to the Australian taxpayer of some $460,000 to get it operational. Village leaders of the 13 treaty villages on the Western Province facing the Australian coastline told me in no uncertain terms that they did not want the boat. They said it would not work, it had too deep a draft and it would not get into the waterways it was supposed to access. They were ignored by AusAID; they were told, ‘Let’s wait and see.’ They knew what the problem was going to be, and we understand that this boat has not visited these villages since June. In fact, there was a Four Corners program recently where they decided they should get operational, so they did a run around the harbour and then parked the boat. It is absolutely ridiculous.
They talk about this so-called hospital in Daru. I visited, and it is worse than a pigsty. It is disgusting. To suggest that this is something that is going to give people an opportunity to get well is an absolute nonsense, and a lot of the issues were highlighted in that Four Corners report. While the reporters were there and while the AusAID officials were surrounding them, they had masks, and they steered them into areas they wanted to show them but, as soon as they went back and visited the villages without the officials, we suddenly got a very different show and a very different situation.
Despite the millions that have been spent, you have only to visit the area to see that sufficient medical support and financial resources are not reaching the services on the ground. There is no question about it. Clearly, if the government is making decisions based on the advice of AusAID officials we need to look very closely at that advice and the agendas of those officials. It is not good enough that they are simply trying to tick boxes and present a front that everything is fine when the reality is that everything is falling down behind them.
A perfect example was the ABC Four Corners report, which visited the area to investigate the rise of antibiotic-resistant superbugs. They visited that hospital under the supervision of AusAID and contacted doctors. Masks were on, isolation wards were full-then an hour later they visited and there were no masks in sight and the isolation ward was empty. It is disgraceful.
There is a solution out there, and it comes in three parts. The leaders of the Treaty Village Association know the answers. They have contracted an organisation based in Cairns called the Reef and Rainforest Research Centre, and they have a very strong expertise in tropical research management and delivery. On the PNG side they are a registered corporation. Kebi Salee, from the village of Sigabadu, is the chair; Anton Narua in Daru is head of the anticorruption unit in the Western Province-yet we do not want to listen to these people even though they have a very good story to tell.
The Treaty Village Association has contracted the RRRC, funded by the PNG government to the tune of A$7.5 million, to set up a ranger station in those 13 villages. I have met with the minister here and offered the services of the RRRC to provide health workers in the 13 villages so that they can administer the drugs necessary to deal with these problems regarding drug-resistant tuberculosis. Unfortunately, the minister decided to continue to take the advice of these AusAID officials. The RRRC has been incredibly successful.
The second part of the solution is the YWAM ship that is based in Townsville. They have an incredible record and have done a wonderful job up there. They have the confidence of the Papua New Guinean people and they are able to move into areas up there and take people in. They have operating theatres full of volunteers and can access areas that AusAID vessels cannot go near. Again, the government does not want to listen to them.
The third part is to build a new hospital, and that can be done by accessing the $1.46 billion sitting in a trust fund in Singapore. It was supposed to be for the education and health of the people of the Western Province, and for sustainable development. It used to be run by Professor Ross Garnaut. We wonder why, instead of using money to build hospitals and other infrastructure, they are building things like mega wharfs and gas pipelines.
You have to wonder why, as a director of Lihir Gold or of Ok Tedi Mining, there is not a conflict there? It is the only place in the world, that I am aware of, where mining companies actually get their infrastructure built by funds that have been set up to help the local people. It is quite unbelievable, and we need to be looking at that area.
This hospital can be built. The Treaty Village Association should be involved in the building of it to Australian standards with quality accommodation for their staff. It can be mentored and guided through by Australian professionals and we can find a solution. We need to start looking at that fund to build this hospital. We need to review their administration of AusAID funding for the provision of the South Fly district tuberculosis management program. The funding should go into programs administered and managed in partnership with the local people who will benefit, not to international organisations who cannot demonstrate outcomes or to corrupt high- and mid-level officials who are buying houses in my area in Cairns.
I therefore call on the Australian government to work in partnership with the PNG government, the PNG Treaty Village Association and RRRC towards establishing long-term solutions. A key element that Labor must review is its priorities within the AusAID budget to enable full funding to be restored to Saibai and Boigu clinics in the Torres Strait to provide necessary support until such time as capacity has been established in 13 Torres Strait villages.
We already see one person die of tuberculosis every two hours in PNG. There is a young girl, unfortunately, in the Cairns Base Hospital, who will live in isolation for the next two years while she gets treatment for XDR-TB, which is extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis. Further, seven cases were discovered in Papua New Guinea last month including two in Daru. PNG minister for health, Michael Malabag, has already describe XDR-TB as, “A time bomb for PNG”, and I dread the day that the first case of totally drug-resistant tuberculosis is diagnosed. At that point, you are basically going to quarantine the village and let them die because the disease is so virulent it will spread and nothing can cure it.
All of this is happening in villages less than five kilometres from the Australian border. If we do not see any policy changes these people will continue to die unnecessarily, and this disease will stake a claim in Australia. I know that as a society we are better than this, and that is why I am urging this House to act now before it is too late.
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