Statutes Amendment (Public Health Incidents And Emergencies) Bill

02 Jun 2009 archivespeech

This speech is to indicate that the Liberal Party will support the second reading of the Statutes Amendment (Public Health Incidents And Emergencies) Bill but flag that the Liberal Party will have a considerable number of amendments when this bill is debated further.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (15:28): I rise as the Liberal Party's lead speaker on this bill. We on this side of the chamber are sceptical as to both the scope and timing of this bill. I would describe the timing of the introduction of this bill as fairly opportunistic. In the face of the potential fear of swine flu—

The Hon. C.V. Schaefer interjecting:

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: I am quite sure I do not have swine flu. People may expect some legislative response to deal with those matters. I have had a good opportunity to examine the second reading contributions from another place, which took place on 12 May—all in one day—which, given the circumstances, was not warranted. I understand that a number of these measures were discussed at departmental level for a matter of years in response to the avian flu.

Bringing them in under the guise of the sudden need for new measures is rather cynical on the part of this government. I would like to ask, on the record, for a formal response from the minister at some stage regarding what was the legislative response to the avian flu outbreak. I think we all recognise (particularly with the popularity of air travel) that capacity for the rapid spread of infectious and very serious diseases has escalated, and I will not recount the comments made by Dr Margaret Chan of the World Health Organisation which I think the minister quoted in his second reading explanation.

A number of members would also be familiar with the Emergency Management Act passed several years ago, and the government states that these measures are required to add to that and, therefore, link in with a state emergency plan. At a state level the four stages of strategies are: first, delay; second, contain and sustain; third, control with vaccine; and, fourth, recover. I was advised by the department that we are currently somewhere between the second and third stages, and I think we are all grateful that at the moment the number of infections is small, that it has not thus far led to serious cases of the flu—certainly not to any deaths—and that people have voluntarily cooperated with self-quarantine.

The commonwealth also has a role in terms of quarantine, and honourable members would be aware of the scanners that have been placed at airports. There is also some national health security legislation. To my mind, the crucial parts of the bill are contained in clause 9, which expands the powers of the state coordinator and authorised officers acting under the Emergency Management Act. I think it is fairly sensible to expand some of those powers to include directing persons who may potentially have an illness but who have not yet actually demonstrated signs of such illness. I believe that is well recognised, and an example was given of someone who may have been over the border at Mildura. However, I think we also recognise that, with so much international travel taking place, there may be threats from overseas that are not yet on our borders and that, with incubation periods during which people do not demonstrate any symptoms, they may still be a risk to others. This is not recognised under our current provisions.

Clause 6 increases the major emergencies period from one not exceeding 48 hours to 14 days, and disasters from 96 hours to 30 days. Our health spokesperson in another place expressed some concern that that may be excessive, but that remains to be seen. When these measures are actually in force it may be required, and I note from the minister's second reading explanation that it was very clear that such measures would be used only in the most extreme cases. However, we need to be careful that we do not just collapse and agree to any proposed measure without examining it carefully and deciding, on balance, whether or not it is worth having as a last resort.

Clause 8 refers to a new section 24A of the Emergency Management Act which would allow for the referral to Health (rather than by measures taken under the Emergency Management Act) of public health incidents and emergencies.

Clause 9, to which I referred briefly before, extends the powers of the state coordinator and authorised officers. I am advised that the first three—that is, new section 25(2) and paragraphs (ba) to (c)—were requested by SAPOL, and the others relate to those who are undiagnosed and, I note, includes a rather peculiar law-breaking provision in relation to medical supplies. The advice I received during a briefing was that, for those who are undiagnosed, it cannot be done at present within the Emergency Management Act, so my question would be whether, if this clause succeeds, this new provision would just be in the Emergency Management Act. I think it has been flagged that, in the Controlled Substances Act, we will certainly have amendments to this particular provision, which is clause 11 of the bill. I concur with my colleague in another place (the Hon. Vicki Chapman) that this language is too broad, so we will be moving amendments in relation to that to make it more specific.

There are a number of amendments to the Public and Environmental Health Act which adds clause 24 to the bill, a new Chief Medical Officer, and particular definitions for public health emergency and public health incident.

Clause 25 refers to emergency officers who would be appointed by the CE of the Department of Health. That particular issue has been raised as a concern. We had some possible examples provided to us by the government but, at this stage, I do not think we are satisfied that it is appropriate that these emergency officers be within Health. We believe that the powers of authorised officers are completely separate—that is, a police-type role rather than a health role. Those who are within our health system ought to be focused on their core business—that is, they should be delivering health services rather than policing incidents where people may be in some distress and may need to be controlled in a physical way.
With those remarks, I indicate that we will support the second reading but flag that we will have a considerable number of amendments when this bill is debated further.

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. J.M. Gazzola.