Water Week

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Bill provides for national system of public health surveillance; greater cooperation between governments; notifiable disease list

Posted by waterweek on 12 October 2007

Speaking on 20 September 2007 in the Commonwealth House of Representatives on the National Health Security Bill 2007, a bill to give effect to the International Health Regulations 2005, Nicola Roxon said it was a substantial bill with several constituent parts.

National system of public health surveillance to be provided: Roxon first discussed Part 2 of the bill, which sought to provide a national system of public health surveillance to enhance the capacity of the Commonwealth, the states and the territories to identify and respond to public health events of national significance, including the occurrence of certain communicable diseases, certain releases of chemical, biological or radiological agents, the occurrence of public health risks or the occurrence of overseas mass casualties. As such, she said the bill provided a legislative underpinning for a range of cooperative arrangements that had developed over the past decade between the Commonwealth, state and territory governments and their agencies.

Sharing of information made possible: Roxon said Part 2 also provided for the sharing of information with the World Health Organisation and with countries affected by an event relating to public health or an overseas mass casualty. Roxon said: “By way of background: the government in the 2004-05 budget allocated $1.6 million over three years to develop this national health security legislation. According to the minister’s second reading speech, the government has since then worked cooperatively with all relevant organisations, states and territories to develop legislative foundations for the exchange of health information between jurisdictions. This process coincided with Australia agreeing to adopt the International Health Regulations in May 2005. The International Health Regulations are an international agreement for the control of the worldwide spread of disease. The regulations were originally adopted in 1969 as a means to control six serious infectious, quarantinable diseases—namely, cholera, plague, yellow fever, smallpox, relapsing fever and typhus. In the light of significant increases in international travel and trade, and the emergence of new international disease threats such as SARS—severe acute respiratory syndrome—and avian influenza, as well as the reemergence of old ones in recent years, the regulations were substantially revised in 2005.”

Development of security agreement: Roxon said Part 2, division 2 provided for the development of a national health security agreement between the Commonwealth, state, Australian Capital Territory, Northern Territory and Norfolk Island governments to support the operation of the bill. The bill established a national focal point which would provide a single contact point for liaison between responsible bodies within Australia in relation to public health events of national significance and would liaise with the WHO and with other countries in relation to events that might constitute public health emergencies of international concern.

National notifiable disease list to be established: Roxon said the bill also established a national notifiable disease list. Clause 10 of the bill provided that, after consultation with the Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer and each state and territory health minister, the minister must establish, by legislative instrument, a national notifiable disease list. The list might include any illness or medical condition that the minister considered a public health risk, which had been defined in the bill and was based upon the International Health Regulations. The minister could vary the list by legislative instrument after consultation with the Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer and each state and territory health minister.

Reference: Nicola Roxon, Member for Gellibrand, House of Representatives, Commonwealth, 20 September 2007.

Erisk Net, 7/10/2007

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