Address to Parliamentary Launch of Australasian Tuberculosis Forum - World TB Day

  • Speech, E&OE
23 March 2015

Good evening ladies and gentlemen. I'm particularly pleased to be here this evening with our host Senator Dean Smith from my State of Western Australia. I acknowledge the presence of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition Tanya Plibersek and so many of my Parliamentary colleagues who are here this evening and guests all, welcome to Parliament House.

I am particularly pleased to have this opportunity to launch the Australasian Tuberculosis Forum. Tuberculosis is a scourge in our region and it is somewhat ironic that Australia has one of the lowest rates of tuberculosis in the world, yet nations nearby, our nearest and dearest neighbours can be ravaged by this disease. The Indo-Pacific, our immediate neighbourhood, in fact accounts for about half the world's cases of tuberculosis and now that we are faced with multi-drug resistant strains of tuberculosis the challenge is even greater.

There is not just a disease impact. There can be a devastating economic and social toll from tuberculosis and we are most certainly seeing that in our region. I am a very dear friend of Papua New Guinea, yet it grieves me to see the levels of drug-resistant TB, malaria, HIV in our near neighbour.

The TB Alliance has estimated that tuberculosis in fact robs the world's poorest of somewhere between one and three trillion dollars over a ten year period, just as a result of the impact of tuberculosis. If you put it in that context TB is most certainly a threat to global health security and most certainly regional health security. We have learned from the Ebola outbreak that this comes about because of poor health systems and we need to ensure that the infrastructure, the support for health systems is there to deal with outbreaks of this kind. Indeed, the Ebola outbreak showed us that not only do we need good health systems in country, but we need very strong international cooperation to respond to an outbreak when it occurs. But TB of course is more insidious, slower to impact than something like Ebola so the challenge is even greater.

We are focussed as a Government on getting better health outcomes for our region. Our aid program is unapologetically focussed on our region, the Indian Ocean/Asia-Pacific where we believe we have primary responsibility to support developing countries in our region and this year about $700m of our aid budget will go on health programs, such is the importance we attach to ensuring we get better health outcomes from our aid dollar.

Our commitment to these diseases, TB, malaria, HIV is quite clear. We have invested $200 million dollars in the Global Fund between 2014 and 2016 for the extraordinary work that the Global Fund does in the area of TB, malaria and HIV.

We have also added to our already significant aid budget to PNG an additional $15 million to help PNG in its response to tuberculosis, particularly in the southern part of the nation and we are seeing an increasing number of TB cases present in hospitals in northern Australia. It is a security issue for Australia, it is a security issue for PNG.

I think what is important in looking at an issue like TB is to bring innovative and creative approaches to how we tackle the problem and today I was particularly proud to be able to launch our latest step in our new aid paradigm and that is the innovationXchange.

This is a significant initiative by the Australian Government to bring together some of the best and brightest thinkers across the world to come up with new ideas, creative ideas, turn the aid programs on their head, to come up with better ways of getting better outcomes. We can't continue to invest in the same way, getting the same outcomes and not seeing any improvement. So the innovationXchange is an opportunity for the best and brightest from across the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, across the public sector, across the private sector, to come together to focus on seemingly intractable aid problems and come up of new ways of tackling them. Incubate ideas, take some risks, manage the risk but then when we work out what works, scale it up and roll it out across the region.

We have an International Advisory Committee made up of such luminaries as Michael Bloomberg, Ryan Stokes, Bjorn Lomborg, Sam Mostyn, people from PNG, from India, from Indonesia, a really exciting group of innovative, creative thinkers who are prepared to give their time and effort and energy to helping the Australian Government ensure that our aid program is far more responsive, far more effective, far more efficient and gives value for every dollar that is spent.

One of our first projects, that we announced today, is particularly exciting. It is a $US100 million project, with a partnership between the Australian Government and Bloomberg Philanthropies (and this is the kind of leverage I like) Bloomberg Philanthropies are putting in US$85 million, the Australian Government is putting in US$15 million and that kind of leverage with the private sector and NGOs and organisations like Bloomberg Philanthropies is so important to us.

What this partnership will do is gather the data that is so necessary for us to make evidence based policy decisions on health. We don't know the causes of death around the world, we don't know the major causes of death, we don't have so much information that would otherwise lead to evidence-based policies so in this new partnership – 'Data for Health' we will be focussing on 20 countries and using the latest and greatest and newest technologies, gather the kind of data that governments need in order to have better informed public policy in the area of health.

I'm really excited about the 'Data for Health' project but we have other ideas, other projects that we will be rolling out through the innovationXchange with the advice of this esteemed group of international creative thinkers.

I am very pleased tonight to announce that the Australian Government will provide additional funding in the area of tuberculosis - its treatment and research and diagnostic testing. We are providing a further $30 million through a Product Development Partnership. This will be over three years - $10 million for the TB Alliance for its diagnostic work, its focus on bringing new drugs to market. $10 million for the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics, which as the name suggests, is to ensure that we can get better diagnostic testing for TB and then $10 million for Medicines for Malaria Ventures, this interaction between malaria, TB and other diseases. So with this $30 million in additional funding I hope that we can make a significant difference to the testing and treatment of people with TB. The drug-resistant strains are challenging but by investing in the products, in new drugs, bringing new drugs to market we have the opportunity to challenge the inevitability, as it appears now, of drug–resistant strains.

We must not give up in our efforts to stamp out TB. We must not give up in our efforts to stamp out malaria, HIV. The combinations can be deadly and we have to ensure that the dollars we spend go to the most needy, the money that we invest in this has the appropriate outcomes so I can assure you of the Australian Government's commitment to ridding our region of tuberculosis which is currently such a scourge.

So Dean, congratulations to you for being involved in this at the Parliamentary level. I know that this group has extraordinary support across the Parliament and I look forward to working closely with you as we tackle some of the great challenges of our time.

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