Lyme Disease

Mr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (11:38): I second the motion.

It is a pleasure to follow the member for Shortland. I know she has been a champion on this issue and I know, Mr Deputy Speaker Irons, that were you not in the chair you would probably take the opportunity to speak on this motion as well. As the chair of the House Standing Committee on Health, you were very agreeable to the proposition which was put before that committee—without giving anything improper away—of the committee holding a round table of experts and interested advocate patient groups into the existence of Lyme disease in Australia. I am pleased to say, as I am sure the member for Shortland said, that on 18 September in Parliament House we will be conducting such a round table. I think that is an important opportunity to shine a bit more light on what is going on here.

Lyme disease is an infection transmitted by the bite of ticks—we know that—particularly ticks which are carrying the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria. The effects of the infection can be long term and disabling unless they are treated and treated quickly, typically with a course of antibiotics. The name, incidentally, derives its name from the town in Connecticut where the disease was first discovered in 1975; members of the House might be interested to know that. It is also present in many other areas—temperate regions—across the globe, including in Europe, Canada and North Asia, where a wide variety of the Borreliabacteria exist. Several species of the Ixodes tickhave been distributed and have been discovered throughout these countries and in North America as well. We know that these particular types of tick also exist in Australia, and I will have more to say about such discoveries and the incidence of this disease in Australia.

As the member for Shortland has pointed out, there is some contention about whether the bacteria exist in a native form here in Australia. But what there is no contention about is whether the disease actually exists and whether there are people in Australia who have contracted the disease—absolutely, there is no contention about that. Indeed, the capacity for them to get the sort of clinical attention and treatment that they need is, in fact, being undermined by the lack of certainty within the medical and scientific community about the existence of these bacteria and the ticks which bear them, which then goes on to influence the most appropriate forms of clinical practice and the distribution of knowledge around the most appropriate forms of practice.

Critics and patient advocates argue that Borreliado exist here. They are very critical of what they call a flawed 20-year-old study which has pointed the other way. They say that there is also evidence to suggest that these ticks, which bear the bacteria, do exist here in Australia. Indeed, they gain some heart from a recent study which found the existence of a Borellia-type bacterium within a native tick which was extracted from an echidna, and they say that that points to unequivocal evidence that the bacteria are in existence here in Australia.

I turn now to government action to date. In 2012 there was a clinical advisory committee on Lyme disease, which was established to look at evidence around Lyme disease. It was asked to provide advice on the extent of the disease in Australia, best-practice diagnostic testing and the most appropriate forms of treatment. The CACLD first met in March 2013 and agreed on the need for further research; however, there were many different views on the committee, and the committee was, unfortunately, disbanded in July 2014. We do not know why it was disbanded. Indeed, the establishment of a health committee round table, getting together all of the people who have an interest with some of the members from that CACLD involved may shed some light on why this committee, which was charged by the federal government, was disbanded and on how we can take this issue forward.

In the time remaining to me, I would say that it behoves all of us, as parliamentarians, not to substitute our knowledge for that of the medical and scientific experts. But it also behoves us to shine a light on where we think there are gaps in our knowledge, and it is certainly true that the things that we focus on are also the things that the community and our scientists and our medical experts will focus on. I commend the motion to the House.

Ms Hall: Mr Deputy Speaker, I seek leave to make further contribution to this debate without closing it, and, in doing so, I acknowledge the Lions Association whose members are here in the gallery today.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Irons ): Is leave granted?

Mr Nikolic: Mr Deputy Speaker, given the member for Shortland's intense interest in this matter, which I respect, leave is granted.

An honourable member: I thank the government for allowing the mover to speak, with the speaker who was supposed to be here being absent. But I would like to personally thank the government whip here for allowing this member to move this motion again.

Ms Hall: I would like to give my personal thanks to the member for Bass, because Lyme disease is a disease that has impacted on the lives of many Australians.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: I now call the member for Shortland!

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