Speech to Australian TB Caucus World Tuberculosis Day Breakfast, Canberra

  • Speech, check against delivery

Good morning.

I acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land on which we meet, the Ngunnawal people, and pay my respects to their Elders past and present.

I’d like to thank Results International (Australia), for playing a Secretariat function to the Australian TB Caucus, and for helping organise this breakfast.

I thank my parliamentary colleague, Kate Thwaites, for inviting me today, and for your leadership as one of the two co-chairs of the Caucus.

And I’d also like to acknowledge Warren Entsch, the other co-chair, for his leadership too.

Warren’s unable to be here today and thanks to Michelle Landry for stepping in to represent Warren.

Warren’s been a supporter of this cause for as long as I can remember.

In 2016, Warren and Matt Thistlewaite, helped launch the Australian TB Caucus as a Parliamentary Friendship Group.

And I’m proud to see, seven years on, support for this issue across politics remains as strong as ever.

I can see that just by looking around the room.

So, I want to thank you all, my parliamentary colleagues, those from advocacy groups and NGOs, and the members of the community, for attending.

I joined this Caucus in 2019.

That year, the previous government pledged $242 million to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

It was a ten percent increase on Australia’s previous commitment in 2016.

Last year, the Albanese Government pledged $266 million to the Global Fund.

A further ten percent increase on Australia’s 2019 pledge.

The bipartisanship on this issue is real.

And bipartisanship is what’s needed, now more than ever.

Thankfully, TB is not a disease is that is highly prevalent in Australia.

But it is a huge challenge for some of our closest neighbours.

Sixty percent of the global TB burden falls on our region, the Indo-Pacific.

So, as a steadfast partner for our region, we have a duty to act and help support the health needs of our neighbours.

Before COVID, the world was making good progress eliminating TB.

From 2005 to 2019, the estimated number of deaths from TB fell, and continued to fall, year on year.

But, of course, the pandemic hit.

It knocked everything off course.

It’s hard to diagnose and treat TB when your entire health sector is dealing with a global pandemic.

So, for the first time in over a decade, tuberculosis deaths increased.

And we’ve been playing catch-up ever since.

We all know that tuberculosis is a cruel, vicious killer.

It preys on the poor.

It robs its victims of their most productive years.

But it is curable. And it is preventable.

We have the technology to diagnose it.

We have drugs to treat it.

And we know what public health strategies are needed to fight it.

But you all know this.

I’m preaching to the choir here.

There are people in this room who’ve spent their lives working on this disease.

You don’t need me to tell you that TB is the world’s second deadliest infectious disease, after COVID.

You don’t need me to explain the very real danger posed by drug resistant TB.  

I know that it’s the kind of nightmare that keeps some of you up at night.

You’re the experts, the doctors, the public health gurus, the international development specialists.

Today is about linking your know-how with the ability of politics and Government to shine a spotlight on a pressing problem.

It’s about amplifying our efforts to get things done.

So, let me tell you about what this Government has done, and what we’ve got plans to do:

As I mentioned, last year we made a record pledge to the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

$266 million over three years to the seventh replenishment of the Global Fund – our highest yet.

And last month, the Foreign Minister and I announced the Partnerships for a Healthy Region initiative.

Over the next five years, Australia will invest in high-quality health programs in the Pacific and Southeast Asia to help improve health outcomes across the region.

In doing so, we are investing in our region’s security, prosperity and stability.

But we can’t do this alone.

Just as we did with COVID, we’ll be working hard with our partner health ministries, with communities, with multilateral organisations, and with local and global NGOs.

And as always, we’ll be in listening mode.

Our Partnerships for a Healthy Region initiative will respond to our partners’ priorities, to help meet their genuine needs - to save lives, support communities, and improve the health outcomes of our region.

For example, Australia is proud to be a champion in the fight against TB in Kiribati.

Just last month Foreign Minister Senator Penny Wong opened a new tuberculosis ward there, built with Australian Government funding.

And we’re no fair-weather friend: we’ve been a long-term partner in Kiribati for years, supporting the Ministry of Health since TB was declared an epidemic in 2006.

Under the Kiribati-Australia Health Sector Support Program, we’ve been listening to the needs of our Ministry of Health partners - and working closely with them on their priorities: to prevent and manage high-burden infectious diseases such as leprosy, hepatitis B and TB.

And we’ve got similar major programs across the Pacific, like the Solomon Islands Health Sector Support Program Phase 3 and the PNG-Australia Transition to Health Program.

Both of these programs are working intricately with our partner governments strengthen health system abilities to respond to highest priority diseases, including TB.

We’re also supporting partners in Southeast Asia.

In Timor-Leste, the Australian Government has partnered up with the Timorese Government and the Menzies School of Health Research on an historic health initiative. 

There, we’re helping conduct a national TB prevalence survey to determine the true extent of TB in the community.

Last November, an Australian Medical Assistance Team of radiographers and nurses worked alongside Timorese doctors and officials to visit all 13 municipalities of Timor-Leste.

This is the largest research project targeting TB that has ever been run in Timor-Leste.

And we have plans to work with partners in Cambodia too, to conduct a similar national prevalence survey.

These are just a few examples of what Government is doing, right across the Indo-Pacific.

And under the new Partnerships for a Healthy Region initiative, we plan to do a lot more.

Our projects will address infectious disease threats, help control non‑communicable diseases, promote sexual and reproductive health and rights, and build resilient health systems in the Indo-Pacific.

We will continue to support efforts to diagnose and treat endemic diseases with a high burden in our region, particularly HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. 

And we invite you to join us, to deliver this important initiative because our programs are nothing without our partners:

  • Partner governments
  • Research and development organisations
  • Our NGO and civil society partners and
  • Our multilateral organisation partners, just to name a few. 

We know that strong, collaborative partnerships get things done.

The name of our new initiative says it all: Partnerships for a Healthy Region.

And the Government has issued a call for proposals under this new initiative.

You can find more information on the DFAT website if you’re interested.

We’d like to hear your ideas on how we tackle our region’s health priorities, including TB – because we know that it is curable, and it is preventable.

So, this World TB Day, I want you to know, this Government is absolutely committed to working with you, with our partners, with local communities, and with our region, to eliminate tuberculosis.

Thank you.

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