Australia To Provide $100m For APEC Bird Flu Measures

Australia is to provide $100 million for initiatives to combat the threat of pandemics, including avian influenza.

The announcement of the aid came from the Prime Minister, John Howard, at the Australia Pacific Economic Co-Operation forum (APEC) in Busan, South Korea.

Text of a media release from the Prime Minister, John Howard.

APEC 2005: AVIAN AND PANDEMIC INFLUENZA

I am pleased to announce Australian support for initiatives to combat avian and pandemic influenza and to further liberalise trade and investment.

Australia has played a leading role in developing a coordinated regional response to avian and pandemic influenza. In recognition of the threat, APEC leaders have made an unequivocal commitment to transparency and regional cooperation to prepare for a possible influenza pandemic.

Australia will provide $100 million over four years for initiatives to combat the threat of pandemics and other emerging infectious diseases within the region.

Of this package, $90 million will be spent on bilateral assistance to enhance preparedness in regional economies and to support the work of multilateral institutions, such as the World Health Organisation.

A further $10 million will be used for specific APEC activities on avian influenza. In particular, Australia will provide $4 million funding and considerable logistical support to coordinate a simulation exercise in 2006 to test our region’s preparedness and response mechanisms for a human-to-human outbreak; and to support the development of a register of experts who have specialist skills in human and animal health and disaster response from across the APEC region. Mr Downer announced the remaining $6 million as support for APEC capacity building earlier this week at the APEC Ministerial Meeting.

In the event of an outbreak, these experts could be called together to respond rapidly, at the request of the affected economy and in support of multilateral agencies such as the World Health Organisation.

This significant package of assistance is in addition to the $41 million Australia has already committed since 2003 to combat avian influenza and other infectious diseases, including $15.5 million for Indonesia, $8 million for Vietnam and $3 million for Pacific states.

Australia also welcomed APEC’s call for all WTO members to demonstrate political leadership and make concerted efforts, particularly on agriculture, to deliver an ambitious conclusion to the WTO Doha Round in 2006.

I was also pleased APEC leaders agreed to refocus efforts on concerns of the business community by tackling behind-the-border barriers to business activity, such as excess regulation and compliance costs. Ongoing work to address business concerns will be a high priority for Australia in our host year in 2007.

Australia has also played a leading role in developing the Regional Movement Alert List which tracks lost and stolen passports. Australia and the United States undertook a successful pilot of the system this year and encouraged other APEC economies to consider joining the initiative in 2006.

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Transcript of the press conference given by the Prime Minister, John Howard, at the Grand Hotel, Busan, South Korea.

PRIME MINISTER:

Ladies and gentlemen, a few days ago when he was here the Foreign Minister announced an Australian contribution of $6 million to the APEC capacity building fund to deal with potential outbreaks of Avian flu and other pandemics. I’ll be announcing to the meeting today a total contribution by Australia of $100 million over a four year period to assist countries in the APEC region to respond in different ways to outbreaks or potential outbreaks or threats of outbreaks of avian flu or other infectious diseases. There will be a number of elements to this contribution of $100 million. Some $20 million will be paid to international agencies such as the World Health Organisation for work in the APEC region. The thrust of the assistance is to help improve the public health capacities of individual countries in the region. This is an area where Australia has a strong capacity, it has plenty of expertise, and we believe not only the provision of the $100 million over the four year period but also the expertise that Australia’s experience and Australia’s public health capacity brings to the issue will be very welcome.

The region greatly appreciated the convening of the health officials meeting in Brisbane, which was chaired by the Deputy Secretary of DFAT, Mr Doug Chester. That was a very warmly supported Australian initiative. And I’m sure this announcement today will be seen by our APEC friends as another illustration of Australia’s determination to bring its expertise and, without exaggerating things, its sophistication in public health matters to this particular challenge that the region has.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, you spoke yesterday about the need for countries not to hide any information. Will part of this package involve any commitment from countries in this region to make information regularly available…

PRIME MINISTER:

It’ll be understood that part of it is to encourage a culture of sharing information, sharing challenges, sharing experiences.

JOURNALIST:

Will there be actually Australian doctors or medical specialists made available?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well that will depend as each individual element of the package unfolds. I don’t want to rule that out. But the greatest thing we can do is to help them build their own capacity, to help countries in the region build their own capacity. Capacity building is a tremendously important thing in dealing with these public health challenges. It’s a much easier thing for a country such as Australia or the United States or Japan that has a very high per capita GDP and has a very well developed public health system, but even those systems can be put under enormous strain, in exceptional circumstances. It’s a lot more difficult for countries that are less developed and plainly we want to be a good neighbour and we want to help build their capacity. Now if in the course of doing that doctors and other health officials can be part of the process well I’m sure that will happen.

JOURNALIST:

Will that money be spread to nations which have already had bird flu deaths?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don’t want to pre-empt how it might be done. Our AusAid and Health Department people will give us some advice on that.

JOURNALIST:

…today, what will you be your message to countries like China that have had outbreaks of the disease in the past and have had…

PRIME MINISTER:

I won’t be giving any public lectures, I’ll simply be encouraging everybody, as I have already done so, to share information and share experiences.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, will this money come from the recently expanded global aid budget?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it’ll come from the Budget. I don’t think the recipients of it will mind the line item in the Australian Budget. They’ll be very happy to have it. But it’ll come from the Budget.

JOURNALIST:

Is it new money?

PRIME MINISTER:

Of course it’s new money.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, you’ve raised concerns in the past about aid and accountability. How will you ensure that this money is spent by all countries in the way it’s intended?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well that will be governed by the conditions that we apply to each piece of assistance. We will see to it that there are mechanisms that ensure that that occurs.

JOURNALIST:

How dangerous is the threat of bird flu. What sort of, has the Government received any…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the health organisations around the world have rated it one in 10 and I don’t think I have the technical wherewithal to challenge that assessment. I think we should regard it as a lot more serious than it’s been in the past, but I don’t think we should be unduly alarmed. I think Australia, because of its very well developed and high quality health system, you’ve heard me before on the subject about the relative strength of our health system, for all the criticism that is made domestically we have a remarkably good health system and we have a very good record of dealing effectively with public health issues. Australia, for example, lifted in a very short number of years the immunisation rate for children which had fallen to an alarmingly low level. The success in the 1980s of our HIV/AIDS campaign, the success of our anti-smoking campaigns, the success many, many years earlier of our tuberculous campaigns, all of them are redolent of a country which is very good at dealing with public health issues and we want to share some of that experience and some of that expertise with other countries.

JOURNALIST:

Would Australia be particularly vulnerable because we’re an open economy and we’ve got…

PRIME MINISTER:

I don’t think we’re as vulnerable as other countries because of the way in which this, in particular bird flu, can be carried. I mean the interaction of humans with birds that might carry this is far different in Australia than it is in other countries in the region. So in that sense I think we are less vulnerable rather than more vulnerable.

JOURNALIST:

The balance of that $100 million, aside from the $20 million that will go to the World Health Organisation, what will that money be spent on?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well there’ll be individual programmes that we will work out with individual countries in order to help them build, and the best way I can describe it generically is to build their public health capacities. Now that will take all sorts of different forms. This is in addition, of course, to money that I’ve already announced, programmes that have already been announced which I think amount to some $60-70 million that we’ve already committed to.

JOURNALIST:

What countries which will need the money more than others….

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, well I’m not in a position to say today what they are, what those countries are. Clearly some will need more help than others. Clearly a country like Japan, which is part of APEC, or the United States is not really in need of assistance of this type. But there are other countries that are. But I’m not going to try and nominate them, we need to take advice on that, but we’re laying down some principles. I’ll be putting out a statement later on this morning, soon in fact, to explain it but I thought as I was going to be tied up and you have deadlines. Now I can take one more question then I’ve got to go.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, Australian model Michelle Leslie has been convicted of a drug offence in Bali but I believe released today. Does she become another symbol of why young Australians should think more than twice about having anything to do with drugs in Asia?

PRIME MINISTER:

Anybody who is convicted of an offence, and obviously she will feel a sense of relief at the outcome, and her family will, beyond that I don’t intend to comment, this is a matter for the Indonesian courts. But I can only say what I’ve said before, that there are warnings aplenty, far grimmer than her fate, of why Australians of any age should not take drugs into Asia. I mean I would encourage them not to take drugs full stop without compromise. Anybody who thinks they can get away with it is just taking leave of their senses and the fate of Van Nguyen, the fate of others, is a very grim reminder. And you cannot expect to violate the laws of other countries and then get some kind of special treatment because you’re an Australian. It doesn’t work that way. Once people leave our country they leave the embrace of Australian law. In any event Australian law does not lightly treat people
who use drugs or carry drugs, and neither it should.

Thank you.