PNG nationals stream through 'colander' Qld border for care

Health Minister Lawrence Springborg
Health Minister Lawrence Springborg john mccutcheon

QUEENSLAND'S northern border is a "spaghetti colander" with strings of Papua New Guinea nationals pouring in and leaving behind a $13 million-a-year health bill, Health Minister Lawrence Springborg has claimed.

He said the Federal Government was "fully aware" more than 1000 Papua New Guinea nationals freely crossed the Queensland border each year to access health services - often for tuberculosis - without a passport or visa requirements.

But Mr Springborg said it had offered to compensate for the problem with just $19 million over four years which was almost $10 million a year short of "what we need to adequately treat and adequately those patients".

In a letter to Mr Springborg dated June 28 this year, Federal Health Minister Tanya Pelbersek said she recognised Queensland would "only receive $5.2 million to offset the estimated $13 million it will have cost Queensland to provide health services to PNG nationals".

Trying to link the problem to one of the biggest federal election issues, Mr Springborg said Prime Minister Kevin Rudd knew the Queensland-PNG border was porous and open to people smugglers to illegally traffic humans through a different border.

"All you need to do in PNG is jump on a canoe, go across to Saibai or Boigu Islands and then you're in Australia territory," he said.

"Then you're only two boat rides away and a taxi ride to western Sydney."

Returning to the funding issue, Mr Springborg said one woman's treatment to a multi-drug resistant strain of tuberculosis had cost $1.5 million.

He said 977 PNG nationals presented to a Torres Strait health clinic and 195 to Queensland hospitals in 2011-12.

Mr Springborg said his government spent an estimated $13 million in the past financial year providing health services to more than 1000 who had crossed the border.

The Queensland Government shut down island clinics treating the problem last year and confirmed in February they would not reopen them.

When asked about that decision, Mr Springborg claimed the World Health Organisation had suggested the government close them.

He said those clinics could not properly treat the PNG nationals who would not take their medication properly and would share the drugs with their families.

Mr Springborg said this had led to growth in multi-drug resistant tuberculosis strains and there were now plans to "try to treat them in their homeland".

"That's why on advice they were closed," he said.

Mr Springborg said the $18 million was not enough and he wanted to sit down with the Federal Government to deal "properly" with the problem

"We need to hammer out the real cost and how much money we should be reimbursed," he said.

Topics:  health care health costs lawrence springborg png

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