I would like to thank the member for Fremantle for bringing this motion into the House and having such an important issue debated in this place. I would also like to acknowledge the fact that the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, at the Rotary conference in Sydney a couple of weeks ago, committed Australia to another $100 million over five years towards the eradication of polio. Hopefully, in another five years’ time we may see what was considered an unachievable aim-or certainly a very adventurous aim when Sir Clem Renouf started on his campaign-being realised.
I am a patron of Polio Australia. So I am very pleased to be here today. Maybe towards the end of my comments I might make some mention about what is happening in Australia with polio. I would also like to acknowledge the work that is done by Michael Sheldrick. I first met him probably 18 months ago. He is a very passionate campaigner for polio. Through Michael Sheldrick, I met the 2013 Young Australian of the Year, Akram Azimi. Last year, Akram spent three days in my electorate. We visited about six schools and I think about the same number of Rotary meetings, where Akram told his story about polio. It was very important, because Rotary has played such a pivotal role in this, for Rotarians to speak with Akram about his experiences. But also I wanted the school students to meet Akram as someone who is a refugee from Afghanistan and to understand that quite often the things that are debated in the media in black and white are not so black and white when you get to meet someone like Akram Azimi.
Akram was carried out of Afghanistan as a young child. Akram, his brother and his parents spent seven years in a refugee camp in Pakistan. While he was in Pakistan he witnessed children begging in the streets-children who were horribly deformed from the effects of polio. He clearly remembers attending a clinic with his mother and having the drops of vaccine placed on his tongue and not fully understanding at the time the significance of that. He realises in hindsight that it was probably those two drops of vaccine that, if not saved his life, certainly altered the course of his life. If it were not for the will of his mother and the vaccine that was made available from organisations around the country-possibly even Rotary-he may have suffered the same fate as those children he saw around him and been committed to a life of begging in the streets. Upon his settlement in Australia and then ultimately upon adulthood, Akram became a member of Rotary-I think he might even be a Paul Harris Fellow in Rotary-and continues that message about the importance of doing this last bit.
The member for Fremantle mentioned the three major countries that are still to go. These are break-out countries, where polio is still going around. It highlights the fact that in Australia, because we do have people coming and going to this country, we must maintain our vigilance in vaccinating our own children. One of the things I can remember is, as a boy at Warialda public school, lining up with the entire school and having that vaccination–I can even remember the taste of it surprisingly enough-back in the mid-sixties when we had a nationwide campaign. I can also remember children at that school a little bit older than me who had suffered from polio. We are at the cusp, but we have got some way to go.
I would just like to finish by mentioning the work that is done by Polio Australia. It is a little bit off the topic but related somewhat. Many of the people who were youngsters in the forties, fifties and sixties and who may have had a slight touch of polio are, in their later stage of life, really being stung with the late onset effects of polio. We need to recognise that it is still a very important syndrome. People are suffering from it, and we need to raise the awareness that, while polio in Australia is eradicated, people are still suffering from its effects.