TRANSCRIPT - ABC Newsradio, Wednesday 5 November 2014

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SUBJECT/S: Ebola; Gough Whitlam


MARIUS BENSON, PRESENTER: Tanya Plibersek, good morning.



BENSON: There is no official word yet but it is generally understood that the Government will be helping these 200 volunteers. That’s roughly what you’ve been calling for, isn’t it?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I don’t have any more details than what’s been reported - that the Government will support volunteers who are willing and able to go to West Africa. I certainly have been saying for some time and Labor has been saying for some time that we know that we have Australians who are trained in this type of work who could offer assistance, who are willing to go. What’s been missing is support from our Government to do that and if the reports are correct, I think it will be a very important contribution.

BENSON: And the World Health Organisation certainly thinks the reports are correct. They’re welcoming the assistance being offered by the Government. They say much more is needed. More in terms of personnel, more in terms of equipment, anything up to helicopters.

PLIBERSEK: Well, certainly I think Australia could look at assistance when it comes to equipment, logistics, transport, supplies and so on. What’s important is that we’ve made a start now – well, if the reports are correct, we’ve made a start now and that’s a very good first step.

BENSON: And the World Health Organisation points to what other nations are doing. The United States is sending 3,000 troops to Liberia, the United Kingdom 800 troops to Sierra Leone, should Australia be looking at taking action on that scale proportionately?

PLIBERSEK: Well Marius, I think you might know that I’ve just returned from a trip to the United States where I spoke obviously to the State Department, to the White House, but also to the United Nations and the international organisations that are coordinating efforts on the ground in West Africa and I think we cannot underestimate how much support is needed there. So far, reports are that over 5,000 people have died with around 10,000, slightly more, have been infected. The real concern is that the rate of infection for the virus are doubling every –

[Call drops out]

BENSON: We’ve re-established our phone link with Tanya Plibersek, the Deputy Labor Leader. Tanya Plibersek welcome back.

PLIBERSEK: Hi Marius, sorry about that.

BENSON: That’s alright. I was asking you, I was pointing to the level of troops being sent by the United States and the United Kingdom, asking is that sort of assistance from Australia appropriate?

PLIBERSEK: Well, we certainly know that there is an enormous need for medical assistance, so doctors, nurses, other health professionals. But there is also a requirement for transport and logistics. It’s really, I think, important for Australia to consider if there are other areas in which we may assist because, I just caught the end of that report that you were playing, I think the situation on the ground now is absolutely desperate already in West Africa, in the three countries worst affected, but the real danger is this virus is spreading, it’s doubling the number of people infected every 15-20 days. If we don’t get hold of the spread of the virus, the capacity for social breakdown on a massive scale is obvious to you and it becomes much more difficult to contain the virus in West Africa if it continues to spread in the way that it has.

BENSON: The World Health Organisation made the point that you can’t eliminate the risk for people associated with fighting the Ebola virus. Do you think sending Australians there does put Australia itself at some risk? We’ve seen the United States, infections brought back to the United States.

PLIBERSEK: Look I think our health workers and others who are volunteering to go understand that this is not without risk, of course there are risks associated with going into an area where this virus is spreading as quickly as it is, but our health professionals are amongst the best trained in the world and I’m sure that they’ll be working very hard on protecting themselves while they look after others. It’s important obviously when health workers or others return from West Africa that they continue to monitor their own health, to stay in touch with health authorities, but I’m sure that this is a risk that can be managed.

BENSON: And the US requires a 21 day quarantine period for people returning from West Africa, is that appropriate here too, 21 days of quarantine?

PLIBERSEK: Look different parts of the United States are working differently on how to stay in touch with and look after health workers who are returning. I think the best thing to do, the most important thing to do is take the advice of our health professionals.

BENSON: And can I leave that subject there and just briefly ask you about another event today? A great event for the ALP, there are politicians and former politicians converging on the Sydney Town Hall this morning when you farewell probably the tallest peak in the Labor landscape, the Gough Whitlam Memorial Service.

PLIBERSEK: Well, it will be a great opportunity to celebrate the life of an Australian who changed our nation for the better and forever. There will be as you say, many former Labor leaders and current Labor Parliamentarians, I think most importantly there will be many, many ordinary Australians whose lives were changed by Gough Whitlam and changed for the better.

BENSON: And six former Prime Ministers among the throng. I’ll leave it there, Tanya Plibersek, thank you very much.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you, Marius.


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