THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP
DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
MEMBER FOR SYDNEY
ABC RADIO NATIONAL BREAKFAST
THURSDAY, 16 OCTOBER 2014
SUBJECT/S: Ebola Crisis; Iraq; Vladimir Putin.
ALISON CARABINE, PRESENTER: Tanya Plibersek, welcome to Breakfast.
TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY OPPOSITION LEADER: Hello Alison.
CARABINE: You are writing to Julie Bishop today, what exactly are you asking her to do?
PLIBERSEK: Well I’ve written to both the Foreign Minister and the Health Minister to ask them to increase Australia’s efforts in fighting the Ebola crisis. I must say the AMA, the Australian Public Health Association, a number of other organisations, Médecins Sans Frontières have said that money is good but what we really need is skilled staff, supplies and equipment. Australia does have the capacity to help. We’ve got Australian Medical Assistances Teams for example that could be deployed. Other countries have deployed defence personnel. For example the United States is sending around 4000 personnel, the UK is sending around 750 personnel and they are able to do things like build temporary hospitals, transport, and logistics are taken care of and supplies are appropriately distributed. We have some very talented Australians, very dedicated Australians who have said that they would be willing to go to help fight Ebola in West Africa. What’s disappointing about this is that the Australian Government is actually discouraging those people from going.
CARABINE: So you want the Medical Assistance Teams to be deployed to West Africa and you mention the fact that Britain and the US have sent in troops. Do you see a role for Australian forces on the ground in Africa in support of our health workers?
PLIBERSEK: Well I think Australia has to be a partner in fighting Ebola in West Africa because if it continues to spread, we’ve now seen two cases in the US, we’ve seen a case in Spain, you see the risk of this becoming a global disease burden that we will lose control of. The World Health Organisation is already warning that we are losing control of the spread of this virus. It is in Australia’s interest that we help fight this virus while it still may be containable.
CARABINE: The Prime Minister has said that he won’t put Australian health workers in harm’s way, he wants to be absolutely confident the risks are being properly managed. He is right to be concerned, what would happen if an Australian health worker was infected?
PLIBERSEK: Well he is absolutely right to be concerned for the welfare any Australian personnel who go to fight Ebola in West Africa in the same way that he’s right to be concerned about the health and wellbeing of Australian Defence personnel when they’re deployed to the Middle East. We have arrangements to help our defence personnel if they get in harm’s way. It is not beyond us to put in place arrangements for our health workers should they become ill or have an accident while they’re deployed in West Africa. We should be able to make arrangements with the United States or our European partners to evacuate Australian health workers.
CARABINE: And you mention the deployment to Iraq are we picking and choosing which humanitarian crisis we intervene in?
PLIBERSEK: Well I think there is obviously a comparison to be drawn. It is very important for Australia to respond to the request of the Iraqi people to protect themselves from IS but they are having request after request from the countries that are most affected by the Ebola virus for help to protect them from the spread of this virus. I think it’s quite right we help in both situations.
CARABINE: And just on Iraq. The Government is still waiting on the status of forces agreement before it can deploy Australian special forces. In the meantime we’ve seen the security situation deteriorating in Iraq. Islamic State fighters are getting closer to Bagdad for example. By the time the green light is given by the National Security Committee could it be too late for Australian personnel to go in to help train up Iraqi units?
PLIBERSEK: Well I’m very disappointed these arrangements have not been put into place so far. It is obviously important to get the legal status of forces agreement to protect Australians who are in Iraq. It’s been at least three weeks now and it is of grave concern that the Australian Government have not managed to negotiate these arrangements in this time.
CARABINE: And with ISIS getting closer to the capital if it makes it to Bagdad, and there’s a real risk of that, could it become simply too dangerous for Australian personnel to be sent into Iraq? Is that something that’s starting to concern you?
PLIBERSEK: Well I think in circumstances where there are large changes on the ground we need to take advice from our defence personnel in the first instance about the role they could play.
CARABINE: So you’d want that assurance before forces were deployed to Iraq?
PLIBERSEK: Well we’ve said all along that we don’t want to see boots on the ground in Iraq. Our role has been a humanitarian and an advisory role, air cover to fight off IS. If the situation changes radically I think it would be important for the Prime Minister to take the advice of defence forces and of course advise the Australian Parliament about his intentions.
CARABINE: And Tanya Plibersek on Vladimir Putin, Dimitri Medvedev has told Tony Abbott to choose his words more carefully. That’s a reference to his shirtfront threat. Do you agree with the Kremlin on this one?
PLIBERSEK: Well it’s a stretch to say I agree with the Kremlin on anything, but what I would say is that this is a gravely serious matter, not just for the families and friends of the 38 Australian residents who lost their lives when MH17 was shot down but for all Australians, we all feel their loss and it’s important to choose language that is sober and carefully chosen.
CARABINE: There is a suggestion that President Putin might now stay away from the G20, would that be for the best?
PLIBERSEK: Well I think many Australians will find it difficult to welcome Vladimir Putin to Australia, but it’s important that we behave in a way that shows how seriously we take this matter and how soberly we expect the Russian Government to deal with issues like continuing access to the crash site.
CARABINE: Tanya Plibersek thanks so much for your time this morning.
PLIBERSEK: Thank you Alison.