TRANSCRIPT - Capital Hill, Friday 31 October 2014

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Subject/s: Ebola; Climate Change.

JULIE DOYLE, PRESENTER: The Federal Opposition is continuing to keep the pressure on the Government over its response to the Ebola crisis in West Africa. Labor maintains the Government should send Australian health care workers to West Africa but the Government won't agree while there's no suitable arrangement to treat any workers who become infected. The Deputy Opposition Leader, Tanya Plibersek, has been in the United States this week for meetings with Government officials. She joined me from New York a little earlier.

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY OPPOSITION LEADER: In all of the conversations I have had including with UN representatives today, with White House personnel, department personnel and the Ebola Coordinator - it is being made very clear that there is an expectation that countries like Australia that have strong health systems, that have personnel that are trained and willing and able to assist would make a greater contribution. Indeed the US ambassador to the United Nations has said very clearly that it's all very well to sign on to these resolutions but it's a bit rich then not to send medical staff or provide hospital beds once you've made these great pronouncements. I think it's very clear there is an expectation that countries like Australia should do more.

DOYLE: When she said it's a bit rich, what kind of language did she use there?

PLIBERSEK: I think the exact words were something like it's terrific to sign on to resolutions and to compliment countries like the United States and the United Kingdom for the contribution that they're making but then it's a problem if you don't then send docs and beds - I think were the exact words. So there is a clear expectation, the President of the United States has also said on a number of occasions now that what's really needed is a much greater effort from the international community, particularly in terms of sending personnel.

DOYLE: The United States has been looking at opening a field hospital in West Africa to treat any health workers who get infected. Have you received any update on the progress for that?

PLIBERSEK: Yes, I've been told that it's imminent. It should open in a matter of days, that it will be a facility that would take any medical personnel that were affected, that needed medical treatment. So a lot of doctors and medical personnel will tell you that with a virus like Ebola it is a relatively simple treatment. You need to keep up fluids and nutrition, keep the patient clean and comfortable and you can best do that as close to the point of diagnosis and as close to the time of diagnosis as possible so the establishment of these treatment facilities in-country for medical staff is a very important step. It certainly reduces the need for air evacuation, medivac arrangements, but at the same time as building these hospital facilities in-country, further planning is going on to give greater options for medivac as well.

DOYLE: On that field hospital, have you received any guarantees that any Australian health workers who were in West Africa and got infected would have access to treatment there?

PLIBERSEK: It was made very clear to me that Australian health workers would be absolutely able to use this facility, absolutely welcome there, on an equal basis with the staff of the United States. Now, I believe it's a 25-bed hospital. You have understand that there are potential scenarios where that hospital is full and someone would have to be transferred. I don't think in a case like this with a virus that's spreading as quickly with a situation that is as dire, anybody can give definitive guarantees about anything.

DOYLE: What we're talking about, though, is Australian staff being treated on the same basis as the nationals of the United States or other countries that are on the ground in West Africa providing this assistance. Given that, do you think that should be enough to satisfy the Australian Government's concerns about sending healthcare workers?

PLIBERSEK: I think it's up to the Government to answer what further impediments they see. The first furfy that they raised was this 30-hour evacuation time. Nobody has ever said that Australians who get sick should be flown back to Australia. That would be dangerous. It would be a nonsense to suggest that that is the best way to treat someone who gets sick in West Africa but we now have an increasing number of treatment options including the US field hospital, the UK are building a field hospital. The were some reports the UK may be sending a hospital ship as well. There are increasing numbers of evacuation options available. I think it is now getting to a stage, with this increasing number of options available to treat any Australian staff that get sick, that the Government really is running out of excuses.

DOYLE: Tanya Plibersek, just briefly I want to ask you about domestic politics and we've seen the Direct Action policy, the emissions reduction fund, pass through the Senate earlier this morning. From the Opposition's perspective, are you still committed to taking an Emissions Trading Scheme as a policy to the next election?

PLIBERSEK: Well, we introduced an Emissions Trading Scheme, we backed an Emissions Trading Scheme. You've got to understand Direct Action's a dog of a policy. There's not an environmentalist or an economist anywhere that will tell you that this will act to reduce carbon emissions. We have always said that you need to put a limit on the amount of pollution and that it makes a lot more sense for big polluters to pay for the pollution that they're pumping into our environment and for that money to be used as it was under our scheme to compensate people for any change in the cost of living - than for taxpayers to pay big polluters and for there to be no guarantee of an overall environmental benefit. I think this is disappointing to see this dog of a scheme pass through the Senate and we remain committed to real action on climate change not this window dressing.

DOYLE: That means an Emissions Trading Scheme, you'll face another election with that policy?

PLIBERSEK: Well, we're yet to make detailed announcements about our policies but we believe that the most sensible way is to put a cap on carbon pollution, have a market mechanism to provide environmental benefit in the cheapest possible way. What you see today is a scheme that gives away billions of dollars of taxpayers' money during a so-called Budget emergency - as the Government likes to keep pointing out they've got no money - giving away billions of dollars to big polluters for potentially no environmental benefit.

DOYLE: Tanya Plibersek, we'll leave it there. Thank you very much.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you.


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