THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP
DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
MEMBER FOR SYDNEY
MONDAY, 10 NOVEMBER 2014
Subject/s: Wayne Goss, Ebola.
TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY OPPOSITION LEADER: Well, thank you for coming out this afternoon. I want to start by saying a few words about Wayne Goss. Of course, a very sad loss of a man still in the prime of his life. Wayne Goss made a huge contribution to the state of Queensland. He took a state that had been moribund after 32 years of corrupt, conservative rule and he brought it into the modern age. He reformed the electoral system, he increased the role of women in the state, the first female cabinet minister, the first female governor, he decriminalised homosexuality, he made a number of enormous changes responding to the findings of the police royal commission. So he will be sadly missed no doubt by his family but also sadly missed by our Labor family and by the people of the State of Queensland. I wanted to say a few words too about the continuing Ebola epidemic in West Africa. Today we hear that the US National Security Adviser, Susan Rice, has criticised Australia for not doing enough. This of course accords with what Labor has been saying, that the small efforts that the Government has made are of course welcome, but that a country like Australia could do much more. The place to fight Ebola is in West Africa. The people to fight Ebola are our skilled health professionals, volunteers who want to go and use their skills for the benefit of the people of West Africa and to contain this disease where it started. The time to do that is right now. We know on the- at the beginning of October we were told by the World Health Organisation that if we didn’t get Ebola under control within 60 days there was no plan for what would happen after that. This is a virus that is spreading quickly, that is- has infected about 13,000 people so far. On some reports, the number of people infected is doubling every 15 to 20 days. This is a virus that is spreading quickly and that is lethal. We know that many Australians have volunteered. The Nurses and Midwives Federation told us that in 12 hours they had more than 350 nurses ring up to say that they would be willing to go to fight Ebola in West Africa. We know from the Australian Medical Association that many doctors are also willing to go. We have Australian Medical Assistance Teams, AUSMAT teams, there’s no indication about why those AUSMAT teams have not been deployed and we hear from the Government that the hiring of private firms discharges our responsibilities. Well of course any contribution is welcome but as we hear from Susan Rice, Australia is not doing its fair share, it is not doing enough. We have skilled personnel that have trained all of their professional careers to treat people when they’re sick, to train others in very important measures like infection control - these people are willing to go, they want to go, and our Government is not assisting them or facilitating that in any serious way. To be told off by the United States, our great friend and ally, for not doing enough in West Africa is particularly embarrassing. The United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, other European nations are all making a substantial contribution when Australia's contribution is limited at best.
JOURNALIST: Is there anything else they should do other than allowing these volunteers to go over?
PLIBERSEK: Well, the Government should be facilitating those volunteers, should be helping them do what they can do best which is treat people who are sick, train health workers locally, construct health facilities, engage transport and logistics. It is also I think important for the Government to explain now why AUSMAT teams, Australian Medical Assistance Teams, have not been engaged. We know that these are people who volunteer to work in these teams at times of crisis. They have been deployed on a number of occasions in the past into crisis zones. They would be, have all of the skills that would be most useful at a time like this in the countries that are worst affected. It is up to the Government to explain why they haven’t engaged AUSMAT teams to do this work. It is also I think, very worth looking at what the Government said about the reasons that Australians haven’t been sent. They said that it was just a matter of working out good evacuation protocols for Australians. Well, we now find out, we found out in the last few days that the European Union and the United States offered to help with treatment of Australian personnel and evacuation if that should become necessary and that offer was made several weeks ago. So it’s really unclear why the Government has sat on its hands in this way and why they continue to not support Australians who want to travel to West Africa to fight the virus there. We have heard indeed from the Prime Minister that it is possible that even with this new arrangement with Aspen Medical it’s possible that no Australians will be engaged to do this very difficult work. It is a very curious thing that when, for example, in a country like Sierra Leone, you’ve got only 100 doctors to treat 6 million people before this crisis, the idea that they will be able to engage all of these staff over there is farfetched.
JOURNALIST: Why do you think the Government is holding back from helping?
PLIBERSEK: Well it’s really a question for the Government and it’s clear that we’ve been asked to help by our great friend and ally, the United States, by our great friend, the United Kingdom, by other countries including France and Germany, the countries that are worst affected, their Prime Ministers and Presidents have written to Australia, we’ve been asked by the World Health Organisation, by the International Crisis Group, by our own Australian Medical Association, by our own Australian Public Health Association, the Nurses and Midwives Federation. I mean, so many countries, so many organisations saying to Australia please help, saying please do more, and still very little movement from the Government. It’s really up to them to explain why that is.
JOURNALIST: What do you think it’s doing to our international reputation?
PLIBERSEK: Look I think it’s certainly not good for our international reputation. Australia thinks of itself as playing an important role internationally and we do. We were very quick to respond to the humanitarian crisis in Iraq. We were very quick to agree to send Australian troops in a train and assist role in Iraq. It’s incomprehensible why we were so quick to respond to one humanitarian disaster and why we’ve been so very slow to respond to another.