TRANSCRIPT - Doorstop Interview, Saturday 18 October 2014

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Subject/s: Ebola, President Putin, Mathias Cormann’s comments, Indonesia.

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY OPPOSITION LEADER: [audio cuts in] It’s an enormous concern that $10 million that the Government has promised to the United Nations has actually not reached the United Nations in order to be distributed to where it’s needed. I can’t stress highly enough how critical time is in managing this Ebola outbreak. We hear from the Centre of Disease Control in the United States by early next year, we might have as many 1.4 million people affected by Ebola. We hear that by the end of this year, it could be 10,000 new infections every week. At the moment there are about 10,000 people affected by Ebola and about 4,000 have died. But this number is growing exponentially. And if we don’t contain and control Ebola in West Africa, the risk to Africa and the globe and of course to Australia, continues to grow. We’ve also heard in recent days, health specialists warning that should there be an Ebola outbreak in Asia, there would be some health systems very ill-prepared to deal with it. Of course our Australian health system is a very strong health system. We have many experts who are ideally placed to help control a virus like Ebola. And we’ve got excellent hospitals with very professional staff here in Australia. But we cannot wait, we cannot afford to wait until Ebola reaches out to Australia before Australia becomes part of the global effort to control this virus. It’s very important that we support our doctors, our nurses, our health professionals who are willing and able to go to West Africa to do that work, that work that they are trained to do, that work that they are committed to doing. We see that world leaders like President Obama, like David Cameron, are saying that all countries have to be a part of this global effort to contain Ebola in West Africa. That it’s easy for all of us to keep our nations safe if we all contribute to the international effort to get this virus under control while it’s still concentrated in three main countries in West Africa. We’ve seen that countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Cuba, China, Japan, South Africa, are all putting personnel on the ground, sending supplies and equipment. They’re all making provision for their personnel to be able to go safely to volunteer, to treat affected patients in West Africa. It cannot be beyond the capability of our Australian government to make arrangements for Australian volunteers who wish to go, to have the confidence that they can safely go to do the work that they’ve been trained to do and that the Government’s got their back. Okay, any questions?

JOURNALIST: The Government has said that the UN has confirmed that that funding has been received and that the website just hasn’t been updated. Are you assured by that?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I hope that that’s the case. I know that the West Australian is a fine newspaper and I’m sure that they’ve got the most recent, publicly available information and I hope that is the case, that the Government has in fact transferred the money and that the website is yet to be updated.

JOURNALIST: What more should Australia be doing?

PLIBERSEK: Well, Australia should be sending skilled, willing Australian personnel with the support of the Australian Government to help fight Ebola in West Africa. We have, for example, Australian Medical Assistance Teams that are groups of volunteers - doctors, nurses, sometimes firefighters for example, who have the logistic capability and others - self-contained teams that are especially set up to go to disaster areas to provide medical assistance. That’s one example of what we could be doing to help. We also know from the Australian Medical Association, from the Nurses and Midwives, that they have people, nurses and doctors, contacting their professional associations saying ‘I am willing to go, I am willing to volunteer, how can my government help me get there?’. That’s one example - and Australian volunteers, who just need government assistance, and government backing to get there, rather than the discouragement and road blocks they’ve received to date.

JOURNALIST:  Just in regards to the MH17 crash, are you happy that Julie Bishop received assurances from President Putin that Russia’s influence will be used to allow investigators near the crash site or to the crash site?

PLIBERSEK: Well, it’s very disappointing that the investigations have been thwarted to date, that of course fighting continues in Eastern Ukraine, and it would be a very good thing if President Putin used his influence with Russian backed separatists to allow access to the crash site. It is important that Australian, Dutch and other investigators can have their safety guaranteed in an area where conflict continues.

JOURNALIST: What’s your response to the Finance Minister calling Bill Shorten an ‘economic girly man’?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think it’s extraordinary that we’ve got a Prime Minister who talks about shirt-fronting leaders of other nations and we’ve now got a  Finance Minister who thinks he’s Arnold Schwarzenegger. What Mathias Cormann is missing is that this Budget hurts vulnerable Australians. It’s Australians who have rejected this Budget, they’ve rejected the cuts to health, rejected the cuts to education, rejected the cuts to pensions. Mathias Cormann is acting all tough. What he should be doing instead is going back to the drawing board and finding a budget that is economically responsible and socially fair.

JOURNALIST: Do you think that the comments are sexist and that an apology is required?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think we’d be in a different environment if we had a few more women sitting around the Cabinet table.

JOURNALIST: Just back on Russian President Putin, are you- is Labor happy that his staff have indicated that he will indeed be attending G20?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think that as Bill Shorten has said on more than one occasion, Australians will find it very difficult to welcome President Putin to Australia. Australians have been devastated by the shooting down of MH17 and the 38 lives lost, Australian citizens and residents. And of course also the citizens and residents of other nations that were also affected in that terrible tragedy. So we will find it very difficult as a nation to welcome President Putin here because it’s pretty clear that he hasn’t to date used his influence with rebels to allow access to the crash site and so on.

JOURNALIST: Do you believe his assurances then that he will try to facilitate that?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I hope we see a change in behaviour.

JOURNALIST: On the $2 million [inaudible]

PLIBERSEK: I’m sorry, I didn’t hear the beginning of your question.

JOURNALIST: The $2 million [inaudible]. Is it somewhat disappointing [inaudible]

PLIBERSEK: Oh look, I’m sorry, I don’t enough about the details of that story to comment fairly on it.

JOURNALIST: [Inaudible] relations with Indonesia [inaudible] for the Australian Navy to enter Indonesian waters. What’s your response to that?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think the first interview of the new President of Indonesia, with media- Australian media – is very telling indeed. I think it’s very clear that President Joko Widodo is very concerned about the way the Australian Government has been making announcements about what’s going to happen on Indonesian soil and  Indonesian waters without ever having discussed it with the Indonesian Government and is of course very concerned about the six or so incursions into Indonesian waters by Australian naval vessels in the last year or so. It’s not surprising that the new President of Indonesia is sending a very strong message to Tony Abbott, that the President of Indonesia sees the sovereignty of Indonesia as a very important issue for him. This certainly shows that despite the claims that Tony Abbott has made, the relationship with Indonesia has not been repaired, it’s not in the healthy state that it was before Tony Abbott came into government, and there is still a work of repair job to be done. Thanks, everyone.


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