TRANSCRIPT - Doorstop Interview, Monday 10 November 2014

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THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP

DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION

SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
MEMBER FOR SYDNEY 

 

E&OE TRANSCRIPT

DOORSTOP INTERVIEW

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.

ENDS

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TRANSCRIPT - Press Conference, Sydney, Wednesday 5 November 2014

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THE HON BILL SHORTEN MP

LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION

MEMBER FOR MARIBYRNONG

 

THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP

DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION

SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT

MEMBER FOR SYDNEY

 

E&OE TRANSCRIPT

PRESS CONFERENCE

SYDNEY

WEDNESDAY, 5 NOVEMBER 2014

 

SUBJECT/S: Gough Whitlam Memorial; Ebola; Abbott Government cutting real wages of Defence Personnel

BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks for coming.  We both had the honour today, along with thousands of Australians to go to the State Service to commemorate the remarkable life of Prime Minister Edward Gough Whitlam. His was a truly Australian life and had a life lived for Australia. Gough Whitlam reminded us all about the importance of vision and ambition for our nation. He spent his entire political life trying to make sure Australia could reach for higher ground. Today was a fitting tribute to a remarkable Australian whose like we will not see again.

I also wish to make some brief comments about the Government’s response to the Ebola crisis and I will be asking my colleague to add some more details after I finish. We are pleased that the Government is finally making an overdue first step to provide greater support for the victims of this dangerous and lethal disease which has broken out in West Africa. Labor has long said that the best way to deal with the crisis of this deadly and dangerous disease is to fight it at its source. Now we acknowledge that the Government is moving to try to take up Labor's advice and the advice of the AMA and, indeed, advice from other nations around the world, to join an international coalition to tackle Ebola. There are many Australians who have the skills to help prevent this suffering. There are many Australians who wish to volunteer to use their skills, committed and capable doctors and nurses who wish to help in the fight against Ebola.

However, we believe that the Government, whilst this is a welcome, overdue step, has not gone as far as it should to help tackle the scourge at the source. It is long overdue for the Government to ensure it can put in place propositions which will allow our skilled and capable volunteers to be able to assist defeat this deadly disease at the source. I might ask my colleague, the Shadow Foreign Minister, to talk in more detail about the Ebola announcement

TANYA PLIBERSEK, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Thanks very much, Bill. Look, of course Labor is very pleased to welcome extra assistance to fighting Ebola in West Africa. But we are also a little surprised at the way that this assistance will be provided. There have been suggestions overnight and yesterday that perhaps several hundred Australians would be going to help fight this virus in the three West African countries most affected.

We hear today that in fact a private firm, Aspen medical, which has a very good international reputation, will in fact be engaging staff locally in Sierra Leone. It could be that the 240 or so staff that are required to run the medical centre that Australia will be responsible for, may all be engaged overseas. It's possible from what the Prime Minister has just told us that no Australians will actually be involved in providing those vital services. Now, of course, there are very good and dedicated staff around the world and I\'m sure that there are many in Africa who would be willing to help, but it's worth remembering that Sierra Leone is a country that before this is crisis had just 100 doctors for a population of six million.

So in the first instance, it is a little difficult to understand exactly where these locally-engaged staff will be coming from, and it is also a little surprising that given trained, how many hundreds of highly-trained, highly-specialised, very dedicated brave Australians have said that they wish to go to West Africa to help, that they have the skills to help and the desire to help, that none of those people will be facilitated in going. We have heard from the United Nations Security Council, indeed Australia co-sponsored a resolution saying how important it was for countries to send supplies, medical supplies, but also personnel to the affected countries. We co-sponsored that resolution in the UN. We have heard from the United Kingdom, we have heard from the United States, we have heard from the World Health Organisation, we have heard from organisations like the International Crisis Group and Oxfam. We have heard from doctors without borders, Oxfam, our own Australian Medical Association, and nurses and midwives association, that personnel are necessary in West Africa. We know that we have hundreds of Australians who have said that they would go if they were facilitated by this Government.

In fact, the nurses and midwives association said that in just 12 hours, they had 350 nurses that said, rang up to say they were willing to go. The Australian public health association, the Australian Medical Association have both said that they have been contacted by medical personnel that would go to West Africa if they could, that have the skills and the desire to go. So it is a little surprising to know that despite the availability and the desire of these Australians to go to West Africa to fight this virus at its source, that they won't be facilitated by this announcement. It also continues to be a little surprising that the Australian medical assistance teams, those hundreds of Australians who have signed up for this type of dangerous work overseas, have not been called upon. I think it's up to the Government why the Australian Medical Association teams have not been part of this response.

SHORTEN: We are happy to take any questions people might have.

REPORTER: Just on the question of having Aspen involved in this, would you prefer that the Government had sent over its own medical teams?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I think there is absolutely no problem with Aspen Medical being involved in this. I think the important thing is having people who are skilled at providing this sort of medical assistance, in very difficult circumstances. They are already, I believe, on the ground in West Africa, so that makes sense. What is a little confusing about this decision is that the many hundreds of Australians, skilled personal have said they wish to help, continue to be knocked back by this Government.

REPORTER: So would you prefer to see perhaps a quota introduced or something like that as part of the package as to how many Australian personnel can be sent over?

PLIBERSEK: No, I don't think a quota is the way to deal with it. What is perplexing about this is the suggestion that the majority, indeed perhaps all, of these staff will be locally engaged in Africa, or nationals of other countries. Now, what we have been asked for by the world community, what we have been asked for by the United Nations, the United Kingdom, the US, the World Health Organisation, Medecin Sans Frontier, Oxfam, all of these organisations are making the very strong point that medical services are overwhelmed in the three countries worst affected by ebola. They started off with poor medical services, a very small number of doctors and nurses for the size of the populations that we are talking about. It is difficult to understand when we know that we have highly skilled, highly trained passionate Australians who are desperate to help, why they are still not being - their offer is still not being accepted by the Government.

REPORTER: Does it actually matter? The Prime Minister said some Australians will go.

PLIBERSEK: The Prime Minister says some Australians may go. The point is all of the international organisations, all of our partner countries, have said the difficulty is finding the trained personnel who are able to go. I think there is - of course, it's wonderful to have professionals from Africa, from around the world in West Africa fighting ebola. But what we know is that Australian health workers are some of the best and most dedicated, most highly skilled in the world. We also know there are hundreds who have said they want to go. This announcement, while welcome, doesn't answer that call.

REPORTER: (Inaudible) do you think it was appropriate the Prime Minister was booed?

SHORTEN: No, in an ideal in world you treat Prime Minister and former Prime Ministers at a State Memorial Service with some degree of decorum. But on the other hand I think the funeral was fantastic, I thought that the speakers presented their views of Gough Whitlam powerfully, the artists who performed there reminded us of the contribution that Gough Whitlam made to the arts. I think today was a very moving day and I wouldn't unduly focus on the hurly-burly outside in terms of average politics. It was an amazing service.

REPORTER: In relation to the pay deals for the Australian Defence Force personnel, was that something you would like to see increased?

SHORTEN: I think the Prime Minister should be ashamed of this pay decision. It just goes to show how out of touch Tony Abbott and his Cabinet are, when they offer what is effectively a real pay cut to the people in Australia who wear our uniforms and make us safe.

Families of the military still have to go shopping every weekend and they have still got keep up with the cost of living. I think it is breathtaking we have a Prime Minister who talks so much about his love of the military, except when it comes to ensuring that they don't get a real pay cut. In addition, let’s not overlook that fact that for people serving overseas, they’re going to receive less leave as a result of this decision. Working away from your family is hard at the best of times. But when it's the military who can go anywhere at any time, to lose leave conditions and have a cut in their real rate of pay is disgraceful.

I, for one, believe that what's motivated this decision hasn't even been the military, it's been a decision of the Abbott Government to try and force down all public servants' wages and I certainly do not believe they should have been using the military as some sort of pawn to argue about how they can or can't manage their employee relations. One thing everyone knows about Tony Abbott and the Liberals - you can't trust them with the conditions of ordinary men and women in Australia, whether or not they wear a uniform or they have don't.

ENDS 

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TRANSCRIPT - RN Breakfast, Wednesday 5 November 2014

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THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP

DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION

SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
MEMBER FOR SYDNEY 

 

E&OE TRANSCRIPT

RADIO INTERVIEW

ABC RN BREAKFAST

WEDNESDAY, 5 NOVEMBER 2014

 

Subject/s: Ebola, Gough Whitlam.

 

FRAN KELLY, PRESENTER: Tanya Plibersek is Deputy Labor Leader and the Shadow Foreign Minister. Tanya Plibersek, welcome to RN Breakfast.

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY OPPOSITION LEADER: Hello, Fran.

KELLY: The Federal Government has, the details we know so far are a little scant, but we understand they will pay for these healthcare workers to go to Sierra Leone, but the work will be contracted out to a private firm. Is that type of arrangement satisfactory? Are you happy? You’ve been pushing the government to do more, are you happy with this plan as you understand it?

PLIBERSEK: Well, Fran, as you say the details of the plan haven’t been confirmed, so I don’t want to talk too specifically, but what I would say is if the reports are correct and that Australian volunteers who want to go to West Africa - to help fight Ebola in West Africa, if they are able to go, then that is a good thing.

KELLY: And is that kind of support enough? You’ve been calling for the government to support Australian health workers who want to go, what sort of support did you have in mind? You’ve been talking to people about this.

PLIBERSEK: Yes, well certainly, in fact I have just returned from a trip to the United States where I spoke not just to the US State Department, to the White House, but also to the United Nations, to people leading the effort there and I think what we need to ensure from my discussions with them is that Australian volunteers who have the right skills are able to go, that their travel is facilitated and that they have a backup should the worst happen and they become sick. A number of countries now have made arrangements for their staff to be, and their volunteers, to be treated in field hospitals in West Africa. The medical advice that I got from the experts is that the sooner the treatment starts, if there is a suspected case of Ebola, the better the chance of recovery. And if you have high standards of medical treatment the recovery rate gets to about 80 percent so it is important to treat as close to where the diagnosis is made and as soon as Ebola is suspected. So think if we have got adequate health treatment in the country, then that is a very good first step.

KELLY: And it does suggest- that’s been the holdup for the government, it wasn’t prepared to risk the health of Australian workers without some kind of evacuation plan and taking them back to Australia was not feasible. It does appear as though this agreement that we’ll get the details of today includes an agreement with the UK to medivac any infected Australian health workers to Britain for treatment or even to Germany to a German hospital for treatment.

PLIBERSEK: Well I think it is very important to make a case by case assessment on the best course of treatment and it is really not a good idea from the distance of Australia to be making assessments about treatment. What we need to do is give a range of options to any health worker or volunteer who might be affected. We know- I know from my discussions with Medecins San Frontieres that they have managed to have a number of options for each of their health workers that have become sick so they’ve been- had more than one choice of country to medivac them to.

KELLY: I guess what I am asking though, is it important that the Federal Government got this agreement with the UK in place, that was the sticking point? Does this justify the holdup given that they now seem to have this agreement with countries like the UK and Germany?

PLIBERSEK: It has been clear for many, many weeks now that the UK, the US, the UN, the WHO - the World Health Organisation - and others have been pushing for Australia to become involved. All of those countries and organisations have made adequate provisions for their health workers in the past. I am not sure why it has taken Australia so long but I am delighted if the reports are correct today that Australian volunteers who want to go and join this international effort to contain Ebola in West Africa, I will be delighted if they are able to go. These people are highly skilled, they know there are risks involved and nevertheless they have been desperate to participate in this international effort. We have been contacted by doctors, by nurses, by logisticians saying that they want to go to help, this is what all of their training, all of their skills and experience leads them to do and if the reports are correct, that the Government will finally facilitate that, then that’s a good thing.

KELLY: Nevertheless, as Michelle used the term at arm’s length, the way it’s going to be set up as contracted to a private contractor, a group called Aspen Medical is what we think, which is based in Canberra, has global experience, already operates an Ebola clinic in Liberia apparently. But why that option and why not, what some people have been talking about, the deployment of what is called the Australian Medical Assistance Teams, which are still volunteers I think, but have experience and expertise in dealing with overseas crises. Why wasn’t that activated or would you have preferred that option?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I can’t answer why Australian Medical Assistance Teams, or AUSMAT teams, weren’t deployed. They are, as you say, volunteers but they’re people who have been particularly selected to be part of a team that has a cross-section of skills so that the team can be deployed quite independently into troubled areas. They were set up to go into natural disaster areas and I thought all along that that would have been a good option. I can’t answer why the government decided against that but I don’t think that the- I am certainly not going to be quibbling now about why not AUSMAT teams and I think the important thing to recognise is that we have had Australians who have the skills to go, who want to go, they see this as an enormous humanitarian challenge, they want to be a part of solving it. And if it is true that the Government will be facilitating their travel now, then that is a good thing.

KELLY: It’s 12 minutes to 8 on Breakfast. Our guest is the Shadow Foreign Minister, Tanya Plibersek. On term- in those terms of course, it is risky, we know that it is risky, we know the number of health workers who have contracted Ebola is quite high so there is risk to this. Is there any concern that by contracting these volunteer teams to run this hospital out to a private contractor, that those people aren’t- don’t have the protection they may need if their Government was the direct contact?

PLIBERSEK: Look I think it is absolutely vital that we give the best possible support and protection to health workers, Australian health workers and others from around the world that are in West Africa and indeed to the local workforce as well. The three countries worst affected already had a health workforce that was under enormous pressure, very few doctors and nurses to the size of their population, so making sure that all of the health workers are protected is important. I do not think you can fairly make a distinction between who is providing the logistic support on the ground in the way that we have done.

KELLY: Okay, on another matter you are the Deputy Labor Leader and a long time obviously member of the Labor Party. You’ll be attending Gough Whitlam’s Memorial today at the Sydney Town Hall. By all reports, it is shaping up to be one of the biggest public farewells in recent memory, I wonder what your thoughts are this morning.

PLIBERSEK: Well, obviously today is a day of great sadness because we have lost a great man, but we’re also, I think, at our best in the Labor Party when we come together to celebrate the sort of achievements that Gough fought for and delivered, free education, Medicare, land rights, a greater place for Australia in the world. And at the same time it will be sad today, I think it is a gathering that we all draw enormous strength from.

KELLY: The reports suggest that tens of thousands of people will actually be on the streets of Sydney for this and also out in the parks of Parramatta and in Federation Square in Melbourne. In the fortnight since Gough’s death, have you had a lot of people, Australians talking to you about Gough?

PLIBERSEK: I have had a lot of people just coming in off the streets to talk to us in the office. We actually had on the Saturday after Gough died, we had a gathering of Labor Party members where people just took turns speaking about the difference that he’d made to their lives, the difference that the Whitlam Government had made to their lives, a lot of people talking about the fact that they were the first in their family ever to go to university, but a lot of other things as well. People talking about how they or their parents had been able to have a no-fault divorce instead of going through a horrendous court process as previous generations had. People really wanted to talk about the impact that the Whitlam Government had on their lives, so it’s a very emotional time for many Australians and I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if many thousands more people than can fit in the Sydney Town Hall wanted to commemorate the day.

KELLY: I think there’s no doubt about that. Tanya Plibersek, thank you very much for joining us.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you, Fran.

ENDS

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TRANSCRIPT - ABC Newsradio, Wednesday 5 November 2014

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THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP

DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION

SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
MEMBER FOR SYDNEY

 

E&OE TRANSCRIPT
RADIO INTERVIEW
ABC NEWSRADIO
WEDNESDAY, 5 NOVEMBER 2014

 

SUBJECT/S: Ebola; Gough Whitlam

 

MARIUS BENSON, PRESENTER: Tanya Plibersek, good morning.

 

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY OPPOSITION LEADER: Hi, Marius.

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.

ENDS

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TRANSCRIPT - Capital Hill, Friday 31 October 2014

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THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP

DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION

SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
MEMBER FOR SYDNEY

 

E&OE TRANSCRIPT

TELEVISION INTERVIEW

ABC NEWS 24, CAPITAL HILL

FRIDAY, 31 OCTOBER 2014

 

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.

ENDS

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TRANSCRIPT - ABC Radio National Breakfast, Friday 31 October 2014

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THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP

DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION

SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT

MEMBER FOR SYDNEY

 

E&OE TRANSCRIPT

RADIO INTERVIEW

ABC RADIO NATIONAL BREAKFAST

FRIDAY, 31 OCTOBER 2014

 

SUBJECT/S: Ebola Crisis; Iraq.

 

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY OPPOSITION LEADER: Hello Fran.

FRAN KELLY, PRESENTER: Tanya Plibersek, has America offered Australia the use of a new 25 bed field hospital that it is apparently about to open in Liberia?

PLIBERSEK: Well of course I don’t know what formal communications have been made between the United States Government and our Government but I can certainly tell you I’ve had very senior meetings here with the State Department, with the United Nations, with representatives of the White House and it was made clear to me that that facility would be made available for health workers not just Australian health workers but health workers of any nationality who are in West Africa fighting Ebola.

KELLY: Can you tell us any more about this field hospital? The Sydney Morning Herald today quotes the US Embassy spokesperson in Canberra saying that a 25 bed field hospital will be provided and it could be open within days. Have you been told the specifics of this field hospital? Has it been mentioned to you?

PLIBERSEK: Yes it has been confirmed to me that it will be open very shortly, that the treatment available will be of a first world standard, that it has been set aside for health workers to give health workers from countries around the world confidence to go to West Africa to fight Ebola. The treatment for Ebola is, in a way, quite basic treatment - you have to keep hydration and nutrition up for the patient, you have to keep them clean and comfortable. And beginning treatment as close as possible to where the diagnosis is made is actually often considered best practice in treating a virus like this.

KELLY: Do you know when this hospital will be open?

PLIBERSEK: I’ve been told very shortly. I haven’t been given a day, but within days.

KELLY: The Abbott Government has so far resisted calls to send Australian health professionals and other teams to West Africa because the Government can’t guarantee treatment for Australians who might get sick with Ebola. In your meetings with Ambassador Nancy Powel, Ebola Coordinator for the State Department did you determine whether or not the US has offered access to that facility to the Australian Government? The Australian Government is aware of it?

PLIBERSEK: Well she made it very clear to me that that treatment facility would be available to health workers of any nationality who are in West Africa working as volunteers fighting Ebola. I can’t answer for specifically what formal communication has been made to the Australian Government but I think the fact that this hospital was under construction was widely known and I certainly have known about it for a number of weeks. I’d be very surprised if the Australian Government hasn’t had specific conversations with the Government of the United States about it.

KELLY: You’ve been meeting with a range of high level people across a range of agencies, one of those is the Managing Director of the World Bank Dr Indrawati. We know that the IMF have been calling for improved contributions from Western countries. Are they calling on Australia to do more in West Africa? What message did you get in these meetings more broadly?

PLIBERSEK: Every meeting I have had, whether it’s been with the World Bank, with the United Nations, with people in the White House or the State Department - it has been made clear to me that there is a very strong view that the United States, the United Kingdom, to a degree France, are bearing most of the responsibility for fighting this outbreak and that there is a disappointment that countries such as Australia are willing to sign on to UN resolutions calling for people to do more, to send equipment, personnel and so on, then simply there is not the follow through. There is a critical window, this virus is doubling its number of infections every twenty days or so. The Centre for Disease Control estimates are that there could be a million people affected by early next year. Even more than a million people affected by early next year. So there is a very strong sense of urgency here. Countries such as the United States are making very large contributions because they understand that containing Ebola in the three countries where it is most active now is in the interest of the entire world.

KELLY: Of course but given the formal statements that have been made by some of the people at the agencies did you get informally – what kind of commentary did you get about Australia’s reluctance to send in teams. Were people voicing frustration?

PLIBERSEK: Well certainly there is an expectation that a country like Australia could do more. We are considered to be a country with a very strong health system. We know that we’ve got health professionals who are willing to go. We have been very prominent on the Security Council this year and we have cosponsored a resolution that calls on countries to do more to send people, send supplies and equipment, to help with logistics. The US ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power said something along the lines of “you’ve got countries that are signing up to these resolutions and then not sending doctors or providing beds, that’s a bit rich really.” That’s the sense that I’ve had from each of the organisations and people that I’ve spoken to here, that it’s all very well to have kind words in the United Nations and the Security Council and so on, what they are missing is practical support on the ground. And yet the Government has not yet put in place any measures to support and assist these people to do what they want to do.

KELLY: You’re listening to RN Breakfast, our guest is Tanya Plibersek Deputy Leader of the Opposition and Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, joining us from New York. On other issues, you’ve been also meeting with US National Security Officials talking about the situation in Iraq, did you get any clarity on what the mission is in terms defeating ISIS, or a progress report? What was the atmospherics there?

PLIBERSEK: Well certainly I’ve had conversations about Iraq and Syria, of course, the two are so closely linked. And slightly different views from different people but I’d say a strong sense that push back against IS is starting to have effect, that the more inclusive Iraqi government has certainly given people confidence that the Sunni tribes can join the fight against IS, that there is a greater opportunity now of pushing them back or at least halting their progress in Iraq.

KELLY: Can I just interrupt you on that front because we’ve just had an interview earlier with Kym Bergmann from a defence magazine here in Australia, we’ve been talking about on the face of it the more inclusive cabinet but actually realising the interior minister is from a group with links to the Badr Brigade which is a Shiite militia that has been accused of violence against Sunnis in the past. I notice that Shadow Defence Minister Stephen Conroy is now demanding to know is Australian Defence Forces, when they are finally allowed to go into Iraq, could end up working with either Iranian forces or Iranian backed forces, he says this could be a game changer. But it is inevitable isn’t it? Everybody knows that Iranian defence leadership has been in there working with Shia militia and are partly responsible for the success some have had against IS.

PLIBERSEK: Well one of the conditions that Labor put on its support for the involvement of Australian personnel in this mission, in Iraq, was that the Iraqi Government would continue to behave in an inclusive way. We are of course watching very closely, not just the formation of the new government and the fact that it is representative, but there have been concerns expressed in the past about the use of militia, that’s something that we’ll continue to look at very closely. Australia absolutely has a responsibility to protect those civilian communities that were under imminent threat of mass atrocity crime, but this is not a blank cheque. We need to see and Iraqi government –

KELLY: But what does that mean? If Iranian military leadership is in Iraq, is working with the militia who in turn are working with the Iraqi army, is that a red line then for Australian forces in your view?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think we need to have more information before we make any assumptions about what type of involvement, or whether there is Iranian involvement, of course there have been reports but those reports vary a great deal about the scale and the type of involvement that Iran has. Iran has a very strong interest in fighting IS. They are concerned themselves about the prospect of a chaotic state on their border, of Iraq falling apart but to make any more assumptions about the likelihood of Australians coming into contact with Iranian forces we’d need a lot more information.

KELLY: Tanya Plibersek thank you for joining us on Breakfast.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you Fran.

ENDS

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TRANSCRIPT - ABC Newsradio, Friday 31 October 2014

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THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP

DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION

SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
MEMBER FOR SYDNEY

 

E&OE TRANSCRIPT
RADIO INTERVIEW
ABC NEWSRADIO
FRIDAY, 31 OCTOBER 2014

 

Subject/s: Ebola crisis; Climate Change.

MARIUS BENSON, PRESENTER: Tanya Plibersek the issue of Ebola is under discussion, the United Nations ambassador, the US ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power saying it is now the greatest public health crisis the world has faced and the world is not doing enough. Is that the impression you’re getting from your discussions in the United States, the world is not doing enough?

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY OPPOSITION LEADER: Well I’ve had a number of discussions here in the United States on Ebola with the United Nations, the World Bank, representatives of the White House and the State Department and the message could not be clearer. It’s important of course for countries to make a financial contribution, but much more is needed. We know in Australia that we have skilled medical personnel who want to help. They’ve trained all their professional lives for situations where they can offer care for people who desperately need it and they don’t have the support of their Government to do so. We also have heard from the last few days in the United States that the field hospital they are building would be available to Australian medical personnel should they become sick in West Africa. It’s really up to the Government to explain what further impediments remain to Australians joining the first against Ebola in West Africa.

BENSON: Is there any awareness in the discussions you’re having in the United States about Australia’s response? Any assessment from officials there of it?

PLIBERSEK: Well people are too polite to be very direct but we’ve heard a lot of comment about countries – you would have heard Samantha Power, ambassador to the United Nations say words to the effect of you have countries that are at the UN signing pledges and signing up to resolutions and complimenting countries that are sending personnel and then not doing it themselves. Not sending docs and beds I thing were her exact words. We are one of those countries. We’re signing up to resolutions saying that the world has to do more. This is a critical time. Getting Ebola under control in the next month is absolutely critical, and yet we’re not doing all we can or all we should.

BENSON: Samantha Power was saying that no country can afford to stand on the sidelines, is Australia seen as standing on the sideline with Ebola?

PLIBERSEK: Well I don’t want to put words in the mouths of other nations about Australia. What I would say is that as an Australian I know we have a strong health system and excellent, dedicated, highly trained staff.  You've got for example the Nurses and Midwives Association telling us that they’ve got more than 300 nurses who have said that they are willing to go to treat patients in West Africa, to do that vital work and yet they’re not being facilitated by our Government.

BENSON: So exactly what does the Government need to do, do you believe?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think it is absolutely clear that we have Australian personnel who are trained, who are willing to go, who understand the risks because of course this is a highly risky thing to do, it’s certainly not risk free. Knowing that, they see it as their humanitarian duty to use the skills they have to help treat patients in West Africa. It is up to the Australian Government to facilitate that contribution. We’ve got countries like the United States and the UK sending medical teams, supplies, equipment, transport and other logistic equipment. We’ve got a number of other countries now making contributions, field hospitals being built, they need to be staffed and we’ve got the people who say that they are able and willing to go and I think that’s the very first step.

BENSON: And just returning home briefly, overnight the direct action legislation from the Government on climate change has passed the Senate. It will now become law it will certainly pass the House of Representatives. Will Labor stick with carbon pricing, will you take carbon pricing to the next election as your climate change policy?

PLIBERSEK: The first thing is to say something about Direct Action. This is an absolute dog of a policy. Our carbon pricing policy was to charge big polluters for the pollution that they were pumping into our atmosphere and that money was used for programs that reduce carbon pollution, it was used to compensate households for any increase in prices. What’s the Government doing instead? They are taking billions of dollars of tax payers' money and giving it to big polluters with no guarantee that it will actually reduce pollution across our country or our society, our economy. There is not an environmentalist or an economist anywhere that tells you that direct action is going to be a success. We will continue to work to have meaningful action on climate change and that certainly means keeping a price on carbon.

BENSON: Tanya Plibersek thank you very much.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you.

ENDS

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TRANSCRIPT - Doorstop, Sydney, Friday 24 October 2014

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THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP

DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION

SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT

MEMBER FOR SYDNEY

  

E&OE TRANSCRIPT

DOORSTOP INTERVIEW

SYDNEY

FRIDAY, 24 OCTOBER 2014

 

Subject/s: Ebola, Gough Whitlam

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY OPPOSITION LEADER: Reports overnight that the Ebola virus has spread to Mali are of substantial concern. On the 1st of October, the World Health Organisation said that if we didn’t get Ebola under control within 60 days, the consequences of the spread of the virus would be completely unpredictable. There would be a situation that there were no plans for. We know that the virus is spreading quickly, about 4500 people have died so far, about 10,000 are infected. But reports suggest that the number of infections is doubling about every 20 days. That means that if the Ebola virus continues to spread in the way that it’s spreading, it will be very difficult to contain it to West Africa. We’ve had calls from around the world for Australia to send in personnel to help, we’ve had calls from the US President, from the Prime Minister of the UK, from the United Nations, from Medicins Sans Frontieres, from Oxfam, from our own Australian Medical Association and our own public health association all saying that Australia has highly experienced staff willing and able to go and that they should be sent. Today there are also reports that the Chief Medical Officer has joined in saying that Australian medical assistance teams should be sent to West Africa. Of course, any such mission is not without risk. This is a dangerous part of the world now with a virus that is spreading quickly. But what President Obama has said, and what our own health professionals are telling us, is that the best way of keeping Australia safe, of keeping Australians safe, is to stop this virus in West Africa. If this virus continues to spread in the way that it does, if it moves to other continents, if it moves into our own region, the consequences are potentially catastrophic. Indeed the World Health Organisation has pointed to the fact thata densely populated region like Asia could have very severe consequences from an Ebola outbreak. Any questions?

JOURNALIST: What do you [inaudible] Minister’s statement that you’re playing politics with Ebola?

PLIBERSEK: There’s nothing to be said about that. This is one of the most critical issues that he has faced as Health Minister. We heard in Senate Estimates this week that Peter Dutton attended the weekly meeting of chief medical officers for the first time last Friday. This is a group that’s been meeting since August. There has been a lack of clarity about Australia’s preparedness. In Senate Estimates we’ve heard different stories from the health department, from the Chief Medical Officer, from defence, all giving different accounts of the level of Australia’s preparedness. And we hear also that Scott Morrison has been after the job of Ebola coordinator. So I think it’s very important that the Health Minister focus on his responsibilities, which are ensuring that Australians are kept safe, that we are prepared domestically and that Australia does its share to halt the spread of Ebola in West Africa.

JOURNALIST: We’ve been told that careful consideration is being given to sending our medical personnel over to help. The thing is- it deserves careful consideration doesn’t it? You can’t rush these things.

PLIBERSEK: This is absolutely something that needs the most careful consideration and the most careful planning. What concerns me is that that consideration and that planning is not happening. We heard different accounts just two days ago about whether Australian staff were being trained and readied to go. It is clear that this Government has not put effort into talking to our allies like the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union to make arrangements for Australian staff, should they need medical back up or evacuation in West Africa. I’m pleased to hear that consideration is being given but I think that that’s rather late in the piece. As I said earlier, we heard from the World Health Organisation on the 1st of October that if we don’t get this virus under control within 60 days - and that means 70 per cent of people being treated in hospitals or a treatment centre, and 70 per cent of dead bodies buried quickly and safely - then we risk seeing this virus spiral out of control - this becomes a global problem. The estimate is that on the current trajectory 1.4 million people will be infected by January next year. We have to stop this in West Africa, and Australia must be a part of that international effort. If Ebola gets to Asia it is very difficult to guarantee Australia’s safety.

JOURNALIST: There has been a case of the New York doctor who has contracted Ebola. Doesn’t that underscore the serious danger of sending medical teams there and how would you explain that to Australians if there was a similar case here in Australia after sending medical teams to West Africa?

PLIBERSEK: There is no question that it is dangerous for medical staff to go to West Africa - no one has ever denied that there is a danger, and that we have to do everything we can to make it as safe as possible for our medical staff. But it comes with risks. What I say to people who are worried about this story of the doctor who has come back to New York is - I understand those fears, I understand those concerns. But we can’t protect Australia if this virus gets out of control. Medical staff who volunteer to go to West Africa know the dangers. The Nurses and Midwives Association have told us that within 12 hours they had 135 nurses ring them to volunteer, to say they were prepared to go to West Africa. Nurses know the dangers of going, doctors know the dangers of going. Why then are they going? They also know that the best way they can contribute to keeping Australia and Australians safe is to go to West Africa and fight the disease there. They have trained all of their professional lives to serve humanity and that’s what they are asking to be allowed to do. They’re asking for the support of their Government to do what they are trained and equipped to do, what they know they must do to help keep Australians safe. It is not without risk, that is clear. But we have medical personnel who are prepared to take that risk with their Government’s support - to keep not just Australians, but the globe safe.

JOURNALIST: You can’t knock the Australian Government however for being unwilling to send Australian personnel into dangerous areas - can you?

PLIBERSEK: I think it’s very important to say that if this virus continues to spread in the way that it has, it will become difficult to keep Australians safe.  I’m asking the Government to look ahead to the worst case scenario. The Centres of Disease Control, a very authoritative organisation in the United States is saying on current trajectories we’ll have 1.4 million people infected by the beginning of next year. How does the Government keep Australians safe if that comes to pass?

JOURNALIST: In Senate Estimates, it was revealed that Australian diplomats have been talking to partner countries about treatment plans. Doesn’t that indicate the Government has been preparing a response [inaudible]?

 

PLIBERSEK: What was revealed in Senate Estimates is that in September we had official requests from the United States and from the United Kingdom – two of our closest friends and best allies, for Australia to send personnel.  It shows that despite those requests the Government has progressed very little.

 

JOURNALIST: Can I just ask – there will be a state memorial service held for the former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam on the 5th of November. Obviously that will be an extremely special day for the Labor party and millions more Australians.

 

PLIBERSEK: Well I think you saw an outpouring of national grief on Wednesday for a great man who represented a great Labor tradition.  The 5th of November will be a sad day for many Australians, and of course for our Labor family.  But it will also be a day of celebration – celebrating a great legacy – a legacy that changed Australia for the better, and changed Australia forever.

ENDS

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TRANSCRIPT - Doorstop Interview, Parliament House, Thursday 23 October 2014

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 THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP

DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION

SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
MEMBER FOR SYDNEY

 

THE HON CATHERINE KING MP

SHADOW MINISTER FOR HEALTH
MEMBER FOR BALLARAT

 

E&OE TRANSCRIPT

DOORSTOP INTERVIEW

PARLIAMENT HOUSE

THURSDAY, 23 OCTOBER 2014

 

Subject/s: Ebola

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Today in Question Time we heard for the first time the Prime Minister admit that our friends and allies have been calling on Australia to do more to help fight Ebola in West Africa. We have heard over the last 24 hours that the Prime Minister has spoken to President Obama, who has been urging Australia to do more, we know that the Foreign Minister has previously spoken to the Prime Minister of the UK who has also asked Australia to do more. This comes on top of requests from many international organisations including the United Nations Security Council, including organisations like Oxfam, Medicins Sans Frontieres, the International Crisis Group and others. All of them say that countries such as Australia should assist with personnel as well as money. Now we know that any such mission would not be without risk. Of course it’s dangerous to go into an area where a virus like Ebola has taken hold. We also know that not acting is simply not an option. President Obama has said very clearly that the best way to protect Americans from Ebola is to fight it in West Africa. The same goes for Australia, the best way to fight Ebola, to protect Australians from Ebola, is to fight it in West Africa. I am going to hand over to Catherine King in a moment to talk about the chaotic stories that have been coming out Senate Estimates over the last 24 hours about Australia's preparedness in the area of Ebola, but I want to finish by saying this - there is absolutely no time to lose in fighting Ebola. We have heard that there could be up to 1.4 million cases by January next year. It is reported that the number of people infected by Ebola is doubling around every 20 days. If we do not get a hold of this virus in West Africa, the chances of it spreading into our region grow. If Ebola reaches our region, we are in big trouble. The World Health Organisation has said that Ebola reaching Asia is potentially catastrophic. We have got some very strong health systems in our region but we have also got some that would be overwhelmed by a virus that spreads so easily. I am going to ask Catherine to make a few comments about domestic issues.

CATHERINE KING, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HEALTH: Thanks very much, Tanya, and I too just want to reiterate very clearly that it is in Australia's absolute and best interests - the way that we protect Australian citizens from Ebola is fighting this in West Africa. We have some of the best public health systems in the world, we have some of the best health services staff in the world, in fact it is actually why we have been saying that they need to use that expertise volunteering internationally. Now, yesterday at Senate estimates we quite deliberately asked the question as to whether any volunteer personnel, any AUSMAT personnel had been trained ready for Ebola. The reason we asked that question was specifically that we know that should the Government reach a great arrangement with other international countries in relation to treatment or evacuation of health services personnel, we know that it will take two to three weeks for a team to be ready to go. So we wanted to find out whether there was one ready. Now the chaos that occurred yesterday where we had different accounts coming from different officials and then finally late at night a statement made and statements made from the Minister for Health show that there has been a lack of command and control on this issue. It is clear that the first time the Minister for Health has attended one of the chief medical officer and state medical officer meetings or teleconferences was last Friday, when this was first raised or began to get raised in the media. Labor has been calling for months now for the Government to engage with the international community on this issue and to send medical personnel. It should not have been up to Labor to force the Minister for Health to actually start for the first time to go and meet with the chief medical officers and state medical officers. I think that the Minister for Health has something to answer to here and certainly it has not filled me with great confidence in his efforts to actually make sure we are domestically ready, but I do have enormous faith in our health services personnel to deal with the unfortunate circumstances should there be a case of Ebola in Australia. I think we’ll take some questions now.

JOURNALIST: Minister, given that there is so many moving parts, different ministries involved, Scott Morrison’s apparent proposal to have everybody- to have him take charge of the whole response, does not that idea have some merit?

KING: Do you want to take that one, Tanya? You can have that one. I’m happy to answer it.

PLIBERSEK: Well, what we’ve heard today is another land grab from Scott Morrison. He’s now tried to take interest in about half a dozen portfolios. I think it is important that someone is in charge and at the moment we’ve got a Health Minister, Prime Minister, Foreign Minister, Immigration Minister that all seem to be competing for who is in charge. This is a very serious issue for us domestically. It is a very serious issue internationally. And instead of getting on with the job, making it clear who is responsible, we’ve got internal competition within the Liberal party.

JOURNALIST: But there's a sort of a conglomeration of public service departments that was announced today, I think nine or ten departments put together at a public service level, so why shouldn’t there be the same sort of thing at a ministerial level?

PLIBERSEK: Well, look I'm not going to make comments about the internal arrangements of the Liberal Government. My responsibility and Catherine King's responsibility is to make sure that we hold the Government to account. To make sure that they are confidently preparing Australia should the worst happen and we see a case of Ebola in Australia. And it's our responsibility to say loud and clear that the best way to protect Australia is to fight Ebola in West Africa, and that Australia must be part of that global effort. We've got our very close friends and allies, the United Kingdom and the United States, asking Australia to do more. We've got the United Nations, and international organisations like Oxfam and Medecins Sans Frontieres and the International Crisis Group, and others saying that Australia should be involved with sending personnel to West Africa to help fight the Ebola crisis there. It is unacceptable that a month after these first formal requests have come from our allies, that the Government is still not able to answer whether it will be sending Australian personnel and what arrangements it has put in place for the safety of those personnel.

JOURNALIST:  Do you think that Scott Morrison can do a better job than the Health Minister? If he can stop the boats he can stop Ebola?

KING: Well I think surely it's obvious the Immigration Minister thinks he can do a better job than the Health Minister. I'll leave that for people to conclude.

JOURNALIST: Do you think that the Government has been complacent about the threat that Ebola poses?

KING: I don't think that they've been complacent, I think they've been missing in action, is really what's happened. And you know it's as though because this wasn't on the front pages of our newspapers that they have been very, very slow to the case. The fact that we've been calling for weeks now for there to be a response, the fact that the Health Minister for the first time came in on the teleconference that the chief medical officer and state counterparts have been having for several weeks now, is pretty extraordinary, frankly.

JOURNALIST: Just in regards to the response of Peter Varghese from DFAT today said that there have been talks with allies, the United states, the United Kingdom for instance,  but there isn't an agreement yet. The fact that there isn’t an agreement, doesn’t it make it risky to launch ourselves to promise that we will send medical teams if we still don't have that agreement in place?

PLIBERSEK: Any mission like this has its risks, and it would be completely irresponsible of the Australian Government to send people if there was no support measures put in place. What we know though is that these requests came in a month ago. The Prime Minister admitted today that requests from our friends and allies came in one month ago. We've had all sorts of excuses from the Government about why they can't make arrangements for our personnel. What we haven't heard from them, is the effort that they've put into making those arrangements. Of course we need to protect and support Australians who go to West Africa to fight Ebola but we also need to know that our Government is actually making an effort to join that international mission, not sitting on its hands.

JOURNALIST: You say the Government is complacent, isn't it in fact the entire world, the entire world has been put on the hop by this deadly virus?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think it's fair to say that there are a number of countries that are shouldering the greatest responsibility at this time. We know of course that the disease is particularly affecting Sierra Leone and Guinea and Liberia. Those countries are bearing the brunt of the Ebola virus outbreak. And assistance is being provided most generously by the United States, the United Kingdom, and Germany and a number of others. It is absolutely critical that Australia become part of that international effort. It's no good now saying the world was caught off-guard. We have a very limited time to act, we heard on the first of October that we have sixty days to act, and that means 70% of people in treatment centres or receiving treatment and 70% of bodies buried appropriately and quickly. If we don't act within that sixty day window, the World Health Organisation cannot tell what will happen. They say that there will be a crisis that is unprecedented and that the world is not prepared for. We have a limited window of opportunity to act, and we must be part of that global effort to act.

JOURNALIST: Does this make you all the more curious about the conversation between Barack Obama and Tony Abbott yesterday?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think it's plain that the President of the United States has been saying for a month to countries around the world, we all need to lift our game. And the President has been saying that the world has come late to the assistance of West Africa. I obviously can't say what happened in that telephone conversation, but it's been made clear by the White House that a request for greater assistance, including personnel, was made by the President of our Prime Minister. And it's up to the Prime Minister to answer now whether he will refuse that request from our friends and allies.

ENDS

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TRANSCRIPT - Capital Hill, Thursday 23 October 2014

coats arms

THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP

DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION

SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
MEMBER FOR SYDNEY

 

E&OE TRANSCRIPT

TV INTERVIEW

ABC CAPITAL HILL

THURSDAY, 23 OCTOBER 2014

 

Subject/s: Ebola

JULIE DOYLE, PRESENTER: We've heard evidence from the Department of Foreign Affairs at Senate Estimates today that there's now been requests from the United Kingdom and the United States for Australian people to be sent to West Africa to help fight Ebola. If they're asking for us to send people, should they be agreeing then to evacuate Australians if they do become infected?

PLIBERSEK: Well both the US and the UK are making a decision to treat their own medical staff in-country. That means wherever possible they'll treat people as quickly as possible on the ground in Liberia or Sierra Leone where they are building hospitals with first world health standards. The UK's also said that they are potentially sending a hospital ship. They're making a different decision about their own health staff in the first instance to treat in-country. But of course, the proposition remains that Australia should be able to get an agreement with the United States, with the UK or one of our European allies to provide health facilities on the same basis, or health treatment on the same basis, to our personnel as they would to their own.

DOYLE: Does it surprise you that we've had confirmation - that we have had these official requests from the United Kingdom, United States amongst others, but this agreement as far as the evacuation of Australian personnel hasn't been sorted out?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think it’s very significant that we've had the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and the President of the United States make formal requests of our government for extra Australian commitment to fight Ebola in West Africa and those requests haven't been met. These are two of our most important allies. They are bearing a huge share of the responsibility of fighting Ebola in West Africa. We've now got a situation where the President of the United States is ringing the Prime Minister of Australia. The Prime Minister of the UK has spoken to our Foreign Minister, and still the Australian Government is not making arrangements to support Australian personnel who are trained, who are willing, who are able to fight Ebola in West Africa to go.

DOYLE: But don’t they need some way if requests are coming and they want people to go there, isn't it fair enough that the Australian Government says there must be a way to evacuate or treat Australian people if they get infected?

PLIBERSEK: Well, of course it's fair enough to say that there must be a way of treating Australians. What's in question is what effort has the Australian Government made to put those arrangements in place? And the Prime Minister says that it's impossible, it’s just too hard. For weeks now we've had the Health Minister saying it's just too hard and we find out that, in fact, the Health Minister’s only for the first time on Friday joined the weekly meeting of chief health and medical officers to manage the Ebola crisis. So we've got a chaotic 24 hours in Senate Estimates where there's three different stories about Australia's preparedness in Australia and in our region and we have further evidence now saying that Australia has been requested by the United States, by the United Kingdom, joining requests from the United Nations, the UN Security Council, the International Crisis Group, Medecins Sans Frontieres, the World Health Organisation, our own AMA, Public Health Association - all of these organisations saying that it is important to have personnel on the ground in West Africa, people who are trained and willing and able to go. We're knocking back the requests of all of these health and security organisations. Now we're also saying no to some of our most important allies.

DOYLE: Looking at some of the measures closer to home to deal with any kind of outbreak in the Asia Pacific region or with people coming back here from West Africa, now there's been reports about some tension in the Cabinet when it comes to the role of the Immigration Minister Scott Morrison. Now as far as quarantine measures at the airport for example, for people coming back from West Africa, wouldn't it make sense, doesn't that require Customs and Immigration to have a greater role there?

PLIBERSEK: Well, it absolutely requires that Customs and Immigration are aware of what they should be telling passengers who are coming back into Australia. It's very important that they have very clear instructions, that they obviously tell passengers that if they have any of these symptoms that they should go to a hospital and so on. I think the problem here is after 24 hours of chaotic answers in Senate Estimates we now have Scott Morrison making a bid to expand his portfolio responsibilities further. To be honest, it doesn't matter to me so much who is in charge within the Government, there needs to be someone in charge.

DOYLE: Wouldn't it make sense then to bring all this under one umbrella?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think that's a matter for the Government.

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

PLIBERSEK: Thank you.

ENDS

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