Wednesday, 1 October 2014
Questions without Notice
My question is to be Minister for Foreign Affairs. Australia co-sponsored a unanimous UN Security Council resolution, calling on all nations to, 'Facilitate the delivery of assistance, including qualified specialised and trained personnel and supplies in response to the Ebola outbreak.' When will the government act to support skilled and experienced Australians who are willing and able to help fight the Ebola outbreak in Africa?
I thank the Deputy Leader of the Opposition for her question.
Australia has already taken action by providing $8 million in addition to the $40 million that we have provided this year to the World Health Organisation for its global work. As I have said publicly, the best contribution that Australia can make at this time is to provide financial resources to frontline services and organisations, which we have done.
What I need to point out to some opposite is that we have taken very specific advice. Military and health experts have advised us that evacuating a patient with Ebola is complex. If Australia had the appropriate aircraft to evacuate an Ebola patient, which we do not, the flying time of 30 hours from west Africa—
would you please let me finish—to Australia is dangerous. The ideal time is under 10 hours, so a flight time of 30 hours to evacuate back to Australia is logistically and clinically unsafe.
Opposition members interjecting—
Therefore, we are working with partner governments and organisations to see if we could use their aeroplanes to evacuate Australian health workers to somewhere geographically closer than Australia. There are very few aircraft in the world that are capable of providing the support for a patient with Ebola. Those very few aircraft are currently being used by the United States and countries in Europe. We have asked, and we are working with these countries to see if Australian health workers could be evacuated to their countries on their aeroplanes, and those negotiations are underway.
But along with the rest of the international community, can I point out what would be required to medivac back to Australia? First there has to be a clinical assessment—
An opposition member interjecting—
or to anywhere, shadow minister!
Ms King interjecting—
It also includes: arranging ground transport of the patient from their location to an airport; securing the use of an appropriate aircraft, noting that there are very few available with the capacity to transport a patient with active Ebola; negotiating access to a treatment facility in a country closer to west Africa than Australia because flying time must be kept to a minimum; obtaining overflight and technical stop clearances from other countries along every step of the air route. This is why the Prime Minister has set up an interdepartmental committee comprising representatives from the Department of Health, the Department of Defence and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade—because every one of these steps would have to be achieved, otherwise there is no evacuation. The Australian government will not put at risk Australian health workers without a credible evacuation plan.