House debates

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Questions without Notice


2:53 pm

Photo of Andrew LamingAndrew Laming (Bowman, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I have a question for the Minister for Health. Will the minister update the House on the steps the government is taking to ensure that we are prepared for a confirmed Ebola diagnosis in Australia?

Photo of Peter DuttonPeter Dutton (Dickson, Liberal Party, Minister for Health) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the honourable member for Bowman for his question. I want to pay tribute to the chief medical officer, the chief of defence and the head of border protection—those people who have been advising the Prime Minister and me, other members of the executive and also the health officers running public hospitals around the country. There has been national collaboration to make sure that our country is at the highest level of preparedness. I am very pleased to say that we have been able to build on the level of expertise of the doctors and nurses that we have around the country in tertiary hospitals that can quickly isolate and quarantine a patient if there is a presentation confirmed of Ebola.

We also have a world-class response at our airports. If people arrive from west Africa at one of our ports, we are able to identify those people, provide the appropriate information to them and investigate their activities in west Africa, particularly whether they have had contact with somebody who has contracted the virus or have been to a funeral in one of the three affected countries in particular. We can, with the support of the state health officers, quarantine those people if appropriate or conduct testing as may be required.

The other great capacity we have in this country is to be able to very quickly trace people with whom an affected patient may have had contact, to conduct tests rapidly on those people and to make sure that we have the appropriate medical response. We also have the assets and the capacity to provide very quick and rapid support to perhaps an island nation within our region. We would not expect healthcare workers to come from the other side of the world—from France or Belgium—to provide support to affected patients in our region. We would be expected to provide that support, and provide the support we will. We have the capacity to provide that out of Darwin. That is something we are able to do, and we would step up to the plate.

We are also providing support through the United Nations and other NGOs on the ground in west Africa. We are working with partners to see what further assistance we might be able to provide. I welcome the contribution of the member for Sydney, who at a press conference just a week ago, said:

We have to do everything that we can to make it as safe as possible for our medical staff.

The problem was that the member for Sydney then realised that she was live to air and quickly turned to camera and said, 'Can we start again?' because up until that point the member for Sydney had been critical of the government's response. It is quite sad that there is not a bipartisan approach. I thank the Leader of the Opposition, who has been able to tame the member for Sydney over the last few days. We will provide an appropriate response. That is the government's charge. (Time expired)