Abbott Government must act on Ebola

ebola_sierra_leone_3006951b.jpgTo the member for Bowman, who in his contribution made some passing criticism of Labor members for bringing this issue into the parliament and criticising the inaction of the government, I merely recite words of the great John Curtin, who in his time as Leader of the Opposition offered bipartisan support to the then government on the issue of national security but warned that this did not negate his obligation for patriotic criticism. In this respect, we all know that the clock is ticking and the government is not doing all that it ought be doing in relation to this international crisis.

The number of Ebola cases exceeded 10,000 this week and the number of dead—a mortality rate of about 50 per cent—has exceeded 4,900. Statistics like this have moved the UN Secretary-General, Mr Ban Ki-moon, to describe it as 'a humanitarian crisis of unprecedented proportions'. The UN Security Council has deemed that this is indeed 'a threat to international peace and security', and the US Centre for Disease Control has said:

Without additional interventions or changes in community behaviour, CDC estimates that by January 20, 2015, there could be up to 1.4 million infections.

At a mortality rate of about 50 per cent, we are looking at well in excess of 750,000 people dying between now and the end of January next year. The Secretary General of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has said that the outbreak could be contained within four to six months if the right steps were followed. It is these steps that the member for Ballarat's motion addresses. We think that with Australia playing a part alongside other countries we can be a part of the response that is needed to stem the spread of the EVD.

The US Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, has said that the international response to Ebola needs to be taken to a wholly different scale than it is right now. That is a message that needs to be directed at our Minister for Health, our Prime Minister, along with all of the other countries who are not doing enough. We know that China is sending medical personnel; the UK, military, logistical and medical personnel; the US, several thousand medical personnel and military personnel; the EU are sending mobile labs; Israel is sending a team of doctors; the African Union, obviously closest to home, is sending over 1,000 health workers; and Cuba is sending over 250 medical personnel. Regrettably, Australia is not on the list and we on this side of the House believe we should be.

It is simply not true, as the minister has attempted to say, that for us to be sending health workers into West Africa to confront the spread of this virus is somehow reckless or antipatriotic. Nothing could be further from the truth. We know that, as we speak, there are already Australian health workers on the ground working for volunteer and international aid agencies. What is needed is greater coordination and a greater role for the government. The government enjoys our bipartisan support for the $18 million of funds which have been contributed to the international effort, but we know that this is absolutely not enough. We would simply say to the minister, who as early as this morning was on ABC radio dreaming up even more and fantastic ways to demonise or criticise the Deputy Leader of the Opposition or the shadow minister for health: instead of expending your mental energy on these sorts of public insults, direct that to the problems that are before us. It is not reckless or hysterical to be saying a great nation like Australia can be doing more and should be doing more. It is rational and it is humanitarian. The Australian volunteers who are already over there doing their bit to fight this terrible disease enjoy our support. They are not reckless or hysterical, nor are we on this side of the House in saying that we can do more. We can coordinate the voluntary efforts and we can do more in respect of our government efforts as well. I support the motion.