By Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra
Here’s a thought for Tony Abbott. Why doesn’t he ring up Barack Obama and David Cameron and ask them to help remove the impediment that’s apparently stopping the Australian government providing assistance on the ground for the West African Ebola crisis?
If it is really beyond the wit of officialdom to make arrangements to evacuate any Australian who contracted the virus, surely this would be a logical step, especially as Obama was pressing nations this week for more effort.
Abbott was quick to offer every assistance to the US for the action against Islamic State. Nothing was too much trouble for Australia.
Yet everything seems too much trouble when it comes to the West African crisis, which Obama has called “a top national security priority”.
The government’s attitude is not “how can we find ways to give greater help?” (beyond the $18 million Australia has donated) but “it’s too hard”.
The government and its officials keep talking about the 30 hours it would take to bring an infected person back.
“We don’t believe … an Australian health worker put into harm’s way in West Africa would survive the 30-hour flight back to Australia to be repatriated to receive medical support if they were to contract the virus,” Health Minister Peter Dutton said on Thursday.
This is a furphy, and the government knows it. No one would be contemplating an evacuation to Australia, so why talk about it? Any evacuations would be to countries much closer.
It is also being said that other countries are not willing to take – or guarantee to take – Australian nationals.
Non-government organisations with health workers on the ground – 30 Australians are volunteering at the moment – have emergency evacuation arrangements. But these third country arrangements are “not secure”, Dutton said.
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