Abbott gov’t outsources belated Ebola response

Issue 
More than 350 Australian doctors and nurses have volunteered to help staff a hospital in Sierra Leone.

In keeping with its crusade to privatise every public activity it can get away with, the Australian government has outsourced the management of an Ebola treatment hospital in Sierra Leone to private provider Aspen Medical.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced on November 5 that the government would allocate $20 million to operate a British-built facility in the West African country over the next eight months.

After weeks of inaction and immense pressure from within Australia and overseas, the government finally moved to make a further modest contribution to the fight against the devastating Ebola menace. The government had given the excuse that it had no guarantee of adequate arrangements for repatriating any Australian health worker who may contract the deadly virus.

This excuse was exposed by the release of a statement by the European Union last month, which made a clear guarantee that international health responders would “receive the treatment they need, in line with clinical advice, via treatment in country to an appropriate standard or medical evacuation supported by means of a specialised commercial aircraft or member states capabilities on a case by case basis”.

Greens senator Richard Di Natale said he was angry that direct questions to departmental representatives were rebuffed in a Senate estimates hearing three days after the EU offer was made.

Abbott said the majority of staff at the Sierra Leone facility would be contracted locally, but it was likely some paid Australian volunteers would also be hired. More than 350 Australian doctors and nurses immediately volunteered to help staff the hospital, according to the November 6 Sydney Morning Herald.

The SMH said Labor foreign affairs spokesperson Tanya Plibersek “welcomed the decision, but questioned why the government had not chosen to directly deploy Australian volunteers … She said she did not understand how enough staff could be found in Sierra Leone, which before the Ebola outbreak, had just 100 doctors for a population of six million people.”

Could it be that the Australian government will find it much cheaper to use local workers, and thus keep the costs of its outsourced intervention as low as possible?

This Ebola outbreak is the biggest in history — more than 13,500 people have been infected across eight countries, and about 5000 people have died.

SMH criticised the government's action in an editorial on November 9: “Grudging response to plea to send Australian medics to fight Ebola perplexing, embarrassing”.

The editorial asked why a private provider, Aspen Medical, was being used, instead of the government's disaster response Australian Medical Assistance Teams, which were deployed to the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan in 2013.

The government's decision to suspend all migration from the Ebola-affected countries of West Africa was slammed by Greens immigration spokesperson Senator Sarah Hanson-Young.

In a statement on October 29, she said: "This cruel, senseless ban is embarrassing Australia on a global scale, and [Immigration Minister Scott Morrison] has to explain himself ...

"Banning refugees from West Africa is like shuttering up the windows of a house while it burns to the ground. Australians want to help fight Ebola, but they are being held back by this mean-spirited, small-minded and hard-hearted Abbott government.”

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