Officials have advised the Government a return flight to Australia would take 30 hours, long enough for someone with symptoms of the disease to die.
Australian officials have also sought assurances from the US, UK and some European Union member states that if Australians were to be sent to West Africa, anyone infected could be treated in one of those countries.
To date, no partner country has been willing to give an ironclad guarantee that they would treat an Australian worker.
The possibility of treating people in West Africa has so far been discounted because, despite promises, no treatment centre for healthcare workers has been built or staffed.
Officials have stressed the mortality rate for Ebola means there is a seven in 10 chance that an infected patient will die.
The fatality rate for a healthcare worker is only slightly lower, at 56 per cent.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott said this morning it would be “irresponsible of an Australian Government to order Australian personnel into this very dangerous situation if we didn’t have effective risk mitigation strategies in place”.
“And at the moment there is no way of doing that,” he said.
Mr Abbott said “we have no commitments from other countries” to treat Australians who might contract the disease while working offshore.
Plibersek says lack of arrangement ‘absurd’
Pressure is being applied to the Government to do more to help fight the worst outbreak of the Ebola virus in history.
The Opposition has written to Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and and Health Minister Peter Dutton, urging them to send Australian health professionals as soon as possible.
Shadow foreign minister Tanya Plibersek said “some Australians who are ready and willing to go who are being discouraged by the Government’s position”.
“I think it’s very important that we use the resources that we have,” Ms Plibersek said.
“The US and the UK are, for example, sending significant numbers of their defence personnel and they’re able to undertake very important roles like, for example, building temporary hospitals.
“I think it is absurd that the Australian Government cannot make an arrangement with the United States [or with] European countries that have got health workers there at the moment,” she said.
An open letter has been penned by 113 professors of health, demanding that the Government do more.
The Government has committed $18 million to combating the disease but believes sending health workers or Defence personnel would be a breach of its duty of care, given it could not guarantee their safety.
The clear advice from the highest levels of the bureaucracy is that Australia’s commitment is in line with what it can sensibly do, and similar to what is being given by other countries that are a long-haul flight from West Africa, like Korea and Japan.
The Opposition has been briefed by officials.
Mr Dutton said he was not prepared to “put Australian health workers into harm’s way without the assurance that we can provide them with the medical assistance if they contract the virus”.
“We don’t believe, on the advice available to us, that an Australian health worker put into harm’s way in West Africa would survive a 30-hour flight back to Australia to be repatriated to receive medical support if they were to contract the virus,” he said.
“There are countries in Europe only a few hours by aeroplane away from West Africa that have decided… not to send their health workers into harm’s way.”