Palmer United Party senator Jacqui Lambie has called on the Australia Defence Force to “do everything we possibly can” to stop Ebola-infected suicide soldiers from entering the country.
Sitting in at a Foreign Affairs and Defence Budget Estimates Committee on Wednesday, Ms Lambie questioned defence force officials about what the “contingency plan” was should enemy soldiers contaminated with the deadly virus cross our borders.
“Do you have any information to suggest that Australia’s enemies could attack our country or military using the virus, for example with suicide agents who are affected with the disease, or have access to bodily fluids containing the disease, and what is your contingency plan to fight this?” she asked Vice-Admiral Ray Griggs.
Vice-Admiral Griggs was quick to play down the theory, saying Australia’s geographic isolation and the length of time it took to travel to the country would make it obvious early how ill someone was.
“I don’t believe there is any evidence to suggest that that is a likely course of action,” he said.
Speaking on Sky News, Ms Lambie said: “It’s biological chemical warfare.
“Why couldn’t they jump on a plane and we don’t pick them up?”
The federal health department declared Australia ready to respond to a regional Ebola outbreak, though Ms Lambie remained unconvinced of the country’s readiness to deal with intruders.
‘Better safe than sorry’
“It’s better to take precautionary measures,” she said.
“We should do everything we possibly can.
“There’s plenty of suicide missions going on around the world, so what’s stopping them hopping on a plane and coming here?”
Government MP Craig Laundy called for Ms Lambie to resign from Parliament if she continued to make bizarre comments, Fairfax reports.
“My father has told me from a young age, if you find yourself in an environment where you don’t know what’s going on, shut up and listen and learn,” Mr Laundy said.
The federal health department’s assurances come after the government’s chief medical officer Chris Baggoley sparked concern about Australia’s preparedness, apparently contradicting prior government assurances a strategy is in place should the epidemic reach the Asia-Pacific.
The nation’s chief medical officer on Wednesday suggested emergency government health workers were at least two weeks away from being adequately trained to handle an outbreak of the deadly virus.
Mr Baggoley told a Senate estimates hearing there were no appropriate plans to evacuate health workers from West Africa to Australia.
Meanwhile, experts at a global health conference in Melbourne said Australia was prepared for any future outbreak on its shores.
Nossal Institute Global Health director Barbara McPake said the likelihood of “the odd case” emerging in Australia was relatively high.
But she said Australia had a strong health system.
“I think what Australians need to be worried about is if future outbreaks like this are being adequately prepared for and prevented by the strengthening of health systems in countries in the region,” she said.
Domestic outbreak not on the radar
Defence says it is drawing up plans to airlift potential Ebola victims back to Australia from within the region, but hasn’t given much thought about the risk of a domestic outbreak.
The revelations have put in doubt the Abbott government’s response to the Ebola crisis, with claims Australia’s health teams are unprepared for an epidemic in the region.
This appears to contradict Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s assurance that Australia has a strategy in place should the epidemic reach the Asia-Pacific.
Greens senator Richard di Natale, a former public health professional with experience in infectious diseases, accused the government of sitting on its hands.
“What have we been doing? This thing has been going on for months,” he told reporters in Canberra on Wednesday.
“We don’t have anyone that we could send if there was an outbreak (in the region) tomorrow.”
The government is also under pressure to explain why it can’t follow the UK in setting up treatment centres in West Africa for Australian medical personnel should they be infected.
Aid organisations renewed their call on Wednesday for the government to send its specialist Australian Medical Assistance Teams into the field – something they have resisted thus far.
Labor leader Bill Shorten said an outbreak had to be treated close to the source.
“If you wait until it comes to our shores you wouldn’t be asking about questions about what we should do in West Africa, the question is why didn’t we do more before?” he told reporters.
– with AAP