As the prime minister praises volunteers for tackling Ebola, he is facing political pressure over why the government has not directly acted in west Africa.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott has praised the efforts of volunteers tackling Ebola overseas, but has defended the government’s delay in sending soldiers and government doctors and nurses.
The comments came as chief medical officers met to ensure Australia’s preparedness for a potential Ebola case.
As the UN and US President Barack Obama sought to build an international coalition to fight Ebola, Australian diplomats have been unable to secure the agreement of another country to evacuate and treat military or health personnel sent into west Africa who may contract the virus.
The 20 to 30 Australian volunteers working with non-government agencies have their own arrangements.
The US military is building up to a force of 3200 troops in Liberia and Senegal.
Former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan says wealthy countries should be doing a lot more.
“I am bitterly disappointed by the response … I am disappointed in the international community for not moving faster,” Mr Annan told the BBC.
“I point the finger of blame at the governments with capacity.”
Labor and medical associations say a greater Australian effort is needed, but Mr Abbott insists it is too hazardous without the evacuation plan.
“There’s a world of difference between volunteers going and displaying selfless humanitarianism, which I praise, and the government ordering Australian defence personnel to go to an area where we don’t have the capacity to evacuate people,” Mr Abbott said.
The Australian Medical Association has been critical of hospital preparations within Australia.
But Health Minister Peter Dutton, who met medical chiefs on Friday, said the comments were misguided.
“We are as prepared as any developed nation to deal with this virus and the risk to our country is very, very low,” Mr Dutton said.
A strategy is in place to deal with any outbreaks in the region, which is where Australia is concentrating its efforts.
“They have the ability to respond rapidly out of Darwin. We have the expertise within our medical workforce here,” Mr Dutton said.
One of the regional countries of concern is Papua New Guinea.
Queensland Health Minister Lawrence Springborg says the area between PNG and his state had long been a health concern.
“The porous border concerns me in general. I wouldn’t even want to speculate what would happen if Ebola actually turned up in PNG,” Mr Springborg said.
Queensland is ordering extra equipment in the event of Ebola reaching the state and infected patients having to be moved.
Palmer United Party senator Jacqui Lambie said governments had been “untrustworthy and dysfunctional” in their handling of the Ebola outbreak.
She wants a ban on travel to and from west Africa, stronger checks at airports, specialist Ebola quarantine facilities at international airports and the creation of MASH-style mobile health teams within the Australian Defence Force.
Mr Abbott said the Ebola outbreak was too serious to become a party political football.
Australia’s chief medical officer Chris Baggoley said after meeting his state and territory counterparts on Friday that he was impressed by the readiness of hospitals.
Prof Baggoley said the risk of an outbreak remained unchanged at “very low”, but procedures would be constantly reviewed.
So far about 700 people have been identified at airports as having travelled from west Africa, with 11 tested for the virus but all were found to be negative.