Peter Dutton says the WHO made a "huge mistake" backing the re-opening of China's wet markets. Image by Darren England/AAP PHOTOS

Health

Health body in review but PM praises work

2020-04-17 17:10:14

Australia is re-examining its links to the World Health Organisation but won’t be pulling its multi-million-dollar contribution.

But a series of top-ranking ministers has savaged the United Nations body over Chinese live animal markets, putting the government’s anger on full display.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the WHO had made mistakes throughout its handling of the coronavirus crisis.

“I know they have had their criticism and, frankly, I think it has been quite deserved,” he told reporters in Canberra on Thursday.

“We have got to remember also that while they might have had a few poor outings lately there is also some very important work they have been doing.”

Mr Morrison said the WHO had shipped protective equipment and deployed healthcare workers to countries and territories across the Pacific.

He also pointed to helping Fiji test for the virus and setting up COVID-19 isolation facilities in East Timor, along with responding to measles in Samoa and polio in Papua New Guinea.

But the prime minister said Australia was reviewing its engagement with the WHO as part of a wider review of international bodies he announced in October.

That report is due shortly.

“We will keep working with them but it won’t be uncritical,” Mr Morrison said.

Peter Dutton warned against following US President Donald Trump’s move pulling funding for the WHO during the pandemic.

The home affairs minister believes Australia cutting ties with the UN’s health agency could risk other countries making strategic advances as poorer Pacific nations deal with devastating outbreaks.

“It’s important for us not to let other countries use this as an opportunity to influence their leverage within some of these communities,” he told 2GB radio.

An incredulous Mr Dutton said the WHO needed to be called out for backing the reopening of China’s wet markets where the virus is likely to have been transmitted to humans.

“I think it’s a huge mistake and they need to reassess what their advice is,” he said.

He said it was clear through a number of instances, including the SARS outbreak, that wet markets were a significant problem.

“China needs to change some of its ways including in relation to the wet markets and the way in which that has led to the spread of disease,” he said.

Mr Dutton said the government was prepared to call out the WHO and other UN bodies, while also reassessing their actions.

“I think there’s been a big wake-up call out of coronavirus,” he said.

The minister has been a frequent critic of the UN’s refugee agency in retaliation to savage assessments of Australia’s border protection policies.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said Australia would leverage off its membership of the WHO to push for reform.

Australia contributes about $40 million a year to the body, the treasurer said.