Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has launched a blistering attack against the World Health Organisation for its apparent support of reopening wet markets in China.
But Australia will not be following the United States in pulling funding from the WHO over its response to the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s unbelievable, it’s extraordinary, that the World Health Organisation sees it fit for these wet markets to continue in China,” Mr Frydenberg told reporters in Canberra on Wednesday.
“They shouldn’t … they’ve been the source of outbreaks that have killed people around the world.”
There is some confusion about the WHO’s position on wet markets because different envoys have given contradictory positions to various news organisations.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he sympathised with US President Donald Trump’s scathing criticisms of the WHO, having aired a few grievances of his own.
Australia declared a pandemic several weeks before the WHO, triggering a range of boosted biosecurity and border security measures to stem the spread of COVID-19.
Mr Morrison has also admonished the WHO for its “unfathomable” decision to support China reopening live animal markets, which were the likely cause of the killer disease.
“To be sanctioning that is just completely mystifying to me,” he told 6PR radio.
“But that said, the WHO also as an organisation does a lot of important work, including here in our own region in the Pacific, and we work closely with them.
“We’re not going to throw the baby out with the bathwater here, but they’re also not immune from criticism and immune from doing things better.”
Liberal backbencher Dave Sharma believes Australian funding for the WHO should be tied to “necessary reforms”.
“This reckoning has been coming for some time,” he told Sky News.
“I think a lot of countries, Australia included, have been less than impressed with the WHO’s performance.”
Mr Sharma expects countries including Japan, South Korea and Australia to demand changes at the WHO.
“I think we should make sure we condition our future funding on necessary reforms,” the former senior diplomat said.
Labor deputy leader Richard Marles agrees there is a legitimate conversation to be had about the United Nations body.
“But this is not a time to be abandoning it – the world needs a strong World Health Organisation,” he said.
“We can have a conversation about issues inside it, but this is not a time to abandon it.”