House debates

Tuesday, 16 March 2021

Questions without Notice

COVID-19: Pacific Islands

2:09 pm

Photo of Katie AllenKatie Allen (Higgins, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

My question is to Minister for Health and Aged Care. Will the minister please update the House on how the Morrison government is providing support to our Pacific island neighbours for the management of COVID-19, including through the rollout of life-saving vaccines?

2:10 pm

Photo of Greg HuntGreg Hunt (Flinders, Liberal Party, Minister for Health and Aged Care) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to thank the member for Higgins, not just for the question but for her service to the Australian health system, a system which again, today, has seen, despite the challenges on the weekend, zero cases nation-wide for the 45th day in this year alone. But, whilst we are doing well at home, we know that the global pandemic continues to increase in its scope and its challenge. Our region, sadly, is not immune. In particular, we know, as the Prime Minister said, that Papua New Guinea is facing challenges as we speak. Therefore, as part of that, Australia has committed $80 million to the COVAX program to support 92 developing countries. This is at a time where we see that the world has reached 120 million cases and, agonisingly, over 2.6 million lives lost. But, specifically within our region, there is $500 million to support the vaccine rollout program across the Indo-Pacific, to support our Pacific neighbours and to support Papua New Guinea, where approximately $144 million has been put aside. Already, we have been working with PNG with regards to PPE, to the Rita Flynn testing and isolation facility, to the Port Moresby General Hospital and to other facilities and capacities across the country.

Right now, we know that we are seeing an increase in cases in PNG. This is a matter of serious concern for Australia, but, even more so, of course, for the wonderful people of Papua New Guinea. As part of that, we are working with Queensland and we are working with PNG in preparing our response—to listen to their needs as to what they are seeking from Australia. In particular, we are in a position to be able to assist and support, once we've had their full advice, in the very near future. What we are doing—very much so—is ensuring that they have the capacity—through vaccines and through the support of an AUSMAT team, which has been announced and will be deployed to assist in Papua New Guinea. I thank the volunteers who have put themselves forward.

We will continue to provide support within our region. There is $80 million for COVAX and $500 million for a regional vaccine initiative. There is direct support to Papua New Guinea already, and additional support is now being prepared in conjunction with Queensland which, in partnership with the Commonwealth, has set out its priorities. Commencing in the Torres Strait Islands, these include vaccinations in Saibai and elsewhere. This is already underway. These things are occurring. We're engaged with PNG, we're engaged with Queensland and we're engaged in protecting our friends and our neighbours.