Senate debates

Thursday, 5 August 2021

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

COVID-19: Vaccination

3:12 pm

Photo of Kim CarrKim Carr (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

The pandemic is, of course, one of the great crises that have been facing our society, and I think that, internationally, it's reshaping the way in which we live. Today, when Minister Colbeck indicated that the government acknowledges that it has challenges in terms of its capacity to provide sufficient supply for what it acknowledges to be the key to finding solutions to this pandemic, in terms of supply and the logistics of vaccines, I think he was underestimating the difficulties that the government has brought upon itself. It strikes me that the government has mismanaged this crisis at every level. From the very beginning of the crisis, the government has sought, effectively, to present this as a challenge to take political advantage and has sought to play favourites with the states. It has sought to underestimate the capacity of Australians to deal with the truth in regard to this matter. It has failed to acknowledge the importance of our own manufacturing capacity. It has failed to deal, in any real way or with any understanding of the international questions, with the pharmaceutical industry. It has failed to come to grips with the basic questions of the major health crisis faced in this pandemic. In fact, we had this protracted debate about whether or not we should concentrate on the economics of the country versus the health of the country, and that has been played out through the government's attempt to blame one state over another and, of course, its attempt—and failure—to deal with the personalities involved with this matter.

I'm particularly concerned that we have not been able to develop our own manufacturing capacity. While I acknowledge how important it is for AstraZeneca, for instance, to be able to make vaccines in Australia, I find it extraordinary that the government is not able to provide us with even the most basic information on the supply contracts it engaged in on that matter, claiming, of course, that national security is involved. When under freedom of information the ABC sought details of the supply contract for AstraZeneca they were told that the provision of such contracts would present a major risk to the national security of the country, despite the fact that the European Union, the United Kingdom, the United States, Mexico and Brazil have taken an entirely different approach to the provision of basic public information about those supply contracts.

It doesn't excuse the failure of the government to deal with the fundamentals providing sufficient vaccines for the people of this country. We saw for instance its lackadaisical attitude to the provision of different types of vaccines and the catastrophe that emerged around the provision of the Pfizer vaccines. We saw the minister's attempt to duck and weave about his direct engagement with Pfizer. Rather than it being, as he tried to imply, just a matter of low-level public servants who were the bunglers in regard to the contract arrangements, industry sources highlighted through the ABC that the minister himself had been rude, dismissive and penny-pinching when it came to dealing with the senior management of Pfizer. A former Pfizer global president of R&D, John LaMattina, underscored this point about how unfortunate it was that Australia had failed to secure the necessary supplies of Pfizer vaccine because of the government's failure to understand basic elements of supply chains and basic elements of how the pharmaceutical industry worked globally, which was made worse by the minister's direct assault upon individuals within the company. I find it extraordinary that the government has tried to duck and weave and been unable to deal with even basic issues around the mRNA vaccine production facilities when it should have been moving much more quickly to deal with these fundamental questions.

It's not too late. There is of course still time for us to be able to develop the necessary sovereign capability to ensure that we can protect this country and we can ensure that the people of this country can enjoy the benefits of modern science and modern manufacturing processes. (Time expired)


No comments