Senate debates

Wednesday, 11 August 2021

Statements by Senators

COVID-19: Vaccination

12:15 pm

Photo of David VanDavid Van (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise today to speak on a matter that is critical to the security of our nation and the welfare of our population. The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us many valuable lessons. Many of these have been tough lessons to learn, but as a government we have shown that we are capable of learning as new data and more dangerous variants have emerged. One of the lessons that this pandemic has taught us is that, at times of international crisis, when fear is gripping the world, access to essential goods is critical to the security of our nation. The closure of borders, limited supply chains and the hoarding of supplies are all examples of how we have seen other nations react in response to this crisis. Not all of these reactions have been in Australia's national interest. It is therefore critical that we have sovereign capability to manufacture and provide essential goods, whether they be PPE, vaccines or other items essential in our supply chains. The lessons we learn from this pandemic will be vital to how we respond to other crises, not just other pandemics.

CSL's ability to produce the AstraZeneca vaccine domestically has shown us the benefits of having this type of industry in Australia. I would encourage those opposite to stop fearmongering, stop promoting vaccine hesitancy and get behind this amazing vaccine. I have. It is protecting me. While we have been blessed to be able to produce the AstraZeneca vaccine in Australia, which has been integral to our vaccine rollout and to saving countless lives around the world, we have seen a number of examples of other nations withholding vaccine supplies at the expense of nations such as ours, but more importantly at the expense of poor countries with no sovereign capability. The EU can never again lecture other countries on the basis of morals. This highlights the value of having domestic capability to research and manufacture medical technology locally. We must be prepared for the next pandemic and we must be prepared to stand on our own two feet.

As we have seen from around the world, vaccinations have been key to living with COVID-19. If we are to ensure the health and security of our nation, we must be able to produce our own vaccines and produce the latest and most effective medical technologies. We've seen throughout this pandemic that our economic security and national security are inextricably linked to our health security. We cannot have one without the other. While the Morrison government has handled this pandemic and we have managed to have fewer deaths, more people in jobs and an economy that is performing better than it was pre-pandemic, we might not be so lucky next time. The Australian government has made substantial investments to support access to safe and effective vaccines for all Australians.

Just this week, as you would have noted, the Therapeutic Goods Administration provisionally approved the Moderna vaccine, which is another example of an mRNA technology vaccine like the Pfizer vaccine. Going beyond the current pandemic, mRNA has the capability to be translated into broad therapeutics and vaccines for diseases like cancer, HIV, the flu and cardiovascular disease. To ensure that Australians have access to the most advanced medical technology, we must develop a sovereign capability to research and manufacture mRNA technology in Australia. This must be done not just in response to the current crisis but also because of the capability it will provide us to protect and treat Australians from future health threats, as well as current difficult-to-treat diseases.

Work is currently underway to create mRNA technology around the world to address illnesses such as cancer, HIV, Zika virus, Epstein-Barr virus and autoimmune disorders, as well as cellular engineering and protein replacement therapies. Not only that; the development of a sovereign capability to create mRNA technology will create the potential for thousands of associated jobs and for great benefits to our economy. However, constructing this sovereign capability is no easy task. Such a vital and critical undertaking is a complex task, and where Australia decides to place and operate an mRNA facility is a critical decision for the future of the nation. An mRNA manufacturing complex requires the best medical research ecosystem and support. It needs to be located somewhere which has a proven pharmaceutical research capability, and it requires a workforce with skills in complex precision pharmaceutical manufacturing. There is only one state in Australia which ticks all these boxes, and it is Victoria, my home state.

If we are to be successful in this undertaking, we must first place this facility where we have the strongest capability. The state that I represent, Victoria, is the home of Australia's biotech and medical research community. No other state in Australia can match the depth of research, therapeutic, clinical and manufacturing experience that Victoria has to offer.


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