Senate debates

Tuesday, 30 November 2021

Matters of Urgency

COVID-19: Morrison Government

4:27 pm

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

Here we are today, another MPU concocted out of thin air by the ALP that the Morrison government is undermining public health. We really should thank those opposite for these dorothy dixers that they deal up every other day. On both the health and economic front I think it's fair to say that Australia has fared better than most countries dealing with COVID. Out of the 38 OECD countries Australia has the second lowest number of COVID cases per capita. By avoiding the death rates of other OECD countries Australia has saved over 30,000 lives. While Australia has been doing it tough because of the longest lockdowns in the world, particularly in my home state of Victoria, Australia was also the first advanced economy to have more people in work prior to COVID. Nearly 900,000 jobs have been created since May last year. After last year's recession Australia's economy recovered to be larger than prior to the pandemic—the head of many advanced major economies in the world.

On the point of vaccines, on November 2020 the Prime Minister pointed out, in an announcement, that the government had ordered 135 million doses of vaccine—contrary to what those opposite have been saying. It's more than enough doses for five doses for every Australian.

On 21 February this year the Prime Minister announced that the government had a comprehensive plan to offer COVID vaccines to all Australians by the end of October 2021. I think it's safe to say that we've seen that. By the end of October we were 80 per cent vaccinated. No-one said that the rollout of the vaccine had to be a straight line. Of course it's going to ramp up. That's the way these things work. With more than 92 per cent of the eligible population aged over 16 protected with their first dose and more than 86 per cent of the eligible population aged over 16 fully vaccinated with both doses, this government is clearly in a position that it's delivering on its promises and delivering results. Our investments in our public health have put Australia in one of the best positions in the world.

I am awfully glad that Senator Kitching mentioned mRNA in her urgency motion today and I note the contributions of senators opposite about how there is no mRNA vaccine manufacturer in Australia. Well, just today, I point to an ASX announcement and to a media release from the Premier of Victoria talking about how Australia's Monash University—where I currently study—through its Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences and with an Australian drug manufacturer, IDT Australia, have produced the first mRNA vaccine in Australia. That's right—the first mRNA vaccine in Australia. It is hard to imagine how those opposite missed all this, but it is very clear that here in Australia we are progressing towards manufacturing of mRNA vaccines, other therapeutics and other vaccines, not just for COVID. This is coming about because, in my home state of Victoria, we have the strongest ecosystem for medical research and manufacturing in the country. Other countries such as Singapore have announced that they are going to be building their own facilities as well and they've said that the soonest they can do it is 2023. We have a long way to go. The vaccine that is being developed in Victoria that I've just talked about is being made in quantities big enough to be able to go into phase 3 trials.

As we recover from the COVID pandemic we want to make sure that we are well placed to control our own destiny. In a more uncertain world this means that it is more important than ever to have that sovereign manufacturing capability, and we have that. We are building towards it. The Morrison government invested $3 million towards that mRNA vaccine candidate that I was talking about before. So we are very proud of our efforts in building that sovereign mRNA manufacturing capability, particularly in Victoria, my home state.

Once we have that mRNA capability, it will create the potential for thousands of associated jobs and will be a great benefit to our economy. But constructing that sovereign capability is no easy task. Such a vital and critical undertaking is a complex task. How to operate those facilities and where to operate those facilities are critical decisions for the future. Victoria has the ecosystem. We have the research scientists. We have the manufacturing capability. As those opposite would be aware, CSL in Victoria are already manufacturing the AstraZeneca vaccine. An mRNA manufacturing complex requires the best medical research ecosystem and support, and needs to be located in that ecosystem which has that proven pharmaceutical research capability and the workforce to be able to back it up with the skills in precision pharmaceutical manufacturing.

The reality of the situation is that there are two important elements to developing an onshore mRNA capability—that is, having the manufacturing capability and having the intellectual property and know-how. It takes time to be able to develop both of those things. The real benefit to Australia of this endeavour is to protect Australia's long-term health needs and to help grow and develop an mRNA ecosystem and industry here in Australia. You don't just do this for COVID vaccines; mRNA technology is a platform rather than just a vaccine. Work is already underway to create mRNA technology to address illnesses such as cancer, HIV, the zika virus, Epstein-Barr, as well as auto-immune disorders, cellular engineering and protein replacement therapies. This is important for Australia. It is important for the future of manufacturing and is an important part of building our sovereign capability and that is why it is essential we get this right. Our thorough, measured approach is the right one to achieve this.

The Australian government is also on track to have purpose-built quarantine facilities delivered in the north, south, east and west of Australia to ensure we maintain a robust quarantine system to bring Australians home safely and so we have the capacity to respond to future emergencies. The government's priority is the safety and wellbeing of Australians and supporting those overseas to travel here safely. The government has already supported over 60,000 Australians to return, including 32,000 on 211 facilitated flights. We invested $513 million to increase the capacity of Howard Springs to 2,000 returned travellers.

The Centres for National Resilience under construction in Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth are well underway. The Centres for National Resilience will have an ongoing role as part of the government's national response to COVID-19. There is a need for purpose-built quarantine for people travelling to Australia from high-risk locations or who are unable to quarantine at home. These centres will provide adaptable, enduring capability that will assist the Commonwealth now and in response to future health and emergency crises. The centres will be built and owned by the Commonwealth, but they will be operated by the state governments. The government is working quickly to ensure that the construction of the centres is completed as soon as possible. In Victoria, my home state, we expect construction of the first 250 beds will be completed by the end of this year, the next 250 by early next year and the last 500 beds of the thousand-bed facility completed in the first quarter of 2022. In Western Australia and Queensland, we are working towards the construction of the first 500 beds at each site being completed by the first quarter of 2022. This capacity is in addition to the existing capacity of up to 2,000 beds at Howard Springs.

So I think you can see that we are well and truly looking after the public's health; we're looking after their wellbeing; we're looking after their jobs; we're protecting their lives and their livelihoods. I thank the senators opposite for this motion, for me to be able to put that on the record.


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