Thursday, 25 February 2021
Questions without Notice
COVID-19: Asia-Pacific Region
My question is to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Payne. Will the minister outline what the government is doing to deliver on Australia's commitment to provide COVID-19 vaccines to our neighbours in South-East Asia and the Pacific?
I thank Senator Abetz for his question. Australia's security, safety and prosperity are intertwined with those in our region. We are working in close partnership with our neighbours to implement our over $500 million vaccine access initiative and our $80 million contribution to the COVAX Facility fund for developing countries. That fund began its first delivery of vaccines yesterday to protect some of the world's most vulnerable people. We're consulting with 18 partner countries across the Pacific and South-East Asia to align their national vaccine deployment plans and directly address their priorities.
Our support is deliberately end to end. So we're providing technical advice to support the rollout of vaccines under the COVAX facility. We have already assisted Vanuatu, Kiribati, Samoa and Tonga in this way. In particular, we're supporting Tonga to develop and implement a new national vaccination register. We're deploying Australian specialists to work with these partner governments. Our National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance is deploying a specialist to Timor-Leste to support preparations for their national rollout. Australia's Therapeutic Goods Administration is providing advice to our partners, which is critical in building that trust in the safety and efficacy of vaccines.
Our support includes identifying target populations for early vaccinations; developing public health materials; strengthening cold chain and medical supply management; and establishing monitoring and evaluation arrangements. For example, we will shortly be training Solomon Islands epidemiologists in data collection and analysis. My Indonesian counterpart, Retno Marsudi, and I have agreed on a strong package of support for Indonesia to procure vaccines and to provide technical assistance. I also discussed our support with Teddy Locsin, the Foreign Secretary of the Philippines, this week as well. This is a program which is meeting the pledges that Australia has made to support our shared regional recovery from the pandemic.
Cooperation with our partners is absolutely critical. By coordinating our efforts with New Zealand, the US and France, we will cover the vaccination needs of the Pacific. This is a matter which the Minister for International Development in the Pacific, Senator Seselja, and I have been engaging on with counterparts across the region. We're talking with other potential suppliers, including India and Japan. We're working with the World Health Organization, with UNICEF, with multilateral development banks, with the Pacific Islands Forum, with the Pacific Community and with ASEAN to ensure support that meets international standards. We'll purchase vaccines through organisations such as UNICEF and we'll share vaccines from our own supply pipeline with both the Pacific and Timor-Leste. We're also vice-chair of the Gavi board and, through that, we've negotiated to ensure all eligible Pacific island countries are covered by the COVAX Facility, which will deliver over one million doses to the Pacific and Timor-Leste by the middle of this year.
This is a very important question from Senator Abetz. Vaccination is a critical public health measure to take control of COVID-19, to end the pandemic and to ensure recovery. So timely access to safe and effective vaccines will improve our regional health security and also reduce burdens on regional health systems. It will pave the way, importantly, for reopening borders, re-establishing transport routes and restarting economies. It will boost critical sectors, including seasonal work, so important to our region; international tourism, vital to our region; and a range of agricultural industries that depend on the availability of regular international transport services. It's important that our region works together to vaccinate populations to bring about that shared economic recovery. We will ensure that we support our neighbours in this process and that we deliver on our COVID-19 development program pivot on Partnerships for Recovery.