Greens call for Finance Minister’s COVID advance to be used now for publicly-owned vaccine production

The Australian Greens MPs

The Greens say the government should use unallocated discretionary funds set aside for COVID to begin work on a publicly-owned domestic vaccine manufacturer. If the government fails to act, the Greens plan to move in the Senate to demand action on domestic vaccine production when Parliament resumes.

The Greens call on the Government to ensure that the 2021/22 budget allocates funding for the urgent development of publicly-owned mRNA vaccine manufacturing capability in Australia, and that it immediately initiates this work by drawing on $1 billion from the $10 billion made available in the 2020/21 Advance to the Finance Minister, which was boosted for the specific purpose of responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, most of which remains unallocated.

The Greens say this discretionary budget was conceived to deal with unexpected costs of the pandemic and shoring up vaccine supplies against international uncertainty is a perfect example of a universally beneficial application of the fund.

The Government previously announced $1b in funding to support the domestic manufacture of the AstraZeneca vaccine. The Greens are calling for $1b to be allocated to a publicly-owned manufacturer which has mRNA capacity. The Greens together with scientists have been calling for domestic mRNA manufacturing capacity for several months.

Current expert advice and international experience suggests that it could take 6 months to construct and commence mRNA production domestically in Australia, which is not only competitive with the Government’s best guess timeline around international vaccine imports, but vastly superior, as it would provide a permanent buffer against unexpected events overseas.

Lines from Leader of the Australian Greens Adam Bandt MP:

“We should be able to make each key type of COVID vaccine here in Australia, to look after ourselves and our neighbours.

“By failing to diversify domestic vaccine production, the government has left us exposed to international events and the whims of big drug corporations.

“If the government had set up a publicly-owned vaccine maker when the Greens first called for it almost a year ago, it could be up and running by now.

“This government wants to build a publicly funded gas power plant to cook the planet, but not a publicly funded vaccine facility to keep Australians safe.

“So much of Scott Morrison’s failures have come as a result of poor planning for international uncertainty, and assuming that everything will go smoothly from here is reckless.

“The government set aside $10b in discretionary funding for the COVID response. The government should immediately direct $1b of the unallocated discretionary funds to help set up a publicly-owned vaccine manufacturer with mRNA capability.

“This is exactly the kind of public health measure that the government should be using the discretionary budget to fund. If Scott Morrison fails to act, the Greens will be moving in Parliament during the Budget session to demand funding for domestic vaccine production.

“The abandonment of the vaccination timetable is in part due to the Government’s failure to heed calls to develop domestic, publicly-owned vaccine production.”

Greens Health spokesperson, Senator Rachel Siewert said:

“Australia unfortunately sold off our publicly-owned vaccine capacity – cheaply. Now it’s time to buy back the farm.

“If we had domestic mRNA manufacturing capacity established in Australia, we would be in a position to roll-out the vaccines we need with a timeline that we had some control over.

“The Greens put the case for publicly-owned domestic vaccine production to the government a year ago. But we say today that it is better late than never, and in the post-Covid era such capacity will put us in good stead for decades to come.

“With publicly-owned domestic mRNA manufacturing capacity, we will be able to beat this pandemic, and any one that follows it. With domestic vaccine production we’ll be able to rapidly adjust to new strains as they develop, and become a vaccine production hub for the region.”

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