Posted 21 May 2020
Australia is working towards being able to manufacture a COVID-19 vaccine for both Australia and its neighbours, Industry Minister Karen Andrews said on Wednesday.
Giving her first National Press Club address, Andrews said identifying local vaccine manufacturing capability was one of the government's first priorities when the coronavirus pandemic was declared.
"We had established a health industry coordination group to look at procurement but also at what some of the other options were," she said, tasking CSIRO with mapping Australia's capability to manufacture a vaccine.
"We are working across a broad range of areas at the moment because we don't know when the vaccine is going to be developed and we don't know what it is going to look like.
"We don't know whether it is something that will need to be injected or if it's going to be in tablet form.
"We are starting to map what our capability is with our pharmaceutical manufacturers here in Australia, to see what they would need and how we could assist to produce that vaccine as and when it became available."
Andrews said Australia "would work to do all we can to be one of the nations that is manufacturing the vaccine, for those who need it and want it here in Australia and also to meet the needs of our nearest neighbours but also elsewhere around the world".
The Minister's NPC address built on a Daily Telegraph report this week in which she revealed local mapping involved discussions with both CSL and the local arm of J&J.
Andrews was reported as saying the government may offer financial support, equipment or access to the vaccine formula, or a guarantee to purchase the vaccine.
Andrews also outlaid a plan for a post-Covid manufacturing sector which would compete on value, not cost, and in which local pharmaceutical manufacturing would potentially be considered as a national priority.
"Businesses are being backed to harness technology, upgrade equipment, upskill workers and improve their operations to boost productivity and competitiveness," Andrews said. "I want to stress this is not a handout. We're backing businesses to back themselves."
While part of that support would include removing red tape and encouraging better cooperation between state and federal governments, Andrews would not back down from the government's controversial Research and Development Tax Incentive (RDTI) legislation.
"I understand it has had a lot of criticism... I understand that R&D is very critical to this nation and that we need to work hard to lift that investment."
Australia's manufacturing "niche" was its ability to be agile and nimble, to pivot manufacturing to meet needs as has happened in Covid, she said.
"We don't have the long runs that other countries overseas have. For us to be competitive, we have to start looking at competing on value, not on cost."
"A return to quality over quantity. This sort of disruption would indeed be a great opportunity for Australian manufacturing to compete on value, not cost."