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27 October 2021

As we emerge from the great COVID-19 pandemic, there is much work to be done for our nation to recover and rebuild.

We have collectively and through the, frankly, bloody hard work and self-sacrifice of Australians successfully traversed a challenging period in the history of our country and the world.

By the end of this week our biggest cities, Melbourne and Sydney, will both be out of lockdown, thanks to the remarkable efforts of global public health scientists and medical professionals who swiftly created and dispersed lifesaving vaccines.

Soon, the other States and Territories will begin to follow.

Australia will hopefully be close to being united at Christmas and we will be once again open to the world.

Australians are rolling up their sleeves in record numbers to get out to the other side of the pandemic and there is hope on the horizon.

But now we must find a way forward, while not forgetting the lessons of the past two years. Labor believes we should set Australia up for the future through re-establishing our Australian-made manufacturing industry.

A Labor Government, led by Anthony Albanese, will back Australian businesses and create more local jobs with common sense changes to the way the tens of billions of dollars of taxpayers' money is spent each year in government purchases.

In the past week, the Morrison Government confirmed it would not renew the contract to manufacture AstraZeneca at CSL in Australia beyond the 50 million doses it originally ordered. So that means that come next year there will be no Australian-made COVID-19 vaccine. Not a single one.

As well as an alarming lack of vision, the decision to cut off the production of a lifesaving vaccine is dangerous.

Yes, at some stage we may have hopefully have the capability to create mRNA vaccines, but the tender is still undecided and nothing is locked down (pun not intended).

We will look back on the last few years with pain and a strange wonder, particularly, in my opinion, at the vilification of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine in Australia.

By the end of 2021, about three billion doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine will have been delivered globally and used in 179 countries.

The world's first COVID-19 vaccine to be used in inoculation became a strange victim of the pandemic in Australia, with mixed messages from the Morrison Government and self-appointed experts making it persona non grata.

But the AstraZeneca vaccine helped save Australia and the world. And we made it right here in Melbourne at CSL.

That is an incredible achievement that should be lauded.

While Australians were fed misinformation about the AstraZeneca vaccine, it was taken up by the rest of the world with no drama.

Our Australian-made doses have both helped vaccinate us and our Pacific neighbours, which was the right thing to do as a wealthy, prosperous leader in our neighbourhood.

Continuing to produce a COVID-19 AstraZeneca vaccine in Australia would be not only good for Aussie manufacturing jobs, but would have huge strategic value in the short and long term.

Building infrastructure in the Pacific is clearly a strategic play by world powers, but what about saving thousands of lives with a vaccine stamped "Made in Australia"?

We could have a generation of people across the Pacific living out the call of Villers Bretonneux from a century ago: Let us never forget Australia.

What a shame this Government takes such a minimalist approach to local industry, when a big-picture approach could see it fuelling not just our nation but our international relations.

Imagine a world where AstraZeneca was backed by the Government to produce massive amounts we could gift to our Pacific neighbours.

Each vial distributed stamped with an Aussie flag.

The Morrison Government single-handedly botched the vaccine rollout in Australia.

It only had the strength of the States to thank and, most importantly, the Australian people who were willing to go above and beyond to stop the spread by locking down while waiting for the vaccines to catch up.

Now the Morrison Government is prematurely ending the only local production of a world-changing vaccine because it won't back Australian made.

Labor has created a 10-point Buy Australian Plan to lead Australia out of the pandemic and into a self-sufficient future.

This plan includes establishing a "future made in Australia" office to support local industry in taking advantage of government purchasing opportunities.

It will boost the opportunities for Australian businesses in major infrastructure projects and it will make national partnerships work to maximise the use of local workers and businesses.

We don't know what the next couple of years will bring.

Australia has almost reached a rate of 75 per cent of adults who are double vaccinated and we now know from public health experts that booster doses will most likely be needed.

While we appear to be out of the woods, at least out of the dark days of lockdown, we just cannot predict what is going to happen next in our COVID-19 journey. They say if you want to make God laugh, show him your plans.

What I do know is that we need to future proof the health of our nation as best we can.

So rather than putting the brakes on a great Australian-made product, let's move out of lockdowns and start by keeping a homegrown COVID-19 vaccine in Australia at CSL.

This opinion piece was first published in The West Australian on Wednesday, 27 October 2021.