Question: Australia must support and co-sponsor the TRIPS waiver
Senator FARUQI (New South Wales) (14:14): My question without notice is to Senator Payne, the Minister representing the Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment. Minister, countries in southern Africa are grappling with the new omicron COVID variant, while also suffering low vaccination rates. Meanwhile, Australia is set to join the World Trade Organization's ministerial meetings soon, with the proposed intellectual-property waiver on COVID-19 vaccines on the agenda, which would allow for mass vaccine production across the global South. The government has stated that, rather than support the waiver proposed by India and South Africa, it would try to find a so-called 'convergence' with the opposing countries. Your government is making no effort to galvanise support for a strong waiver. Amnesty International has labelled Australia 'a passive bystander' in light of this. Why is the government taking the coward's way out and refusing to join more than 60 countries to co-sponsor the vaccine waiver, as proposed by India and South Africa?
Senator PAYNE (New South Wales—Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Women) (14:15): I thank Senator Faruqi for her question. We have been consistent in our approach on the TRIPS waiver, but let me begin by saying that we are also very disappointed that the WTO's 12th Ministerial Conference, MC12, has been postponed owing to the occurrence of the omicron COVID-19 variant. We've consistently said that Australia will support a TRIPS waiver and our position has not changed. A waiver can only be passed with the support of all 164 WTO members, and there is no proposal on the table right now that has the required level of support. We are, as I said, disappointed that the conference has been postponed, but we remain committed to delivering an ambitious and meaningful outcome on the waiver. We are working with other countries to find common ground on a solution that will ensure all countries can overcome any intellectual property barriers as they respond to COVID-19 or future pandemics.
We are, I would note, committed to supplying up to 60 million vaccine doses to our region by the end of 2022, including to a significant number of developing nations: including 20 million vaccine doses that Australia has already committed to share with the Pacific and South-East Asia by mid-2022; an additional 20 million doses from Australia's own supply, to be shared by the end of 2022; and up to a further 20 million doses to be procured through a partnership with UNICEF, also to be shared by the end of 2022. And we have already shared more than 9.2 million of these doses across our region as at the end of this month, including 4.6 million doses to Indonesia, 1½ million to Vietnam, one million to Fiji, 700,000 to the Philippines delivered last week, almost 678,000 to Timor-Leste, over 200,000 to the Solomon Islands and over 200,000 to Papua New Guinea. We have committed $130 million to— (Time expired)
The PRESIDENT: Senator Faruqi, a supplementary question?
Senator FARUQI (New South Wales) (14:17): Minister, Australia's donor funding to the global COVAX Facility is low, very low, by global standards. Australia is contributing only $4 per person, compared to nearly triple that amount by the United States and many times that amount by countries such as Sweden and Norway. Why is Australia shunning the COVAX facility with such miserly contributions and failing to do its fair share in helping the global South countries to get vaccinated? Do you even care about global vaccine equity?
Senator PAYNE (New South Wales—Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Women) (14:18): Caring about global vaccine equity includes delivering—delivering on the sorts of commitments that I made explicitly clear in response to Senator Faruqi's previous question. But, in the absence of that having been heard at the other end of the chamber, let me reiterate it in very clear terms. We are committed to supplying up to 60 million vaccine doses to our region by the end of 2022—that is, 20 million vaccine doses that we have already committed to share with the Pacific and South-East Asia by mid-next year; an additional 20 million doses from Australia's own supply, to be shared by the end of next year; and up to a further 20 million doses to be procured through our funded partnership with UNICEF, also to be shared by the end of 2022. We have already shared over nine million doses across our region: 4.6 million to Indonesia, 1.5 million to Vietnam, one million to Fiji, 700,000 to the Philippines, 677,850 to Timor-Leste and 213,000 to— (Time expired)
The PRESIDENT: Senator Faruqi, a second supplementary question?
Senator FARUQI (New South Wales) (14:19): Minister, last month the World Health Organization reported that just five African countries, less than 10 per cent of Africa's 54 nations, are projected to hit their 2021 target of fully vaccinating 40 per cent of their people—not 2022, 2021—unless they see efforts to accelerate the pace of vaccination take off. How many more people have to unnecessarily get sick and die from COVID in the global south before Australia backs the strong TRIPS waiver and properly funds COVAX? (Time expired)
Senator PAYNE (New South Wales—Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Women) (14:20): I will not have Australia misrepresented as not backing the TRIPS waiver, because that is not true. You are spreading misinformation in doing that. I will not have Australia misrepresented in relation to our contribution to the international vaccine effort, most particularly in our region, the Pacific and South-East Asia, which is our backyard. The contributions that we are making in those countries are changing lives and saving lives.