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Question: COVID-19 and the World Trade Organisation

Senator FARUQI (New South Wales) (14:19): My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, Senator Cash. Globally, thousands are dying from COVID-19 each day because they don't have treatment or vaccines. At the same time, majority-white Western countries like ours are hoarding vaccines and ordering more than they will ever need. The TRIPS waiver proposal to the World Trade Organization would temporarily lift intellectual property restrictions so poorer countries can manufacture vital vaccines, medicines, masks and ventilators. But, since October, the Liberal-National government has ignored the pleas of more than 100 countries for our support. Australia has stonewalled and advocated against the waiver, putting profit ahead of the lives of people who look like me in countries that you don't give a damn about. Why won't the government give its unequivocal support to the TRIPS waiver?

Senator CASH (Western Australia—Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:20): I thank Senator Faruqi for her question. Whilst I understand the sentiment of your question, I am actually going to disagree with the comments you've made in relation to the government. In relation to the position on the waiver, I will take that on notice and seek further information for you from the relevant minister. What I would say is that, when it comes to countries like India—and I've met with the Indian community in terms of what they've raised on the waiver—and countries in the Pacific, Australia is working with them to ensure that they do have access to the vaccinations that they need.

As you would know, India itself has shown great leadership not just to Australia but globally, through its generosity throughout the pandemic. In fact, it has exported over 66 million vaccines globally, as you would know. You can look at the number of vaccines that India has also donated in the Pacific to countries like Nauru and Fiji. The government's position, as has been articulated by the Prime Minister, is that it is now time for the world to repay that generosity. Australia, working with India in this case, is well and truly going to play its part.

As you know, we have made a commitment to India in relation to essential medical supplies as part of the Australian government's initial package to assist India as it battles COVID-19. Part of that includes over 1,000 ventilators and 43 oxygen concentrators. At this point in time, we are doing what we can, identifying with the Indian government— (Time expired)

The PRESIDENT: Senator Faruqi, a supplementary question?

Senator FARUQI (New South Wales) (14:22): The Morrison government is increasingly isolated in its morally indefensible opposition to the TRIPS waiver. Now that the US, New Zealand and French governments—

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order! I need to be able to hear the question. Senator Faruqi, I'll ask you to start again because there were interjections across the chamber, and I couldn't hear it.

Senator FARUQI: The Morrison government is increasingly isolated in its morally indefensible opposition to the TRIPS waiver. Now that the US, New Zealand and French governments have given clear support, Australia is one of the few remaining blockers to a proposal that would be hugely helpful in alleviating the global shortage of COVID-19 vaccines. Why does the Liberal-National government care more about safeguarding corporate profits than they do about saving lives?

Senator CASH (Western Australia—Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:23): Senator Faruqi, I don't think it's going to come as any surprise to you that I disagree with what you have now stated on the record. On the TRIPS waiver, the Prime Minister has said that the US announcement was tremendous news. That is what the Prime Minister has said. The Prime Minister has also made it clear that we will continue to work with the United States and others at the WTO to find solutions that boost the global rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations. But the Prime Minister has also made it clear that Australia remains focused on working with our regional partners. I commend the work that Senator Payne, Mr Tehan and Mr Hunt, as well as vaccine developers, are doing to support equitable, widespread access to COVID-19 vaccines—

The PRESIDENT: Order, Senator Cash. Senator Faruqi, a final supplementary question?

Senator FARUQI (New South Wales) (14:24): The government should be leading support for the TRIPS waiver and broader measures to ensure that everyone, everywhere, has access to treatment and vaccines. Instead, you've left people stranded, threatened them with jail should they try and come home and still you persist in denying countries like India the chance to manufacture vaccines that could save lives. So my question is: Where is your humanity? Have you no shame at all?

Senator CASH (Western Australia—Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:25): Again, Senator Faruqi, it will come as no surprise to you that I fundamentally disagree with what you have said, in particular what you have insinuated in relation to the government. Australia, as I have said, as the Prime Minister has said, as Senator Payne continues to work on, remains focused on working with our regional partners and vaccine developers to support equitable widespread access to COVID-19 vaccines. In particular, the development of COVID-19 vaccines through voluntary mechanisms in partnership with vaccine developers is our best chance of delivering widespread equitable access. As you know, we are working with our Pacific neighbours to ensure their access to vaccines. The government is working with our partners to ensure the Pacific and Timor-Leste—

The PRESIDENT: Order, Senator Cash. Senator Henderson.

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