Friday, February 12, 2021

Australia’s vaccine sovereignty has received a boost, with the only jab produced onshore to enter its final manufacturing stage shortly

Australia’s onshore COVID-19 vaccine capacity has received a boost, with the AstraZeneca vaccine to reach its final manufacturing stage in Australia next week.

Drug manufacturer CSL has confirmed the first two million doses produced at its Melbourne facility are on track for release by the end of next month, subject to approval by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Friday morning toured the facility, which he said would be dispatching over a million doses per week from mid-March.

“That’s a big production effort. And that is going to change the country for the better,” he said.

“People here have been working long hours for a long time to deliver this, and they are doing it to deliver for Australians.

“I want to thank them very much for that. Our vaccination program is on track and it is sovereign.”

Fifty-million doses of the AstraZeneca jab will eventually be manufactured at the site as part of an around-the-clock manufacturing push.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said the gargantuan effort proved “CSL can do just about anything”.

“It was almost impossible (at the beginning of the pandemic) that they could retool, that they could divert their entire processes and they have done this,” he said.

CSL chief scientific officer Andrew Nash said he was “incredibly proud” of the development.

“Reaching this milestone would not have happened without around-the-clock work from our skilled team … with ongoing support from AstraZeneca,” he said.

“While the work isn’t over, we are incredibly proud to be on the cusp of delivering a locally made vaccine for Australians.

But Dr Nash warned “some of the most critical work is still to come”, with each batch to undergo an “extensive quality check process” conducted by CSL, AstraZeneca and the TGA.

Mr Morrison said the thorough process should give comfort to Australians who will receive the jab.

“They check it, and they check it, and then they check it again,” he said.

“(That) makes sure … you can have great confidence, not just in the vaccine itself but the Australian production process that actually got it to the clinic.”

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended the AstraZeneca vaccine to immunise against COVID-19 on Wednesday.

The WHO recommended its use in people over 65 despite some fears over its efficacy in that age group.

The AstraZeneca vaccine would account for the bulk of Australia’s vaccine rollout under the government’s plan.

It argued producing the majority of Australia’s vaccines onshore reduced vulnerability on overseas supply chains.

The development comes just a day after the European Commission confirmed it had rubber-stamped the first shipment of the Pfizer vaccine to Australia.

Australia had ordered 20 million doses of the jab, the only vaccine approved for use by the TGA.

But there were fears their arrival could be delayed after the European Union placed export controls on vaccines produced within its territory, including the AstraZeneca and Pfizer jabs.


Missed chance for civics

The current review of the national Curriculum seems an almost covert operation, and neglects the pressing need to elevate Australian Civics and Citizenship.

The latest CIS paper, A 2021 education resolution: keep an eye on the Australian Curriculum, assesses the potential opportunities at risk of being neglected in the review.

Australian students and their teachers deserve the best possible curriculum, but the trajectory of the review doesn’t inspire confidence.

A clever country would shine a probing spotlight on this national education project, which claims to ensure the nation’s ongoing economic prosperity and social cohesion.

The paper follows recently released results of the National Assessment Program – Civics and Citizenship, which revealed 62% of Australian students nearing school-leaving age didn’t achieve the proficiency standard, and 87% couldn’t interpret the results of a hypothetical federal election.

For this reason, the review must chart a balanced approach to the nation’s heritage as a Western liberal democracy and must redress a curriculum that is currently completely lacking in intellectual and cultural firepower.

There are replicable examples of curriculums that prioritise a ‘love of country’, particularly high-performing Singapore. Closer to home, this is also a common theme in the education and broader aspirations of Indigenous Australians but can barely be detected in the wider curriculum.

This is the time to recast Civics and Citizenship — ironically, the subject that few seem to care or know much about — as the major integrating feature of the Australian Curriculum.

Centring the curriculum around our cultural and intellectual heritage would mean a far more solid foundation, but there should also be room for schools and teachers to weave in material appropriate to local students and communities.

This would help ensure students can meet the objective of becoming successful lifelong learners who can make sense of their world and think about how things have become the way they are — as the goals outline.

However, there has been no widespread public consultation to determine priorities and there is only a brief window of opportunity to comment on proposals for changes.

Every Australian has a stake in this review, especially as the country works to recover from the consequences of the pandemic and position strongly for the future.


Australia ‘dead against’ climate tariffs, declares Energy Minister

Energy Minister Angus Taylor has declared Australia is “dead against” carbon tariffs as Prime Minister Scott Morrison awaits an invitation from United States President Joe Biden to climate talks in April.

The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age revealed on Thursday that Australia would push back against Britain’s bid to use the G7 leaders’ summit in June to establish climate tariffs, arguing the sanctions would be a new form of protectionism designed to shield local industries from free trade.

Asked whether he opposed carbon tariffs, Mr Taylor said: “We have always been against tariffs in this country under this government.”

“We’ve actually made great gains in entering into free-trade agreements to eliminate tariffs,” Mr Taylor told Sky News on Thursday. “We are dead against tariffs and we believe in the role of trade in driving prosperity.”

“We will work with the United States, with Japan, with Korea, with the UK, with other countries around the world, to invest in the technologies that are really going to move the dial, because that’s how we reduce emissions without smashing our industries.”

Mr Biden will host a climate leaders’ summit on Earth Day, April 22, when he is likely to outline his carbon-reduction commitments under the Paris agreement.

“America must lead in the face of this existential threat. And just as with the pandemic, it requires global co-operation,” Mr Biden said last week.

The Biden administration has not yet said whether the summit will be held in person or online.

Mr Morrison would be expected to travel to Washington, DC if the talks were in person, potentially making his first meeting with the US President on the fraught issue of climate change, and raising the prospect of the Prime Minister doing 14 days’ quarantine shortly before the May budget.

Mr Morrison has been eyeing a more ambitious target of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 despite unrest within the Nationals, but plans to push back on Britain and the European Union’s plan to impose carbon tariffs.

Australia’s ambassador to the US, Arthur Sinodinos, said on Thursday the Biden administration was “serious” about climate change, with plans for net-zero emissions by 2050 and decarbonising the power grid by 2035.

“Among his [Mr Biden’s] first executive orders have been a slew ... to review things like oil and gas drilling on federal land, to start to implement new environmental regulations [and] reverse some measures from the previous administration which impacted on the ability to address climate change,” Mr Sinodinos said.

“What they’ve done is they’ve said ‘we will marry our infrastructure commitments with our clean energy targets’ … so they’re seeing it as both a job creation program as well as a clean energy program.”

Britain and the EU are looking to settle on plans to impose carbon tariffs in the coming months, while Mr Biden has pledged to implement a “carbon-adjustment fee” at the border. The move would establish levies on energy-intensive imports from carbon-price-free jurisdictions such as Australia.

The Morrison government will argue carbon tariffs are not aimed at combating climate change, but rather at economic objectives including protecting local industries such as British and European meat, cheese and wine.

A briefing prepared for the European Parliament found carbon tariffs would not amount to protectionism provided they did not discriminate against one particular country and were set at the correct rate.

Tony Wood, director of the Grattan Institute’s energy program, said the tariffs were actually about “levelling the playing field” and could encourage other countries such as Australia to boost their domestic climate policies.

“If the British government imposed a carbon price on their own producers and then imposed a border tax on overseas producers for the same thing – then it would give an incentive to countries which did not have a carbon price to do it,” Mr Wood said.

Opposition trade spokeswoman Madeleine King said Australia’s major trading partners were moving towards establishing climate border levies “aimed at countries like Australia that have weak climate change policies”.

“This government has its head in the sand about carbon borders. Our exporters, with the jobs they create, will pay the price,” Ms King said.




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