Good morning ladies and gentlemen. First Maroochy, thank you for that beautiful and spiritual Welcome to Country.
I acknowledge Blair Exell, Australia’s inaugural Ambassador for Regional health Security, Frank Gannon and the team here at QIMR Berghofer, James McCarthy, I also acknowledge David Reddy from MMV, and Dr Peter Salama from WHO HEP.
My dear friend and ministerial colleague Jane Prentice, my other dear friend – I have more than two but these two are here today – Trevor Evans the Member for Brisbane, and Senator Claire Moore the Shadow Minister for International Development.
The Ministers from Kiribati and Cook Islands who are here today, the many diplomats, researchers, university representatives and some of our top public servants including Glenys Beauchamp and Ewen McDonald, Andrew Campbell and others, so thank you all for being here.
I am absolutely delighted to be at this prestigious medical research institute, QIMR Berghofer, in beautiful Brisbane on a lovely tropical day here in Queensland’s capital.
The health of our citizens, the strength of our economy, our security and our wellbeing is intertwined with the nations of our neighbourhood, our region and globally. In an increasingly interconnected, globalised world, what happens in one nation can affect all others.
In fact, in many respects, we live in a borderless world and disease has no regard to any borders. Should there be a serious disease outbreak, the economic and health implications can be devastating, disrupting trade, investment, travel, slowing growth and development.
In 2014, the Ebola crisis showed the vulnerability and the weakness in the public health systems of the affected countries.
In 2015, the MERS outbreak – the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome outbreak – in South Korea showed that even well-developed health systems can be affected in dramatic ways.
Last year, the Zika virus epidemic showed us how quickly a disease can emerge and how easily it can cross borders.
Our region, the Indian Ocean-Asia Pacific, is particularly prone to communicable diseases, those transmitted by animals, and increasingly drug-resistant diseases.
So to better prepare for the health risks of today and in the future, we need new ideas, creative thinking, better ways to build capacity and strengthen health systems throughout our region.
The Coalition Government is committed to building capacity and strengthening regional health systems, and that is why today I am announcing that the Coalition Government is implementing a Regional health Security Initiative with $300 million in funding – this is $200 million in addition to the $100 million that we announced at the 2016 election – because we know that this is a significant security risk for Australia and our region.
We are establishing the Indo-Pacific Centre for Health Security in Canberra, and with our Ambassador and with our new Centre, we will be focussing our efforts on building capabilities and capacity, and on being an advocate for our region in health security forums around the world.
We will be focussing on ensuring that we have some of the world’s experts in health security in our Indo-Pacific Centre for Regional Health Security – we will be having secondments from government, from the health sector, from the private sector, from NGOs.
We will be focussing in three areas: on research, on partnerships and on the Health Security Corps.
In relation to research, I can announce today that we will be providing $75 million in research funding to ensure that we are able to drive change and focus on medical treatments and diagnostics in particular.
Already under our research funding, we have invested in an initiative, a consortium comprising James Cook University, the Australian National University, the University of Sydney, the University of Western Australia, and the PNG Institute for Medical Research. We will be focussing on building a workforce that is capable of managing surveillance, they will be generating risk maps, they will be focussing on this issue of prioritising diseases, particularly TB, malaria – drug resistant TB and malaria – which are such an issue in our region.
This consortium will be building on the work that is already being undertaken by Darwin’s Menzies School of Medical Research, the work of the Burnet Institute, and work with partners in Malaysia, Indonesia and PNG.
It will also complement the work that we are doing in our innovationXchange, this is an ideas hub that I established within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to look at creative and innovative ways to solve what would otherwise be intractable development problems. The innovationXchange currently has 80 projects and about 30 partnerships dealing with a very diverse range of development issues and coming up with some amazing global solutions.
In particular, for reference today, we are working with Monash University and CSIRO in the World Malaria Program using the bacteria Wolbachia to ensure that we can work towards eliminating dengue and Zika and chikungunya.
I am able to announce today a new round, a $16 million funding round, an open call for researchers to come up with ideas and research that will build health systems in our region.
Secondly, on partnerships. It is absolutely vital for there to be government-to-government partnerships, partnerships with the public sector, with the private sector, with NGOS, civil society.
Part of our Regional Health Security Initiative will be to be developing more of these partnerships and today I confirm that we will be partnering with the World Health Organization Health Emergencies Program, and Peter Salama is here today.
In the aftermath of Ebola there were many lessons to be learned and we will be working closely with WHO, the Health Emergencies Program, and the Australian Government will be dedicating $20 million over four years to these emerging and devastating disease outbreaks.
We are also entering into a partnership between the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the TGA, the Therapeutic Goods Administration, to ensure that we can bring to market and distribute effectively and efficiently the drugs and treatments that are so very much in demand.
We have an existing product development program that does provide initiatives and funding to develop new drugs, new treatments, new vaccines, and this work will particularly focus on TB and malaria.
We also need to drive capacity building, so we are establishing a new Health Security Corps. We will bring together health security experts, not only from Australia but from around the world, who will then be deployed to nations in our region to work in their technical organisations, to work in their institutions, to work in their government departments to build the capacity and the ability of people to strengthen the very health systems that will have to cope with some of these existing and emerging diseases.
We are hoping that we will be able to deploy each year 20 health security experts, and I have just met two of our Health Security Corps representatives here today and I congratulate them and thank them for being involved in our work.
In addition, the Australian Government has established the New Colombo Plan. Many of you will recall the original Colombo Plan that over 30 years brought about 40,000 people from our region, from the 1950s, to live and study in Australia and gain a qualification from an Australian university.
When we came into Government, we reversed the Colombo Plan, called it the New Colombo Plan, and we are now supporting undergraduates at all Australian universities to undertake study in a university overseas in the Indo-Pacific. These students not only have the opportunity to study in these universities and have their time recognised towards their degree in Australia, they get to live and immerse themselves in the culture and social and political and economic life of the country. They also undertake practicums, internships, work experience, so they actually gain an understanding, a perspective, an insight into our region.
This is one of the most significant investments the Australian Government has made in terms of our long term engagement in our region, and I cannot think of a better investment than supporting our young people become more Asia-literate, coming back to Australia with new ideas and perspectives and insights and skills, and hopefully a second language. But also developing the contacts and connections and networks and relationships that will drive our engagement in our region for generations to come.
The students are chosen from all our universities, they are able to go to one of 40 locations – everywhere from Mongolia in the west, to Marshall Islands in the east – across all disciplines.
We have over 240 partners – businesses, governments and NGOs, civil society, the private sector, the public sector – offering them internships and practicums throughout the region.
Some governments have had to change their student visa laws to enable Australian students to not only study but to undertake work experience.
It is an extraordinary program, and has been recognised by leaders in our region from President Xi Jinping, Prime Minister Abe, Prime Minister Lee as one of the finest and most genuine examples of Australia’s engagement in our region.
For the purposes of today, I think it’s relevant to note that 15 students from the University of the Sunshine Coast across a number of health disciplines will be undertaking work experience in Vanuatu.
24 students from a range of health disciplines from Griffith University will be undertaking study and work experience in Laos.
36 students from Bond University across a range of health disciplines will be living and studying in the Solomon Islands.
Just imagine the collective wisdom and knowledge and experience that such students bring back to Australia, and they surely will be our leaders of the future.
So ladies and gentlemen, our announcement today is the single largest investment in health and medical research under Australia’s aid program. We are focussing on regional health security because it is in our interests and the interests of our region for there to be prosperity and stability and security, and this cannot be achieved unless we invest in the health systems of our region.
So it is with a great deal of pride that I announce Australia’s Regional Health Security Initiative and our Indo-Pacific Centre for Health Security.
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