Launch of Indo-Pacific Health Security Initiative

  • Speech, check against delivery

Good morningladies and gentlemen. First Maroochy, thank you for that beautiful andspiritual Welcome to Country.

I acknowledgeBlair Exell, Australia's inaugural Ambassador for Regional health Security,Frank Gannon and the team here at QIMR Berghofer, James McCarthy, I alsoacknowledge David Reddy from MMV, and Dr Peter Salama from WHO HEP.

My dearfriend and ministerial colleague Jane Prentice, my other dear friend – I havemore than two but these two are here today – Trevor Evans the Member forBrisbane, and Senator Claire Moore the Shadow Minister for InternationalDevelopment.

The Ministersfrom Kiribati and Cook Islands who are here today, the many diplomats,researchers, university representatives and some of our top public servantsincluding Glenys Beauchamp and Ewen McDonald, Andrew Campbell and others, sothank you all for being here.

I amabsolutely delighted to be at this prestigious medical research institute, QIMRBerghofer, in beautiful Brisbane on a lovely tropical day here in Queensland'scapital.

The health ofour citizens, the strength of our economy, our security and our wellbeing isintertwined with the nations of our neighbourhood, our region and globally. Inan increasingly interconnected, globalised world, what happens in one nationcan affect all others.

In fact, inmany respects, we live in a borderless world and disease has no regard to anyborders. Should there be a serious disease outbreak, the economic and healthimplications can be devastating, disrupting trade, investment, travel, slowinggrowth and development.

In 2014, the Ebolacrisis showed the vulnerability and the weakness in the public health systemsof the affected countries.

In 2015, theMERS outbreak – the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome outbreak – in South Koreashowed 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 howeasily 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 betterprepare for the health risks of today and in the future, we need new ideas,creative thinking, better ways to build capacity and strengthen health systemsthroughout our region.

The CoalitionGovernment is committed to building capacity and strengthening regional healthsystems, and that is why today I am announcing that the Coalition Government isimplementing a Regional health Security Initiative with $300 million in funding– this is $200 million in addition to the $100 million that we announced at the2016 election – because we know that this is a significant security risk forAustralia and our region.

We areestablishing the Indo-Pacific Centre for Health Security in Canberra, and withour Ambassador and with our new Centre, we will be focussing our efforts onbuilding capabilities and capacity, and on being an advocate for our region inhealth security forums around the world.

We will befocussing on ensuring that we have some of the world's experts in healthsecurity in our Indo-Pacific Centre for Regional Health Security – we will behaving secondments from government, from the health sector, from the privatesector, from NGOs.

We will befocussing in three areas: on research, on partnerships and on the HealthSecurity Corps.

In relationto research, I can announce today that we will be providing $75 million inresearch funding to ensure that we are able to drive change and focus onmedical treatments and diagnostics in particular.

Already underour research funding, we have invested in an initiative, a consortiumcomprising James Cook University, the Australian National University, theUniversity of Sydney, the University of Western Australia, and the PNGInstitute for Medical Research. We will be focussing on building a workforcethat 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 ourregion.

Thisconsortium will be building on the work that is already being undertaken byDarwin's Menzies School of Medical Research, the work of the Burnet Institute,and work with partners in Malaysia, Indonesia and PNG.

It will alsocomplement the work that we are doing in our innovationXchange, this is anideas hub that I established within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Tradeto look at creative and innovative ways to solve what would otherwise beintractable development problems. The innovationXchange currently has 80projects and about 30 partnerships dealing with a very diverse range ofdevelopment issues and coming up with some amazing global solutions.

Inparticular, for reference today, we are working with Monash University andCSIRO in the World Malaria Program using the bacteria Wolbachia to ensure thatwe can work towards eliminating dengue and Zika and chikungunya.

I am able toannounce today a new round, a $16 million funding round, an open call for researchersto come up with ideas and research that will build health systems in ourregion.

Secondly, onpartnerships. It is absolutely vital for there to be government-to-governmentpartnerships, partnerships with the public sector, with the private sector,with NGOS, civil society.

Part of ourRegional Health Security Initiative will be to be developing more of thesepartnerships and today I confirm that we will be partnering with the WorldHealth Organization Health Emergencies Program, and Peter Salama is here today.

In theaftermath of Ebola there were many lessons to be learned and we will be workingclosely with WHO, the Health Emergencies Program, and the Australian Governmentwill be dedicating $20 million over four years to these emerging and devastatingdisease outbreaks.

We are alsoentering into a partnership between the Department of Foreign Affairs and Tradeand the TGA, the Therapeutic Goods Administration, to ensure that we can bringto market and distribute effectively and efficiently the drugs and treatmentsthat are so very much in demand.

We have anexisting product development program that does provide initiatives and fundingto develop new drugs, new treatments, new vaccines, and this work willparticularly focus on TB and malaria.

We also needto drive capacity building, so we are establishing a new Health Security Corps.We will bring together health security experts, not only from Australia butfrom around the world, who will then be deployed to nations in our region towork in their technical organisations, to work in their institutions, to workin their government departments to build the capacity and the ability of peopleto strengthen the very health systems that will have to cope with some of theseexisting and emerging diseases.

We are hopingthat we will be able to deploy each year 20 health security experts, and I havejust met two of our Health Security Corps representatives here today and Icongratulate them and thank them for being involved in our work.

In addition, theAustralian Government has established the New Colombo Plan. Many of you willrecall the original Colombo Plan that over 30 years brought about 40,000 peoplefrom our region, from the 1950s, to live and study in Australia and gain aqualification from an Australian university.

When we cameinto Government, we reversed the Colombo Plan, called it the New Colombo Plan,and we are now supporting undergraduates at all Australian universities toundertake study in a university overseas in the Indo-Pacific. These studentsnot only have the opportunity to study in these universities and have theirtime recognised towards their degree in Australia, they get to live and immersethemselves in the culture and social and political and economic life of thecountry. They also undertake practicums, internships, work experience, so theyactually gain an understanding, a perspective, an insight into our region.

This is oneof the most significant investments the Australian Government has made in termsof our long term engagement in our region, and I cannot think of a betterinvestment than supporting our young people become more Asia-literate, comingback to Australia with new ideas and perspectives and insights and skills, andhopefully a second language. But also developing the contacts and connectionsand networks and relationships that will drive our engagement in our region forgenerations to come.

The studentsare chosen from all our universities, they are able to go to one of 40locations – everywhere from Mongolia in the west, to Marshall Islands in theeast – across all disciplines.

We have over240 partners – businesses, governments and NGOs, civil society, the privatesector, the public sector – offering them internships and practicums throughoutthe region.

Somegovernments have had to change their student visa laws to enable Australianstudents to not only study but to undertake work experience.

It is anextraordinary program, and has been recognised by leaders in our region fromPresident Xi Jinping, Prime Minister Abe, Prime Minister Lee as one of thefinest and most genuine examples of Australia's engagement in our region.

For thepurposes of today, I think it's relevant to note that 15 students from theUniversity of the Sunshine Coast across a number of health disciplines will beundertaking work experience in Vanuatu.

24 studentsfrom a range of health disciplines from Griffith University will be undertakingstudy and work experience in Laos.

36 studentsfrom Bond University across a range of health disciplines will be living andstudying in the Solomon Islands.

Just imaginethe collective wisdom and knowledge and experience that such students bringback to Australia, and they surely will be our leaders of the future.

So ladies andgentlemen, our announcement today is the single largest investment in healthand medical research under Australia's aid program. We are focussing onregional health security because it is in our interests and the interests ofour region for there to be prosperity and stability and security, and thiscannot be achieved unless we invest in the health systems of our region.

So it is witha great deal of pride that I announce Australia's Regional Health SecurityInitiative and our Indo-Pacific Centre for Health Security.

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