Govt denies ‘bias’ against Victoria for local mRNA vaccine facility

Denham Sadler
National Affairs Editor

Industry department officials have denied a “bias” against Victoria and local pharmaceutical giant CSL as part of the ongoing efforts to stump up an mRNA vaccine manufacturing capability, with a decision expected within days.

The Industry department approached the market in May for blueprints for an end-to-end manufacturing capability for mRNA vaccines, with applications closing in July. The federal government had expected to make an announcement on this earlier this month but is yet to do so, despite its expert advisory group having already provided advice on the matter.

At a Senate Estimates hearing on Thursday afternoon, Labor Senator Kim Carr referenced recent news reports that Commonwealth officials had told Victorian firm CSL that the new mRNA facility must meet the “anywhere but Victoria” rule.

mRNA manufacturing capability. Image credit: IDT Australia.

It’s understood a significant number of applications to the government’s approach to market involved a Victorian manufacturing facility.

Speaking at the Estimates hearing, Industry department acting deputy secretary Jane Urquhart denied reports the government did not want the facility to be in Victoria.

“I can categorically say that is not the position of the department,” Ms Urquhart told the senators.

Senator Carr questioned whether there was a “bias” against the Victorian-based CSL, and raised concerns there would be a “sweet deal” with Moderna.

Labor Senators also questioned the delays around the establishment of mRNA vaccine manufacturing, with Senator Jess Walsh labelling it a “sad situation”.

“Why has Australia been so slow to secure onshore mRNA vaccine manufacturing compared with our regional competitors?” Senator Walsh asked.

“It took us about 12 months to get to the starting line in May. It’s been five months since the approach to market opened, the advice is with government – why is it taking you so long to establish this critical infrastructure in Australia?

“It’s difficult to describe this situation as a success of any kind for Australia for the government as we try to build manufacturing capability. We’re behind, we’re slow, people are losing their jobs and it’s a critical time for our country to have this capability.”

Ms Urquhart said it was a complex matter and an announcement is expected imminently.

“We are keen to position the government on an early basis but at the same time we are keen that we do what the Australian public would expect of us in terms of that due diligence,” she said.

“You would expect that the government in assessing an investment of this significance in a matter as complex as this technology is, would do its due diligence. That’s exactly what we’re doing in our conduct of this process.

“From the perspective of the department and work we’re doing on this project our only consideration is to give good advice to the government on what would be a significant investment in an important area for Australian science and future industries.”

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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