Pathology Technology Australia's Technology Showcase

Parliament House, Canberra

Thank you, Dean Whiting, members of Pathology Technology Australia (PTA), health professionals, patient advocates, parliamentary colleagues and guests.

I would like to begin by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the land on which this event is being held, the Ngunnawal people.

Their connection to the land on which we’re meeting today extends back more than 65,000 years.

I pay my respects to their elders, past and present, and to any Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the audience.

I appreciate the opportunity to speak today about ‘Crossing the Valley of Death’.

I’ve been Assistant Minister for just over 100 days and during that time (and those long years in Opposition), I’ve been struck by the energy in the sector. 

As a Government, it’s our job to match that energy and work hand-in-hand with industry to build better health security for all Australians, regardless of their postcode or background. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a double-edged sword for industry – while some MedTech companies have thrived, it’s also been a valley of death for others.  

And during the darkest days of the pandemic, our heroes on the frontline of the crisis (nurses, doctors and carers) have walked through the valley of the shadow of death.

They have risked their own health to care for people they don’t know.

Pathology workers too, worked around the clock under enormous pressure.

Such courage and dedication. 

It’s only fitting that the Australian Government mirror this courage and dedication in our ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The pandemic showed us why increasing our industrial capability in manufacturing is key, particularly for critical medical products.

It has also highlighted the need to secure supply chains internationally for the products we don’t make ourselves.

Rebuilding Australian manufacturing, securing the supply chains that matter for our national development and reinforcing national resilience – these are the central tasks for this Government.

The Government is working with like-minded regionals and international partners to build resilience, including through such initiatives as the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework.

The framework is designed to improve transparency, security, and sustainability of supply chains. 

This is part of Australia’s important role in supporting regional development.

In my capacity as Assistant Minister for Trade, I’ve had some positive bilateral and multilateral meetings with IPEF members together with Trade and Tourism Minister Don Farrell. 

We are examining the initiatives of the last Government around supply chain resilience, including through the Office of Supply Chain Resilience. 

Our intention is to put Australia in a position where we can monitor, prepare and respond to future supply chain shocks.

We are also moving quickly to establish the $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund (NRF) as a first step towards rebuilding Australia’s industrial base. 

After a decade of industry policy drift, we need to revive our ability to make world-class products and, in the process, create secure well-paid jobs for Australians.

The NRF will provide loans, guarantees and equity to drive investments that add value and capability in seven priority areas of natural and competitive strength.

One of the priority sectors for the fund is medical science.

We have earmarked at least $1.5 billion from the fund to support the medical manufacturing sector.

The focus here is on advanced technologies, medical devices, personal protective equipment, medicines and vaccines.

The Government is consulting with industry, and state and territory counterparts to coordinate efforts and share information.  

Further details about the fund will be announced soon, but I am sure that Pathology Technology Australia and its members will play an important role in the future of medical device commercialisation.

As you know about 97 per cent of in vitro diagnostic tests and technologies used in Australia are imported.

PTA and the Government are absolutely aligned on the need to develop more of these critical testing capabilities and technologies in Australia.

These tests save lives and keep Australians out of hospital, lowering costs in our health system - we need a reliable supply. 

Australia is a trading nation. We’ve always been a great trading nation. 

When developing industries to meet domestic requirements we should also be looking at potential export opportunities.

We need to broaden our export complexity and push Australia up the value chain. 

Australia’s steady drift down the export complexity indexes has left us dangerously exposed in the region, as well as giving away good investment and good jobs. 

It is our job to strengthen Australian industrial capability in key sectors with good industry policy.

At the same time, we must also maintain our open market approach to trade, deepening our trading relationships and exports around the world. 

It is true that Australia has a trade diversification challenge ahead. Firstly, that is a market diversification challenge. 

In an era of challenging geopolitics, including economic coercion, it is vital that Australia has competing export options for our goods and services.

But secondly, and it is often overlooked in the public debate, we also need product diversity. 

More products, up the global value chain, more economic complexity – that’s where the good jobs, investment and economic resilience opportunities are. 

And that’s where you come in. 

The pathology technology sector invests significantly in developing innovative new technology that improves the efficacy and availability of tests. 

We are already a leading exporter of resources to the Indo-Pacific and have the potential to greatly increase our manufacturing markets across the region, including medical products. 

PTA plays an important advocacy role in representing manufacturers and suppliers of almost all tests and technology used in pathology laboratories, hospitals, general practices and self-testing. 

And Australian pathology companies are making significant advances in developing and manufacturing diagnostic tools that improve detection of infectious diseases including COVID 19.

The Australian Government’s investments from the National Reconstruction Fund will play a very important role in supporting local companies to develop and manufacture the critical tools that we need here in Australia. 

We will establish an independent Board to make decisions in accordance with a Government-endorsed mandate.

This event is a valuable opportunity to consider the path ahead and I welcome PTA’s perspectives on developing a strong sovereign manufacturing capability for Australia’s diagnostics industry.

Of particular note is the collaboration with the Growth Centre MTPConnect to deliver an Australian Diagnostics Action Plan.

This plan will advise the Government on the opportunity to build end-to-end sovereign manufacturing capability for diagnostics tests.

I appreciate the extensive consultation and rigorous examination of the diagnostic testing landscape that is going into the development of this plan.

And I look forward to the final report which will outline domestic capabilities that will build resilience for critical products. 

It is great to see the report will also examine supply chain vulnerabilities and other barriers to position Australia to successfully produce in vitro diagnostic devices reliably and sustainably. 

The aim is to make Australia a regional centre of excellence for diagnostic technology manufacturing.

I thank PTA and its members for their ongoing engagement with government on important issues during the pandemic, including securing the supply of rapid antigen tests from overseas.

This engagement will continue under this Government.

Our manufacturers have shown great ingenuity in adapting to the challenges of the pandemic, proving much needed items in short order.

Dean [Whiting] has previously made the excellent point that a healthy economy relies on a healthy nation.

PTA and its members are making important contributions to our national health and prosperity.

These are central priorities for the Government, and I look forward to working with you in the future as we strive to improve Australia’s health security and rebuild our domestic industry capabilities.  

Thank you.