Launch of the National Vaccine and Therapeutics Lab


First, too, if I may acknowledge, we’re on the lands of the Kulin nation and pay respects to elders past and present. Mark, thank you for acknowledging everyone. You make the job of the next speakers so much easier, but it would be remiss of me not to recognise Chair Katherine Fagg; CEO, Larry Marshall; the Chief Scientist; Bronwyn Fox. So many people who are here. Can I also acknowledge Doron Ben Meir, as well, from Monash, who I’ve known for years. I’m happy about that situation; I don’t know about you. It’s very good to see you and also the Victoria Lead Scientist. 

It is very good to be here and also not to have a requirement to be the person wearing a tie and looking straight at you [indistinct] you’ll be here and much more relaxed. I spent two weeks in Parliament, so every time I can get out [indistinct]. But it is good to be able to join with you on this today because the world has been very much focused on some of the things that you want to attend to right here in this facility and having the preparedness and ability to be able to do what you want with respect to the two key things of testing out potential new medicines, or medical products and then being able to scale it up in terms of manufacture, we do need to do more of this. It’s been a big focus of ours as an incoming Government. We thought about it a lot going into the election. Things like our National Reconstruction Fund, the $15 billion co investment fund that we are putting in together, where we have dedicated, in line with, if I may say, what the CSIRO had indicated would be national economic and social priorities. We have structured our reconstruction fund around that and we’ve also taken note of the fact that when people have looked at, as we all experienced through the pandemic, supply chain vulnerabilities, that meant that the things that we thought we’d get really easily we couldn’t, we didn’t, and medicines being one, so anything where we can invest in our store, our stock and our capability like what’s happening here is very important. 

I do want to extend my deepest thanks to everyone who’s been involved in this project, and speaking with Larry and Sue and understanding as well the amount of time Professor Nielsen – where is Sue? Sitting there. You really made it hard. You know I’m going to rely on you at certain points in this speech and say some things I may or may not get right.

But talking about the pathway to this point, six years, and the number of different points at which investment came in and if I can acknowledge the State Victorian Government for their contribution, as well. It has been a true team moment for which we are all very grateful in what you’ve been able to do. 

As I said, it will strengthen onshore manufacturing and increase the competitive advantage of Australian SMEs through the manufacture of high value, high quality products. It will help biomedical SMEs bridge that dreaded valley of death as well, faced by many like emerging firms. But importantly, it will take great Australian ideas from the lab to commercial scale so companies can succeed locally and compete globally. 

Now, here’s the bit where I just want to check – we practised and what I can and can’t say, right, Professor Nielsen. So, we can’t say a lot – this is what my notes say – about what’s coming online first from the labs. However, with Professor Nielsen’s permission I can say the first campaign we expect to roll out – and I’m watching – this wonderful facility, an anticancer therapy which has been developed within Australian university to a progressive clinical stage, and it will achieve this without having to leave the country, which is big. And it will all happen here in Australia, and particularly anything we can do in terms of any cancer therapies, will mean a great deal to the quality and enjoyment of life for so many here and abroad. It is a brilliant example of using advanced manufacturing processes to advance industry and given that biomed and med tech are characterised by a high level of innovation, resulting in short life cycles from any products, very important in itself. 

The operation of the lab itself will add to growth of needed skills and jobs in this sector and we are very focused on this over the coming weeks. Next week I’ve got a stack – about half a dozen – roundtables looking at this whole area in terms of skills, longer term. We’ve got roundtables on science, tech, biomed, AI, manufacturing – these are all off the top. I’m getting a nod from my office. I’m on track. Just to look at what we do leading into the Jobs and Skills Summit, and then putting the long-term pathways as well with respect to human capital investment to make sure that when we’ve got the ambition, we can actually fill it with people here to drive that further in addition to what you are all doing. So, very, very important and I’m looking forward to working with you all on that. 

If I may say too, – now, this is a joke at my expense, Larry, so I just want you to know this. But I learnt today that I’ve already launched and opened this lab. The reason I’m surprised, and my office will testify, I have a complicated relationship with punctuality. So, for me to have already opened something is mind blowing to me personally. So, I’m very grateful that the CSIRO has helped me in a personal development milestone [indistinct] for this. But I am delighted to now officially open the lab and to thank you all for your commitment, not just to the lab itself, but important as I say to everyone, the fact that we do, as a national mission, need to – I can go through programs and I can mention specific mechanisms, but the biggest thing that drives change is culture and attitude, and the big thing this country we need to do together is revitalise our faith in Australian know-how and to know that we can do this here and that we can make the world pay attention to us as opposed to whenever we think about a problem we go: what did someone else on the other side of the planet do to solve that problem? You have that capability. We are going to reinvigorate faith in that, and we will support it in very practical ways. This lab is one down payment to that and I’m very grateful to what you have done to make this a reality. Thank you.