The Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, will today leave for Singapore before flying to Cornwall in the United Kingdom to take up Australia's special invitation to the 2021 "G7-plus" summit, taking place from Friday to Sunday.
Our position as an open, tolerant, successful Asia-Pacific nation, with key interests in regional stability and prosperity, brings us to the head table. Major powers are looking to Australia for global leadership on international economic policy, COVID-19 and climate change. We must make the most of the moment.
We recognise that Australian prime ministers must always have a relentless domestic focus - national security, jobs, growth and individual and community wellbeing. These issues are paramount, but they require an outward-looking foreign policy aimed at tackling big problems before they cause us substantial harm.
We believe the PM is well-placed to lead Australia back into more active international engagement, and in doing so bind us more tightly to our allies. This is the chance to give the lie to allegations of "Fortress Australia".
We expect major initiatives to be put forward at this G7 summit, on both an accelerated international vaccine rollout and climate change. In both cases, these are challenging issues requiring major domestic efforts and support for local communities, but those efforts ultimately cannot succeed if they are not joined strongly to additional global efforts.
Australia should build on the visionary Quad agreement in March to produce, deliver and effectively use 1 billion vaccines. We recognise and applaud that the Quad agreement came on top of substantial Australian bilateral support for countries in the Pacific and south-east Asia, worth more than $500 million.
Some may argue we have done enough already, but our self-interest says otherwise. Without additional action, it will be many years before global vaccination is achieved. Every day lost raises the chances of more dangerous, more transmissible variants beating our defences and undermining all the progress made - and all of the sacrifices of the Australian people.
We welcome the PM's recent announcement of additional Australian support for the COVAX mechanism that helps developing countries finance effective vaccines, bringing our total support to $130 million. This is another positive step in the right direction. However, COVAX remains severely underfunded, and Australian contributions are about half those of comparable countries.
The World Health Organization (WHO) is warning that a combination of underfunding and supply constraints have combined to leave COVAX 200 million doses behind where it should be at this time. The G7 will need to adopt a much more ambitious tone and pace to defeat the pandemic in lower-income countries.
Australia can help by contributing and encouraging additional COVAX funding, but also by helping broker agreement between vaccine developers and capable developing countries looking to ramp up local and regional vaccine production, distribution and use.
The private sector has played a crucial role in vaccine development and understandably does not want to lose its intellectual property.
However we are facing a global, once-in-100-years crisis that requires special measures. Vaccine development has relied as much on a bedrock of publicly funded, pure scientific research and massive public sector investment, including advance purchase orders, as it has on commercial innovation.
Therefore, we favour hammering out a common framework to govern voluntary deals to accelerate vaccine production. We note the OECD's recent report, Access to COVID-19 vaccines: Global Approaches in a global crisis, which highlights potential global income gains of $US9 trillion between 2020 and 2025 if we make faster progress on ending the pandemic.
The report points to our collective error in not dealing with intellectual property sharing at the outset. That should not stop us from doing so now. Australian pragmatism can help expand global vaccine availability in a very impactful way.
At the G7, there is a chance for Australia to return to its record of active internationalism. We have been invited as a creative middle power. We can be clear-headed and "realist", but also champion the virtues of global problem-solving.
By marrying hard power and soft power, we can deliver smart power.
We wish the Prime Minister every success.
- The above article is a joint statement from the heads of The International Development Contractors Community (Stuart Schaefer), The Australian Council for International Development (Marc Purcell) and The Burnet Institute (Professor Brendan Crabb).