23 Nov

'Britain helped Australia. Now, it's our turn' His Excellency George Brandis QC, The Telegraph

Earlier this year, after Scott Morrison picked up the phone to speak to Boris Johnson, Britain and Australia agreed to do what good mates should: help each other to keep safe.

At the time our leaders were speaking, it was becoming clear that Britain would need Covid-19 vaccine doses in high supply over the winter to keep the booster programme going. Australia, meanwhile, urgently needed to tackle our largest outbreak since the start of the pandemic.

As we worked through setting up what became a historic Covid-19 vaccine sharing agreement, it was obvious that there was a win-win deal to be had.

When your Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, and I signed our agreement here at Australia House in September, we showed to the world how close, practical cooperation between friends can make all the difference to saving lives and livelihoods.

Thanks in part to the four million doses of hope arriving from Britain between September and December, nearly 84 per cent of Australians have come to enjoy the protection of a double-dose of vaccine, and 15.2 million Australians are living free from restrictions.

The Australian experience has shown vaccines are not only the best defence against the virus, but the only way forward. And thanks to the unsung heroes who delivered on the deal with Britain, our jab programme is now in full swing.

There were the Australian and British health officials who worked day and night through a punishing time difference to set up the swap; the Qantas pilots who endured long quarantines to get doses home as fast as possible; the delivery-drivers and Public Health England staff who worked through several weekends to ensure Australia got doses safely packed as quickly as possible – and many, many more. These were the people who made this deal possible and, when I met some of them, I was bowled over by the clarity with which they approached their task. Through all the difficulties they encountered, they never lost sight of the simple truth that when it comes to rolling out vaccines, speed saves lives.

One of our vaccine-delivery pilots said to me that he felt like he was carrying the keys to unlock Australia. And I know from friends and family back home that the sight of those special flights landing gave hope in the darkest times: it was a sign that their friends in Britain had their backs.

And so, it is with significant pride that, as I write, Australia is starting to fulfil her end of the deal, delivering the first tranche of over a million life-saving Covid-19 Pfizer vaccines to the UK. In total, we will send four million doses.

I am particularly delighted that our contribution will arrive at such an important juncture for Britain, just as your booster programme is taking off.

As our Covid-19 vaccine partnership draws to a close with this final batch of doses, I want to thank the UK Government, and in particular Sajid Javid, for his leadership and support of Australia. It will be forever appreciated and never forgotten. The UK’s willingness to help Australia in our hour of need allowed us to end our lockdown sooner. It made it possible for families, separated for so long, to spend Christmas together. And it saved lives.

Over the course of coming years, both through our free-trade agreement and the historic Aukus pact, we will see our relationship strengthen in ways that will continue to set the global benchmark for bilateral cooperation.

From collaborating with Britain to set global standards in advanced technologies, to promoting a free and open Indo-Pacific and to achieving the technology breakthroughs we need to meet our shared net zero targets, there is nothing our two countries cannot achieve when we work together in practical partnership.

With Covid increasingly behind us and the global economy coming back better, greener and stronger than ever, our vaccine swap was a significant expression of the threads of kinship that bind our two countries.

George Brandis is Australia’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom. He is speaking on Monday at the Margaret Thatcher Conference on Trade, sponsored by The Telegraph

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