Australia and COVID-19—Successes and Failures

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Coronavirus Vaccine Mass Production in Laboratory The manner in which the Covid-19 pandemic has been handled has thrown light on the institutions and political culture of all contemporary societies. Concerning Australia there are many questions—flattering, puzzling and sometimes disturbing.

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Thursday 10 June 2021 05:00 pm until Thursday 10 June 2021 06:30 pm (Add to calendar)
University Events
Presented by:
Ideas & Society Program
Type of Event:
Alumni; Community Event; Public Lecture
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The manner in which the COVID-19 pandemic has been handled has thrown light on the institutions and political culture of all contemporary societies. Concerning Australia there are many questions—flattering, puzzling and sometimes disturbing.

  • How have Australia (and New Zealand) been able to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus more successfully than almost any comparable countries?
  • Why however did we come to rely almost exclusively on the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines, given there are several other safe and effective vaccines available?
  • Why has the roll-out of the vaccine been so tardy and, at times, bewildering? Why have the Australian rates of vaccine hesitancy been so high?
  • Why have we failed to repatriate thousands of Australian citizens stranded abroad and in one infamous instance (India) criminalised their attempts to return to their country?
  • How well has Australia fulfilled what many believe are our international obligations, especially to our Indo-Pacific neighbours, and in lobbying for a waiver of intellectual property rights regarding COVID-19 vaccines in poorer countries?
  • And most importantly, what lessons have we learned: in answering the remaining COVID-19 challenges, and in preparation for the next pandemic?

To try to answer these questions (and more) we have assembled an outstanding panel with wide-ranging expertise.


Associate Professor Deb Gleeson

Deborah Gleeson is an Associate Professor in Public Health at La Trobe University, where she co-coordinates La Trobe’s Master of Public Health and teaches postgraduate health policy and health law.

Her main research focus is international trade agreements and their implications for public health and access to medicines and she has published extensively in this area. Her recent book with Ronald Labonte, Trade Agreements and Public Health, is an introduction to the topic for health policy makers, researchers and advocates. Deborah co-convenes the Political Economy of Health Special Interest Group of the Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA) and frequently represents PHAA on matters related to trade and health.

She received a PHAA President’s Award 2015 for public health leadership, engagement and commitment on the impact of international trade issues on public health.


Dr Norman Swan

Norman hosts RN’s Health Report and since the COVID-19 pandemic, co-hosted Coronacast, a daily podcast on the coronavirus. Norman is also a reporter and commentator on the ABC’s 7.30, Midday, News Breakfast and Four Corners and a guest host on RN Breakfast. He is a past winner of the Gold Walkley. He created Invisible Enemies, on pandemics and civilisation for Channel 4 UK and broadcast in 27 countries. Norman was awarded the medal of the Australian Academy of Science and has an honorary MD from the University of Sydney. He is also the recipient of the Australian Skeptics Journalism Award 2020.

Norman trained in Medicine and Paediatrics in Aberdeen, London and Sydney before joining the ABC.

Professor Stephen Duckett

Professor Stephen Duckett is Director of the Health and Aged Care Program at Grattan Institute. He has a reputation for creativity, evidence-based innovation, and reform in areas ranging from the introduction of activity-based funding for hospitals, to new systems of accountability for the safety of hospital care.

An economist, he is a Fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia and of the Australian Academy of Health and Medical Sciences. From 1994 to 2006 he was Professor of Health Policy, Dean of Health Sciences and Pro Vice-Chancellor at La Trobe University. He is also a La Trobe University alumnus, awarded a Diploma in Legal Studies in 1991.

Professor Michael Toole AM

Michael brings extensive experience to his role having spent more than 40 years in a range of international health areas; communicable disease control (including HIV), maternal and child health and nutrition, and public health in emergency settings.

Working for eight years in Thailand, two years in Somalia, and ten years at the CDC in Atlanta, Michael has also undertaken short projects in more than 30 countries in five continents.

A founding member of Medecins sans Frontieres Australia, Michael is a member of the Global Fund Technical Review Panel, the Board of the Three Diseases Fund for Burma, and the Independent Monitoring Board of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.

Professor Raina MacIntyre

Raina MacIntyre (MBBS Hons 1, M App Epid, PhD, FRACP, FAFPHM) is Professor of Global Biosecurity, NHMRC Principal Research Fellow and Head of the Biosecurity Program at the Kirby Institute, UNSW, Australia. She leads a research program in control and prevention of infectious diseases, spanning vaccinology, pandemics, bioterrorism and emerging infections, and personal protective equipment.

Her area of vaccine expertise is vaccination of older adults and immunosuppressed people, as well as the role of influenza and other infections on triggering cardiovascular events, and how these can be prevented by vaccines. She is interested in surveillance for epidemics and biothreats, and developed an automated, open source rapid epidemic observatory, Epiwatch, to detect early signals of serious epidemic or bioterrorism events.

She has over 400 peer reviewed publications. She has received many awards including the Sir Henry Wellcome Medal and Prize from the Association of Military Surgeons of the US, the Public Health Association of Australia’s National Immunisation Award (for her research on adult vaccination), and the Frank Fenner Award for Research in Infectious Diseases.

Welcome remarks:

Professor John Dewar AO

Professor Dewar AO is a graduate of the University of Oxford, where he was also a Fellow of Hertford College from 1990-1995. He taught at the Universities of Lancaster and Warwick in the UK, and worked for the London law firms Allen & Overy and Farrer & Co. He came to Australia in 1995, and held senior leadership positions at Griffith University and the University of Melbourne, where he was Provost, before taking up the position of Vice-Chancellor of La Trobe.


Emeritus Professor Robert Manne

Robert Manne is an Emeritus Professor of Politics, Vice-Chancellor’s Fellow and Convenor of the Ideas and Society Program at La Trobe University.

He is the author or editor of twenty-seven books, including The Petrov Affair: Politics and Espionage; The Culture of Forgetting: Helen Demidenko and the Holocaust; In Denial: The Stolen Generations and the Right; Left, Right, Left: Political Essays 1977-2005; Making Trouble; Cypherpunk Revolutionary-On Julian Assange; The Mind of the Islamic State; and most recently On Borrowed Time. Manne was editor of Quadrant between 1990 and 1997 and has been chair of the boards of both The Australian Book Review and The Monthly.

He has been a regular public affairs columnist for several Australian newspapers and magazines since the mid-1980s and a frequent commentator on ABC radio and television.  He is a Fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia.



19th Jan 2022 4:20pm

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