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New polling has shown that a majority of Australians across the political divide want the Morrison government to actively support a push to waive intellectual property rules for Covid-19 vaccines so developing countries can make and sell cheap copies of patented vaccines.

The polling found that 66% of Labor voters, 65% of Greens voters and 64% of Coalition voters support temporarily waiving the World Trade Organization patent rules for Covid-19 vaccines for the duration of the pandemic. Only 10% of voters were opposed.

The polling was conducted by Essential Media, and the groups who commissioned the survey, Amnesty International, the Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network (AFTINET), the Australian Council of Trade Unions and Friends of the Earth, believe the waiver could help address global vaccine shortages, and refute claims from the pharmaceutical industry there is no extra vaccine manufacturing capacity, and that a waiver could harm supply.

Dr Patricia Ranald, AFTINET convener, said:

Most Australians support changes to WTO rules to supply vaccines for low-income countries. There is a global vaccine shortage which also affects Australia because supply is controlled by a few companies which have already made billions from vaccines largely developed with public funds. The government should support WTO rule changes to increase global supply for all.

The proposal to waive the standard 20-year medical patents for Covid vaccines was initially raised by South Africa and India at the WTO in October, and has since gained the backing of more than 100 lower and middle-income nations, and in recent months, wealthier countries including the United States have reversed their opposition to the waiver.

Australia remains one of the few holds outs, along with the United Kingdom and the European Union. Australia has faced mounting pressure over its position on the waiver, which has triggered both protests at the Australian consulate in San Francisco and the delivery of a 50,000 signature-strong petition to the Department of Foreign Affairs’ Sydney offices last month.

In March, trade minister Dan Tehan initially explained Australia’s hesitancy towards the waiver as being “to make sure that there are some protections in place for the millions of dollars that has gone into the research to create these vaccines”. While Australian officials have since expressed a willingness to engage in text-based negotiations over the waiver, but are yet to throw the country’s support behind the effort.

The WTO council that considers intellectual property meets again next week.

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