Manufacturers say 'make Australia make again' as experts warn of flaws in nation's supply chain

A consortium of 30 Australian manufacturers have come together to almost double the number of ventilators in the country by the end of July.

Professor of medicine at Melbourne University, Rinaldo Bellomo.

Professor of medicine at Melbourne University, Rinaldo Bellomo. Source: SBS News

Experts have warned of potentially deadly flaws in Australia's medical supply chain as a group of manufacturers rush to build more than 2,000 much-needed ventilators.

A consortium of 30 manufacturers have come together to produce the components and assemble the ventilators by the end of July, issuing a plea to politicians: "make Australia make again".

The new ventilators will be exempt from the usual safety and performance testing procedures as government's rush to get the life-saving equipment in hospitals before the coronavirus pandemic leads to a rush on ICU admissions.

A professor of medicine at Melbourne University, Rinaldo Bellomo, told SBS News that if Australia couldn't find a way to manufacture protective equipment, masks and ventilators onshore the country would "be in a lot of trouble".

"We need to have a national medical stockpile much greater than we've had, in multiple locations, in every state, ready for this to happen again," he said. "I think it's really important for our country to be independent in being able to respond to this."

Victorian business Grey Innovation is leading the group of manufacturers, swapping their usual production of automotive parts for medical supplies.

Executive chairman Jefferson Harcourt said the plan was to "divide and conquer" the production, allowing the machines to be ready in a matter of weeks - not years.

Grey Innovation's chief executive Jefferson Harcourt.
Source: SBS News

"Hopefully, out of this exercise there's going to be some very good dialogue and action - I hope - around the role of manufacturing in this country," Mr Harcourt said.

"As we're saying, let's make Australia make again."

The Grey Innovation consortium was awarded a $31.3 million contract by the Federal Government to build the ventilators, with the Victorian Government providing an additional $500,000 grant.

Since 2008, Australia has lost more than 200,000 manufacturing jobs.

"Whilst manufacturing is still alive here it's important that we support it and grow it, because we're seeing now that when there's a real crunch on Australia is only 2 per cent of the global market and we're well down the bottom of the list when it comes to supply of critical product," Mr Harcourt said.

Currently, there are approximately 2,000 ventilators - a breathing machine - in ICUs across the country.

As of Monday afternoon, at least 6,335 people have tested positive to COVID-19 in Australia, with 35 requiring ventilators.

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others and gatherings are limited to two people unless you are with your family or household.

If you believe you may have contracted the virus, call your doctor (don’t visit) or contact the national Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080. If you are struggling to breathe or experiencing a medical emergency, call 000.

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Published 13 April 2020 at 8:57pm
By Brett Mason