COVID-19 Vaccine Claims Scheme, 30 March 2023

Senator BABET (Victoria—United Australia Party Whip) (14:46): My question is to the Minister representing the Treasurer, Minister Gallagher. Minister Gallagher, we meet again. Your October 2022 budget included a figure of $77 million that was in the Services Australia portfolio budget statement. This figure is the allowance for the COVID-19 Vaccine Claims Scheme payouts for 2022-23. At the time, this represented an 80-fold increase in allocation from the previous federal budget of just $937,000. My office is contacted every single day by people who, in good faith, trusted their government but are now paying for this decision with injury. They are suffering, and some in this place mock them to this day. Can you please update the Senate on the total amount that has been paid out by the COVID-19 Vaccine Claims Scheme this current financial year?

Senator GALLAGHER (Australian Capital Territory—Minister for the Public Service, Minister for Finance, Minister for Women, Manager of Government Business in the Senate and Vice-President of the Executive Council) (14:47): I thank Senator Babet for the question and for his advice, ahead of time, that he was going to ask a question on this. It greatly assists in being able to provide the information that the senator is seeking.

As the senator outlined, the COVID-19 Vaccine Claims Scheme was put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic and after the announcement of the approval of the vaccines and the vaccine program across Australia. The scheme was established as a fit-for-purpose time limited claim scheme to respond to the unprecedented circumstances of COVID-19. It was designed to ensure that people who have suffered a recognised adverse event as a direct result of the COVID vaccine have faster access to compensation than a costly and complex court process.

There are seven recognised clinical conditions that are eligible under the scheme, which I can go through. Specifically, in relation to Senator Babet’s question, there was a provision of $77 million made. Total expenditure as of 28 March 2023 is in the order of $7.2 million. Services Australia, who administer the scheme, has received 3,374 claims under the scheme. At the moment, 126 claims have been approved for that total figure of just around $7.2 million.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Babet, a first supplementary?

Senator BABET (14:48): Thank you, Minister. The TGA’s most recent report shows that they’ve received 137,970 reported adverse events following COVID vaccination. That’s the equivalent of 2½ packed Marvel sports stadiums in Melbourne—a big stadium. It appears that the number of claims will continue to grow. Minister, what amount will your government be allocating to the scheme in the upcoming budget?

Senator GALLAGHER (14:49): I thank Senator Babet for the supplementary. My understanding of the TGA’s adverse events report is that they report against a range of possible serious side effects, from less serious to more serious, as listed under the adverse events. Not all of those would necessarily be eligible for a claim through this scheme. But in the event that there was increased demand—it is a demand driven scheme; that is, you can make certain provisions—we would meet the cost of the successful applications that met the terms of the scheme and those seven recognised clinical conditions which are eligible under the scheme. So it isn’t really a question of whether we have enough money. It’s a demand driven scheme and that compensation would be paid.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Babet, second supplementary?

Senator BABET (14:50): We’ve paid billions to pharmaceutical companies and, in return, Australians have been slugged with a huge compensation bill to pay for vax-injured people. What options does the government have to make these companies responsible and pay for the injuries that they created with a crappy product?

Senator GALLAGHER (14:50): Thanks, Senator Babet, for the supplementary. I don’t agree with the characterisation of the COVID-19 vaccination as a crappy product. It has successfully vaccinated millions and millions of Australians and significantly decreased the chance of serious disease, particularly in vulnerable individuals, so I don’t accept that. As to the commercial arrangements with the pharmaceutical companies, if people remember, at the time, because the vaccine was developed in a relatively short period compared to others, there were commercial discussions about how to manage schemes and claims like this, but I can’t go into those details. They are commercial-in-confidence.