Taxpayers bear cost of vaccine risk
Chris Jones, national political reporter
THE manufacturer of Australia's emergency supply of smallpox vaccine has been indemnified by the Government against any compensation claims lodged by people who experience "adverse reactions" to the medication.
The guarantee exposes taxpayers to possible compensation claims worth billions of dollars from the 50,000 defence personnel, emergency medical staff and laboratory workers who would be injected with the vaccine in the event of a bioterrorism attack.
Last week's Federal Budget disclosed the compensation guarantee in a 17-page list of future risks to the Government's coffers.
The statement of risks also revealed that a US-based company contracted to provide technical support for Australia's troubled Collins-Class submarines has been indemnified against any "defects in the operation or performance" of the boats.
Taxpayers will also foot the compensation bill if there are problems with the nation's blood supply, if Customs officers have to use force against illegal fishers in the Southern Ocean, or if an airline loses money because of the actions of a government air marshal.
Other future risks to taxpayers' money identified by Treasury boffins during preparation of this year's Federal Budget included billions of dollars' worth of class actions that have been lodged in the courts against the Government.
These include claims by former public servants exposed to asbestos during their work and more than 100 long-distance air travellers who believe they were not warned about the risk posed by the blood-clotting condition deep vein thrombosis.
Members of the stolen generation, survivors of the 1974 HMAS Melbourne-HMAS Voyager collision, and former maintenance workers on the nation's F-111 bombers also have sought compensation from the Government for their pain and suffering.
On the smallpox vaccine, the Budget papers reveal the Government granted an indemnity to the French manufacturer when it took delivery in late 2002 of 50,000 doses of the medication so it could protect emergency workers in the case of a bioterrorism attack.
Questions were raised at the time about the vaccine because it was made using older technology – but in the post-September 11 environment it was the only type available for large-scale purchase.
"The Government (therefore) granted an indemnity to the manufacturer covering possible adverse events that could result from the use of the vaccine," the Budget revealed.
The Budget also said legal protection had been granted to the US nuclear submarine builder Electric Boat Corporation over its role in helping the Australian Submarine Corporation make the transition from boat builder to the fleet's maintenance arm.
The US corporation has been indemnified against claims arising from property loss or personal injury resulting from a defect in the performance of a Collins-Class submarine, other than caused by unlawful conduct, gross negligence or wilful misconduct. It covers only claims worth more than the profit earned by the company from its work with the South Australian submarine builder.