We won’t hear Scott Morrison apologising for the vaccine rollout that has largely left Australia defenceless against the COVID-19 Delta strain and at the bottom of OECD nations on the proportion of adults fully vaccinated.
Some reporters and commentators have been directly pushing for the ‘sorry’ word from the Prime Minister. He was asked whether he’d apologise over and over again on radio on Wednesday morning as if the word could somehow reset the litany of mistakes and negligence he has impaled through the country — negligence that started long before Covid-19.
Of course, Morrison was having none of it. While he conceded that he takes “some responsibility” for the vaccine rollout, at a press conference later on he continually pushed back on the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (Atagi) saying he was pleading with it to change its medical advice on AstraZeneca and see the option opened to people aged 59 and under. He said he’s “constantly” appealing to them to change the advice. He then curiously accused journalists of suggesting the government was “neglecting medical advice”.
More deflections and excuses. More confusion.
But it doesn’t matter if we do or don’t hear the word sorry. Apologies won’t get vaccines in arms or lockdowns relegated to the history books.
What matters is what he does from here, and how he steps up to the challenge ahead. If he doesn’t wish to take this on, then he should stand down, step aside, leave it for someone else to make something of this mess.
Now, of course, we appreciate much of the remaining talent on his frontbench is far short of the merit required for the job, but I’m struggling to see (other than a few exceptions) who could possibly do a worse job.
Morrison could at least attempt to turn this vaccine rollout around and tackle hesitancy and confusion in taking the jab, not only to gain an ounce of respect and consideration for his legacy, but actually to save the lives and livelihoods of Australians.
He could choose to end the hiding and the days of silence. He could choose to quit playing politics on vaccine preference and supplies. He could end his penchant for sudden announcements following weeks of nothing that sees him issuing major adjustments to the rollout, before actually consulting the very people who’ll be delivering such vaccines.
With these choices, he could surprise us by standing up, every single day, and speaking about the vaccine rollout and what his government is doing to make it happen. He could share figures on where we’re at, what the problem areas are and how to resolve them. He could remind us, over and over again, that breaking the cycle of rolling lockdowns begins with getting vaccinated. Vaccinate. Vaccinate. Vaccinate.
He could make some attempts to bring the country together to at least give off the pretence that someone is at the helm, guiding all of us towards something better in the future. Some reassurance. Some kind of unity and promotion of the idea that we are at least, kind of, in this together.
He could set national targets on the proportion of Australians fully vaccinated and be radically candid about how we’re tracking and what his government is doing to get us there.
He could even set milestones and celebratory goals — as US President Jo Biden did, even suggesting the option of free beer. We know Morrison lives for the “fun” parts of his job, so he could even keep things light, at times. Bring in some humour. Bring in a cricketer. Find an Olympian. Ask Jimmy Barnes for help.
The Prime Minister could even bring back the maps and the flags. Remember Operation Sovereign Borders, in which Morrison as Immigration Minister was giving a scheduled weekly update? Take the same approach with vaccines, but just make it daily. Show us the ships and the planes that are bringing the vaccine supplies. Where are they? Show us the numbers still in production and where.
Communicate the vaccination stats, every day. Tell us the goal and why we must reach it. Tell us and admit where supplies are falling short and what you are doing about it. Reassure Australians on vaccine safety. Acknowledge that advice changes, given the remarkable speed at which these vaccines were developed. If you repeat it every day, if we can believe that you’re in constant communication with experts, then you can make up for some of the chaos and confusion caused by your own mixed messages. Tell us how you’re supporting the states and territories, and the GPs and others responsible for the rollout.
The Prime Minister has ignored every other plea to speak. He disappeared on account of “not holding a hose” during the bushfires. He has let state and territory leaders bicker and quibble for well over a year. He retreats to LinkedIn live video appearances with small business owners, instead of answering the questions and providing Australians with the answers and reassurances they need.
He has let every single one of us down. We don’t want apologies. We are done waiting on miracles. We want information, daily.