8 July 2021

Forget politics, this PM's COVID response is a shambles

| Ian Bushnell
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Nurse preparing COVID-19 Pfizer vaccine

A nurse prepares the COVID-19 Pfizer vaccine at the Garran Surge Centre. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith isn’t about to get het up at the Morrison Government’s pandemic performance, presenting a picture of equanimity when asked whether she is frustrated at all.

“I’m not going to get into playing politics,” she says.

But is it politics to express a view on how the country is now facing fresh lockdowns that it can’t afford, after last year borrowing like there was no tomorrow to buy the time needed to make the most of our island advantage and get the vaccines we needed to keep the virus at bay?

Look around, Minister, at what is happening in your own COVID-free backyard because the Commonwealth doesn’t have enough vaccine, is way behind on its own projections and now has created mass confusion around the safety of its key weapon, the AstraZeneca jab.

Events are being cancelled, business is falling away and people can’t go to shops without wearing a mask. And this in a town without a sign of the virus. Imagine how Sydney feels.

Maybe you should be a bit less generous because the nation has been let down by a Prime Minister whose job was to ensure we had a range of vaccines to spread the risk, then get them out into the community as fast as possible while keeping our borders safe.

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Now in the second half of 2021, we have a major outbreak in Sydney of an extremely contagious variant out of India, along with smaller ones in WA, SA and Queensland.

The gamble on AstraZeneca, which is also less efficacious than Pfizer, has well and truly blown up in the government’s face, and it won’t be until later in the year that Australia garners more Pfizer and adds the Moderna vaccine to its arsenal.

The Commonwealth could not have predicted the rare clotting problems with AstraZeneca, but it was warned that it should acquire a bigger basket of vaccines.

The health advice that Pfizer should be the preferred vaccine for people under the age of 60 means Australia does not have enough of it to reach its targets and is well behind other comparable countries on the proportion of citizens vaccinated.

The shifting goalposts on AstraZeneca, as well as the acknowledged deaths and illnesses, have also put the frighteners into many people who aren’t anti-vaxxers but want a vaccine that has a higher rate of protection and fewer side effects.

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The Prime Minister has only added to the confusion with his captain’s call to go against the health advice from the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) and tell under 40s they can choose to have AstraZeneca but also indemnifying doctors who administer it, leaving patients wearing all the risk, no matter how small.

It’s hardly a message that gives confidence.

The other issue that the Prime Minister hasn’t dealt with is hotel quarantine. Experts such as UNSW epidemiologist Mary-Louise McLaws were calling for purpose-built facilities as early as last year when it became clear that the hotels were leaking.

Sign warning Canberrans about new mask requirements

Sign of the times: A message for drivers about the ACT’s new mask requirements. Photo: Region Media.

At the time, Morrison staunchly defended the system, saying it was 99.9 per cent effective, only to relent this year as the pressure built to do something, first in Victoria and more recently Queensland.

Our Prime Minister is like the bloke who won’t service his car only to have to buy a new one when the motor blows up.

Politics has nothing to do with basic risk management and preparing for the worst while hoping for the best.

And now we are learning just how many people are flying in and out of the country for business or leisure while thousands of Australians are stuck overseas.

The whole point of putting the country further into hock was to give it space so it could acquire the protections needed not just to prevent death and illness but so we could re-engage with each other and the world.

Vaccines and effective quarantine were the keys – both Commonwealth responsibilities.

The Commonwealth may rail against the states, but the buck stops with it.

Many believed the Prime Minister was readying for an early election late in the year to reap the benefits of victory over the virus and a resurgent economy.

Those plans are now in tatters, and when he does have to face the people, let’s hope we have again dodged a bullet.

But if politicians have expected to be rewarded for their pandemic management, they should also expect to be punished for their failures.

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swaggieswaggie11:18 pm 04 Jul 21

Bushnell again careering headlong onto the abyss of journalistic irrelevance with inaccuracies left, right and center.

cockneyreject5:53 pm 04 Jul 21

The Commonwealth public service does not seem to be very good at operational work such as building things or mobilising resources quickly. That may be because it is too top-heavy with policy wonks and people who have learned that it is safer to be on the sidelines hurling rocks at the doers rather than doing yourself. Wonky, risk-averse and negative behaviours abound. The private sector and second tier governments do things much better. If anything good comes of this it would be to develop a less ‘thinly’ more ‘can do’ APS. By definition that means more practical and less up itself.

James Smithurst12:07 pm 03 Jul 21

“The Commonwealth could not have predicted the rare clotting problems with AstraZeneca”. True but we knew about severe side effects a long time ago. And true to this government, or any government really, the side effects were swepped under the carpet and downplayed. I prefer to watch European news as they have open debates and medical data is freely available and discussed. Here, if you don’t pull get on board the PM’s whitewashed political bonanza which changes direction as the wind blows, you’re accused of being an anti-vaxxer, selfish…whatever. All governments have stuffed up by initially putting the economy, greed and money over health and lives.

Capital Retro1:54 pm 03 Jul 21

Everyone is ignoring the history of vaccinations. Take smallpox for example which was a dreadful disease (makes COVID 19 look like a common cold). There were some side affects (some diabolical including death) known with the serum but being a global problem the bigger picture of total elimination had to be achieved.

Some contributors to this thread need to take a Bex with a cup of tea and have a good lie down.

billyates19556:47 am 03 Jul 21

I feel Australia has been quite lucky so far compared to many other countries, but lately I get the feeling that Governments are fumbling in the dark and making it up as they go along. Perhaps we need all State Leaders to get together with National Leaders and actually make strategies and plans then people might willingly follow.

HiddenDragon5:52 pm 02 Jul 21

On this point, I think Rachel Stephen-Smith is being wise and honest (even if she had her fingers slightly crossed when she made those comments).

The Commonwealth certainly should have moved sooner on purpose-built quarantine facilities, but the critics on that subject have always glibly glossed over the shortages of suitably skilled people (an issue even before Covid hit) which meant that the large-scale Commonwealth facilities around the country which the armchair experts have been demanding would have come at the cost of poaching staff from the state health systems. As an illustration of this point, we learn that the Queensland government (not alone), which has demanded a cut in overseas arrivals, has been importing health professionals –


On the vaccines, there was that now categorically denied rumour that Pfizer had offered Australia all the doses we would have needed in discussions last year. Perhaps the best real world perspective on that issue is to look across the Tasman to a country run by a PM who is, in the eyes of many in Australia, every wonderful thing that ours is not, and check out the Pfizer vaccination rate over there – if the beguiling Jacinda can’t charm and cajole the non-AZ supplies out of the vaccine makers quickly enough, then what chance would boofy old Scotty have had…..?

If the answer to that is AZ for everyone, then tell that to the under 60s, and particularly the under 40s (most notably in the media), who have spent the last few ways pretending to be confused because they thought they had dodged the AZ bullet.

There’s so much more, but in the remaining word allowance, suffice it to say that both levels of government could have done better, but both could have much done worse.

This article is not partisan at all. It is a fair and balanced look at what is a disgustingly incompetent vaccine “stroll-out”. Morrison and Co, marketers to Beelzebub, have shown once again how useless they are to actually doing something.

Mr “I don’t hold the hose, mate” Hawaii is again AWOL when it comes to doing his job.

The instant claims by chewy and acton about bias just shows how little they are following one of the biggest public policy failures in living memory.

Sadly you are mistaken.

Particularly considering the people constantly calling for lockdowns when a COVID case occurs 2000kms away are now fretting about the impacts of a slow vaccine rollout and how the government has failed us (But only the federal government if they live in a ALP state)

We have been beyond successful in controlling COVID cases and we are actually now victims of our own success.

This piece is wildly, off the charts partisan. Anyone who is actually following the news and policy developments understands why.

This PM is one of the worst behaving I’ve seen. Nothing is ever his responsibility but always out in front when it’s a fluff good news story. “We’re at the front of the queue for vaccines” but now it’s “We’re at the back of the queue.”

Australia burns, he goes off on holiday and only grudgingly returns after the public tell him to get his ass back. Then makes a fool of himself trying to force handshakes at inappropriate times as well as trying his laying of hands on people that just aren’t interested in the god bothering, speaking tongues and wallet emptying prosperity gospel.

Let’s just skip over the whole staff being raped thing, other staff jerking off on desks and endemic sexual misconduct, dodgy land deals with pretty blatant corruption of funds going into black holes and a plethora of other scandals that just add to the massive pile.

Of course, nothing is ever his fault. He doesn’t hold a hose. Doesn’t hold a needle. Doesn’t hold ministers or staff to account.

“These partisans are making me angry” (Jerry Seinfeld 1991).
Just yesterday the RiotACT published a story on the Digital News Report from UC which found “respondents strongly indicated a preference for impartial, balanced and non-partisan news”, and today the RiotACT serves up another dish of partisan tripe.

Read the front page of our only Australian national newspaper (owned by an American) today? (and yesterday and the day before etc etc). A more right-wing biased load of propaganda twaddle you’d be hard pressed to find. All the little squeaking mouthpieces for His Masters’ Voice; sad really but I guess they get paid well for this drivel.

Sounds like you agree with me, partisans make us angry.

No, partisans don’t make me angry. As long as they don’t pretend to be an unbiased media. Judging by some of the “journalists” interrogating the Premiers of Victoria and Qld and giving “Gold Standard Gladys” a free pass every time, it’s obvious that they have their orders from their extremely partisan boss about what to say.

“The anger is strong with this one” (Darth Vader 1977).

James Smithurst9:28 am 02 Jul 21

Australia has been bloody lucky not to have a major covid spread. But this could change very quickly with the delta strain. Ian is correct, the feds stuffed up…but so did states and territories. The ACT has the laxest border controls ever.

Capital Retro9:58 am 02 Jul 21

According to Dr Norman Swan, the ABC’s COVID 19 Guru, strains much more virulent than the current Delta one are about to devastate the entire world.

He has made some dud predictions in the past so let’s hope this is another one.

Don’t want to play politics. But then writes an entire article which oozes partisan politics.

Quarantine. The Constituition allows the federal government to make laws in this area. But the same as other powers, it doesnt preclude the states from doing the same as long as it isn’t inconsistent with federal laws. Due to the lack of acceptable federal land and close health services, the states agreed to manage quarantine. And got paid billions in stimulus fro. Federal coffers.

On Vaccines, the Federal government locked in a number of contracts last year attempting to pick winners in a lottery. The fact that they weren’t 100% successful was expected. Those trying to make political mileage out of this fact are disgraceful.

This article should have been binned before it ever saw sunlight.

Truth hurts doesn’t it.

Blen_Carmichael2:42 pm 02 Jul 21

Correct. As per what you say, people wrongly conflate the Commonwealth’s power to legislate for quarantine with being responsible for quarantine. Give their argument, the Commonwealth should pull the plug on the billions it provides the states for health and education.

I agree I’ve spelt out the truth, although I don’t know why you think it would hurt.

Sure there have been stuff-ups, over-reactions and under-reactions. But the fact is despite our low rate of vaccinations compared to the rest of the world we also have low covid infections and deaths.
Whose fault is it that we have low vaccinations and constant lockdowns and border closures? A PM and Premiers who act on shifting expert medical advice, or ourselves for not acting on medical advice? I take a more charitable view of people doing their best under unprecedented circumstances where whatever they do some will seek fault and draw upon the wisdom of hindsight.

Stephen Saunders7:50 am 02 Jul 21

Tourisms NZ and AU sacked Morrison. So should Australia. His personality disorders render him unfit to govern.

Sharing the COVID timidity of Stephen-Smith and Barr are Albanese and front bench. They don’t want to govern either.

Capital Retro9:54 am 02 Jul 21

Have you ever been invited to sit on the ABC Insiders panel, Ian?

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