Prime Minister Scott Morrison refuted claims he was an “absent leader” as backlash against the Australian leader grew overnight from all corners of the globe.
Across social media, television and radio, the PM faced more criticism for his “chronic inability” to take responsibility for the Federal Government’s failures in handling the Covid-19 pandemic, according to Labor MP Tony Burke on Sky News overnight.
The PM started yesterday with a scathing interview from KIIS 1011 Melbourne hosts Jase & PJ, demanding an apology for his handling of the pandemic and for “the mistakes made”.
“We’ve had problems and we’ve dealt with them, that’s what I do every single day,” Mr Morrison said.
The Independent newspaper in the UK then became the latest overseas publication to focus on the PM’s failures with an article titled, “Morrison under fire over fresh Australia Covid lockdown and poor jab rollout”.
Meanwhile, a picture of Sydney led a story on the front page of The New York Times with the headline: “How nations are learning to ‘let it go’ and live with Covid”. In the article, it said: “Places like Australia, which shut down its border, are learning that they cannot keep the virus out.”
On Wednesday afternoon the PM fronted cameras and conceded: “We’ve had our challenges with this program.”
But when one reporter asked if he was an “absent leader”, he replied with a blunt, “No.”
Mr Morrison said: “We’ve had significant challenges with this program, as many countries have, but what matters is how you respond to them.
“What matters is how you fix the things that need to be fixed and get the program doing what it needs to be doing and hitting the vaccination rates it needs to hit to ensure that we can get to where we need to be, where we want to be.”
Popularity falls as Australians suffer through lockdowns
Pressure is growing for the PM with frustrated Australians stuck in lockdown and the Federal Government’s popularity plummeting by the day.
Greater Sydney is facing longer than a five-week lockdown, Melburnians face another week minimum and South Australia is also enduring a seven-day lockdown.
On The Project last night, speaking to Dr Norman Swan, co-host of ABC’s Coronacast, Waleed Aly commented on Mr Morrison’s lack of apology.
“Does he have something to say sorry for?” Aly asked.
Dr Swan replied: “That’s up to the country to decide, but I will give you a list of things he may want to think about: Failure to procure enough Pfizer when he had a chance, failing to contact Pfizer like others …”
It comes off the back of Steve Price slamming Mr Morrison on the program on Monday night, asking, “Where the hell is the PM?”
It didn’t get any easier as Wednesday night rolled on, with the ABC’s 7.30 trending after ripping into Mr Morrison.
“The problem for the Prime Minister is that despite his protests, slumping poll numbers reveal the Prime Minister facing high levels of disapproval of his handling of the pandemic and a majority perceive him as playing politics and avoiding responsibility,” political reporter Laura Tingle said.
“Even for a Prime Minister notable for his marketing ability, it’s difficult to find much good to say about Australia’s vaccine rollout.
“International comparison shows just 11.7 per cent of the entire population is fully vaccinated. But the Government is now quoting the share of the eligible population vaccinated – that’s 14.5 per cent – hardly something to write home about.”
Medical community joins battle
Meanwhile more of the medical community joined in criticism after the Prime Minister told reporters it was a “constant appeal” to get the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) to change its medical advice on AstraZeneca given the outbreaks in Australia.
Mr Morrison again called on ATAGI to reconsider its position given the current situation in several states.
The group, made up of a number of independent medical experts selected by the Government, has already changed the advice three times for the AstraZeneca jab. It is now recommended for adults over the age of 60.
The comments saw the Australian Medical Association’s (AMA) vice president and member of ATAGI Dr Chris Moy appear on the ABC’s Afternoon Briefing, telling host Patricia Karvelas that Australia’s Covid experts should not be used as fodder.
“Ultimately the job of the Government is to appoint these people, get them to give the advice in a cold, hard fashion and deal with it given the circumstances.
“ATAGI should not be attacked; these are good people who give up their time to provide good advice,” he said.
“The main thing is to understand everybody’s role here; TGA approves it, ATAGI provides recommendations, governments make the decisions and they should actually sit in their spots.”
Shadow Health Minister Mark Butler agreed with the AMA, criticising the PM’s comments for putting “unfair pressure” on ATAGI.
“Just be honest with the Australian people, say you’ve made a mistake,” Mr Butler said.
“Today I heard him mouth the words, ‘I take responsibility,’ then in the same breath, blame everyone else.
“I agree with the AMA, I think this is the Prime Minister using the power of his office as the head of the country trying to shelve responsibility for the terrible failures of this vaccine rollout onto them rather than taking responsibility himself.”