Politics

‘I’m sorry’: Former cabinet minister apologises for sluggish vaccine rollout

“I was a member of federal cabinet when decisions were made to pre-order vaccines and develop a capacity to manufacture in Australia and I supported those decisions. Just as I supported decisions which have saved thousands of Australian lives by protecting us from the exponential growth in cases that other developed nations have experienced.”

The former veterans’ affairs minister said he would not “point the finger and blame anyone for the delays” but there were some factors the media had chosen to ignore.

“For months, the mainstream media added to vaccine hesitancy by heavily reporting the tiny number of adverse reactions and now criticise the government because AstraZeneca has a poorer reputation than Pfizer,” he said.

“Some people were reluctant to get vaccinated when there were no cases for months but the recent outbreaks have certainly increased demand.”

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He said the decision by health authorities not to recommend AstraZeneca for people under 60 was not consistent with other nations and would be different if Australia had huge coronavirus case numbers.

“In a bizarre way, we are victims of our own success in suppressing the virus. And in relation to demanding extra Pfizer supplies, it’s a bit hard to make the case for a rich nation with very few cases to take limited supplies from developing nations with thousands of daily deaths,” he said.

Mr Chester, who represents the seat of Gippsland in eastern Victoria, said governments at all levels had generally made good decisions.

“I know it’s frustrating and the uncertainty around lockdowns is stressful and costly for local businesses. Please try to stay positive and optimistic – we’ve proven our resilience many times before and we will get through these challenging times as a region.”

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said Mr Morrison was channelling singer Elton John because “sorry seems to be hardest word”.

“I think he would have been better off saying sorry. And everyone has made mistakes. No one’s perfect,” Mr Albanese told Melbourne’s KIIS 101.1 FM with Jase & PJ.

“The problem is, you know, he said so many times that it’s not a race. And the truth is it is a race … he tried to say that was about the approval of the drugs. And that’s not true either. That’s not true.”

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