An extraordinary war of words has erupted between premiers and the Morrison government about Australia’s glacially slow vaccine rollout, with even NSW Liberal Premier Gladys Berejiklian blasting her federal colleagues as national targets slip further out of reach.
An unlikely alliance formed between Ms Berejiklian and Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk as state governments went to war against Canberra on Wednesday.
Queensland Deputy Premier Steven Miles told federal minister David Littleproud to “give himself an uppercut”, while NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard accused the federal government of “a breach of faith”.
“I am normally a team player and I don’t engage in the ‘he said, she said’… [but] I will stick up for my state,” Ms Berejiklian said.
At the centre of the unprecedented inter-governmental spat is the publication of COVID vaccination figures in News Corp papers on Wednesday. They showed the states had administered only 35-59 per cent of COVID shots they have been sent by the Commonwealth.
From my story, these figures show the feds are putting vials of vaccine into the hands of states, who then aren’t getting those doses into arms. Yes, there’s plenty of areas of the rollout the Commonwealth needs to improve, but this one is not on them. pic.twitter.com/pbsXSrK8kZ
— Clare Armstrong (@ByClare) March 30, 2021
Wednesday’s escalation comes amid growing frustration in federal ranks that states have held back some doses to have a supply of second shots, despite the Commonwealth doing the same at a national level. But the states have blamed a “lumpy” and inconsistent supply from the federal Health Department.
The federal government has promised to get four million vaccinations done by “early April”. Thursday is April 1, and on latest figures, just 670,000 Australians have had even a single coronavirus shot.
National cabinet recently agreed to no longer publish data showing the number of virus doses received versus those administered. It came after Victoria and Queensland were slammed for very low percentages in their first weeks.
The data published by News Corp on Wednesday sent state governments into a rage.
“I am extremely angry and I know there are other health ministers in the country who share similar views,” Mr Hazzard said.
“Up until today, for 15 months, every state and territory government has maintained a collegiate approach … It is not appropriate that we wake up and find figures put into the media that haven’t been shared with any state or territory governments.”
The figures showed NSW had administered 96,000 of the 190,000 doses it has received, Queensland 59,000 of 107,000, and Victoria 86,000 of 195,000.
But Mr Hazzard said 150,000 doses in total had been given in NSW, including just 50,000 administered by the federal government in aged care.
“One day we are the gold standard and the next day we are being told we are not. We are still the gold standard,” he said.
Ms Berejiklian said supply from Canberra had been “lumpy”. The NSW ministers revealed that the state had expecting about 13,000 doses in a recent shipment, but 45,000 turned up – sending officials scrambling to work out how to administer them.
“Less than a few days later, there’s a press report saying we haven’t distributed them all … no one will be able to do that,” Mr Hazzard said.
QLD has only administered 60 percent of their COVID jabs; meanwhile, health workers have been treating infected patients while unvaccinated.
— The Today Show (@TheTodayShow) March 30, 2021
Mr Littleproud, the federal Emergency Services Minister, criticised Queensland – where Brisbane is in lockdown due to a COVID outbreak – for being “asleep at the wheel” after administering only 55 per cent of jabs it has been sent.
Mr Miles took aim at the “offensive” comments, sheeting home some blame for the Brisbane lockdown to the federal government.
“If the Morrison government had engaged with us on a national quarantine centre … we may not have had these two clusters and the need to lock Brisbane down. And so responsibility there has to sit with the Prime Minister,” Mr Miles said.
He claimed the release of the vaccine data was “an orchestrated attack” by the federal government. At issue, Mr Miles said, was the states feeling there was uncertainty around future vaccine supply.
“We have not had that commitment from the Commonwealth that those second doses will be there … some of our hospitals have not known until the morning of how many doses they will have available,” he said.
The states are doing what they can with the vaccines they've got.
We need guaranteed supply and delivery times from the Federal Government. pic.twitter.com/2dHTW1VHa5
— Annastacia Palaszczuk (@AnnastaciaMP) March 31, 2021
Ms Palaszczuk also took a swipe at the federal government, saying it “has been preoccupied with other issues, but it’s time we focus on this vaccine rollout”.
On Tuesday, federal chief medical officer Paul Kelly reiterated the Morrison government’s view that there is “no need for a state or territory to be keeping any vaccine aside” for a second dose.
ACT Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith also labelled the federal government’s rhetoric as “outrageous” and “insulting”.
Federal health minister Greg Hunt played down questions about a rift between state and federal governments. In a Wednesday afternoon press conference, he called the state governments “first class” and said he had “confidence in all” of them.
When asked by The New Daily whether he, like Mr Hazzard, was “angry”, Mr Hunt waved away any such suggestion.
“I’m very thankful for the work of all of the States and Territories, thankful for the work of the GPs, thankful for the fact that in Australia we have a
sovereign vaccine manufacturing facility which is allowing us to ramp up dramatically the vaccines that are going into arms,” he said.