Prime Minister Scott Morrison has repeatedly refused to apologise for the bungled COVID vaccine rollout, insisting it is not to blame for more than half of the population returning to lockdown.
With just 14 per cent of Australians fully vaccinated, the country lags behind most of the world.
Mr Morrison dialled into multiple radio programs across Australia on Wednesday, after his absence was noted by critics amid Tuesday’s lockdown announcements.
He enduring his toughest grilling on KIIS FM in Melbourne with Jase & PJ, where he was offered repeated opportunities to apologise for his government’s mistakes in the beleaguered coronavirus vaccine program.
“We have this thing on the team here… when someone stuffs up, it’s all about accountability. You say sorry. You admit the problem, and we move on,” host Jase Hawkins said.
“There have been problems along the way. Can you honestly say to me that the government’s taken accountability? I’ve never heard the words, ‘sorry guys’, ‘you know what, sorry we did screw up, but we’re getting it right now’.”
But, although Mr Morrison admitted he was “accountable” – he couldn’t bring himself to utter the word Hawkins was looking for.
“We’ve had problems and we’ve dealt with them… I mean, yes, the government is accountable for this and now I’m accountable for this. That’s why we take accountability by fixing the problems and getting it right,” he said.
“No country in the world has got everything right during this pandemic.”
But Hawkins would not let up.
“Can you just, you know. Can you say ‘sorry Jase’? I would feel so much better and then I feel like we can move on,” he said.
“What we’re doing is fixing the problems and getting on with it… they’re problems that aren’t always within our control,” Mr Morrison replied.
Hawkins said he’d accept “my bad” in place of “sorry” and jovially asked the Prime Minister what “S-O-R-R-Y” spelled.
But Mr Morrison was not drawn.
“We’re moving on with the problems, getting on with it,” he said.
Later, at a media briefing at The Lodge in Canberra – where he is in quarantine after leaving Sydney’s lockdown – Mr Morrison doubled down.
“I take responsibility for the problems that we have had, but I am also taking responsibility for the solutions we’re putting in place and the vaccination rates that we are now achieving,” he said.
He noted a million Australians had received a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine in the past seven days, placing the country on track to offer vaccines to all Australians by the end of 2021.
Earlier, he told 5AA radio in Adelaide that he shared the frustrations of millions of people once again living under stay-at-home orders.
But he again denied the bungled vaccine rollout was to blame.
Countries with higher vaccination rates were also going back into lockdown, Mr Morrison said.
“I understand there is great frustration. Believe me, I feel the same frustration,” he said.
“This latest Delta variant has thrown a completely new curve ball on this issue, which every single country in the world is wrestling with.”
Mr Morrison blamed the delays on multiple updates to expert advice on the AstraZeneca jab, describing the ATAGI recommendations as “a big problem”.
But he said the rollout had ramped up significantly, with more supplies and vaccination centres being added.
“We’ve had our problems but we’re getting over them,” he said.
South Australia joined Victoria and greater Sydney and surrounds in lockdown on Tuesday night.
A lockdown has also been imposed in the Orange, Blayney and Cabonne local government areas in central-west NSW.
NSW had 110 new cases on Wednesday with at least 60 spending time in the community while infectious.
Victoria had 22 more cases, while a new infection in Adelaide has taken SA’s Delta outbreak to six.
Federal Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said the government’s failures were to blame for lockdowns.
“If this government had fixed the rollout of the vaccine, and put in place national quarantine facilities, we wouldn’t have these lockdowns,” Mr Albanese told 2SM radio.