Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been accused of “playing us for mugs” and telling “a bare-faced lie”, after he claimed previous comments that vaccine rollout was “not a race” were taken out of context.
But Mr Morrison’s latest explanation of the controversial comments don’t hold up to scrutiny, with transcripts provided by his office proving he was specifically talking about the speed of the rollout.
“He tried to mislead Australians,” claimed Labor’s shadow health minister Mark Butler.
Following an extension of the COVID lockdown in Victoria and a lockdown announced in South Australia on Tuesday, Mr Morrison embarked on a morning media blitz of Melbourne and Adelaide radio stations on Wednesday.
He was grilled by KIIS FM hosts on the vaccine rollout, admitting there had been “problems”, but declining an opportunity to say “sorry” for how things have played out.
But in two separate interviews on Adelaide radio, the PM put a new spin on his previous comments that the rollout was “not a race”, claiming he had been taken out of context.
“When that was said by both [health department secretary] Professor Murphy and I at the time, what we were talking about was the regulation of vaccines and to ensuring that the vaccines that were being used in Australia had gone through their proper approvals authorities,” Mr Morrison told 5AA.
“My political opponents and others have tried to use that. And, look, that’s what happens in politics …
“I don’t think Australians wanted us to cut corners when it comes to the vaccines that were put in people’s arms that affect their health. I think they would have wanted us to have followed every proper process to ensure that that was the case.”
On ABC Adelaide, the PM similarly claimed “we were talking about how cautious we needed to be when it came to the approval of vaccines for use in Australia”.
“It’s unfortunate that the comments that both Professor Murphy and I made at that time have been used in the way they have… [but] I know how people use things out of context about what you say,” he added.
However, Mr Morrison made numerous comments that the vaccination program was “not a race” in March – well after the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines had been approved by Australia’s medical regulators, and after many thousands of jabs had been given.
Indeed, transcripts published on the Prime Minister’s website show half a dozen “not a race” comments were given in response to questions specifically about the pace of Australia’s vaccine rollout – not the approval process, which had long since concluded.
On March 31, in South Australia, Mr Morrison was asked about the rollout. He responded: “we’re on track for our first dose for everyone by the end of October … We are working through the GPs as we move into 1B and the six million Australians that are part of that. And so, it’s not a race, it’s not a competition”.
In a March 14 press conference, at a Sydney medical clinic where he received his second dose of Pfizer, Mr Morrison was asked several questions about the speed of the rollout. He answered twice “it’s not a race”.
In a March 11 press conference, Mr Morrison said: “The vaccination program done safely, done properly, which is what we’re doing here in Australia. It’s not a race. It’s not a competition for the sake of people’s health – you get it right.”
That same day, in a Sunrise TV interview, he was asked if he was worried about the “slow” vaccine rollout.
He responded: “We will get this done by October as we said we would. But we have got to do it safely and as Brendan Murphy said yesterday, this is not a race”.
And in a March 11 Today interview, Mr Morrison noted 100,000 people had already been vaccinated, adding “the key is, it’s not a race, right. It’s not a competition”.
Professor Murphy’s own “not a race” comments on March 10 were also specifically about the rollout pace.
By March 31, Australia’s vaccine rollout had been running for more than a month, and more than 541,000 doses had been distributed.
Mr Morrison was among those doses, having received his first dose of Pfizer on February 21, among the first dozen people in the country to get a vaccine, and his second on March 14.
Labor’s shadow foreign minister Penny Wong claimed Mr Morrison was “trying to reinvent history”.
This morning Mr Morrison is also trying to reinvent history.
He’s claiming when he said “it’s not a race” it was about vaccine approvals.
But the TGA had already approved it.
“Not a race” was always his excuse for his own delays.
He is playing us for mugs. https://t.co/5WF0UiI4Sz
— Senator Penny Wong (@SenatorWong) July 21, 2021
Mr Butler was even more scathing.
He also noted the vaccines were approved well before Mr Morrison’s March comments, and that in any case, the approval process for the vaccines “had not been contested by the Opposition”.
“This morning, [Mr Morrison] repeatedly pretended that what he was talking about was the formal approval processes by the Therapeutic Goods Administration,” Mr Butler said.
“That is just a bare-faced lie.”