The Politics    Friday, September 3, 2021

Hurried Pfizer and the blusterer’s stone

By Rachel Withers

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaking at a press conference today. Image via ABC News

Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaking at a press conference today. Image via ABC News

Stones belatedly unturned by the man who didn’t order enough vaccines

With NSW announcing another 12 COVID-19 deaths today, Victoria coming to terms with grim months ahead, and experts sounding the alarm about the health system’s ability to cope, a boastful Scott Morrison has announced the bringing forward of more of the vaccines we have desperately needed for months now – with a tone-deaf quip about owing Boris Johnson a beer. Speaking ahead of this afternoon’s national cabinet meeting, the prime minister announced yet another vaccine “swap”, one that will see the UK send Australia 4 million extra doses of Pfizer, doubling our stock in September, with the doses to be returned when we have more ample supply in December. (It’s a “good deal between mates”, as Morrison put it.) This follows news on Tuesday that Singapore would send Australia 500,000 doses of Pfizer that are due to expire soon, with the PM noting that he wasn’t leaving any stone unturned – now that things are dire, it seems. “I can tell you I’ve been turning over some stones in recent times,” he remarked, boasting that this deal would allow the country to reopen sooner. The UK vaccine swap is undeniably good news, though as Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews implied in his concurrent press conference, let’s hope it doesn’t impact people’s willingness to take up the many AstraZeneca appointments available for this weekend. And, more to the point, why couldn’t Morrison – who, as it hardly bears repeating, told us for months that the vaccine rollout wasn’t a race – have tried turning over some stones before half the population was plunged into deep, dark vaccine-reliant lockdowns, which condemn the nation to another recession? Why couldn’t he have shown some basic care or urgency before it was his political life on the line? Morrison certainly does owe Boris a beer for getting him out of a tight spot. But the PM shouldn’t be expecting commendation for this face-saving announcement. The fact is Australia’s chance at a unified, orderly transition with the minimum amount of pain and suffering has been obliterated, all because he lacks the ability to plan ahead.

Morrison, the prime minister who loves more than anything to make announcements, is eager to get as much recognition as he can for his belated efforts, just as he has been for every little increase (or perceived increase) in doses, ever hopeful that Australians will credit his government with getting them out of the lockdowns which they find themselves in, in large part due to his negligence. But his efforts are just that: belated. Australians are paying the price for his bizarre decision not to prioritise the rollout, or to go seeking extra vaccine supplies until it was painfully late (something all the more astounding now it’s clear there is Pfizer out there in the world for the taking). Will he get away with it? The PM keeps saying in Question Time that it’s “how you finish the race” that matters – something that is patently false, as many on the east coast can see for themselves. Morrison has previously tried to make the ludicrous claim that there was no way a more on-track vaccine rollout could have prevented the situation in NSW (and now ACT, Victoria and New Zealand), when it’s clear that even a slightly more vaccinated population (or a vaccinated limo driver) might have seen this off. Morrison will no doubt be hoping that he can go to the election with lockdowns a thing of the past, banking on the fact that people will forgive and forget the rougher than necessary ride.

Speaking to reporters today, the PM continued to label the vaccines “doses of hope”, promising that they would see the country reopen sooner. The “good deal between mates” is of course a welcome acceleration, though it’s worth noting that it doesn’t mean any extra doses overall. What will this mean for Australia’s Pfizer supply come December, when it’s time to return the favour? Morrison noted that the UK would need them more at that time, when it would suit its booster program. But Australia will certainly still be trying to get more of its people vaccinated at that stage, with leaders still at loggerheads over exactly what reopening thresholds are required, not to mention the fact that it will be time to start considering our own booster program. Will Australia now not be getting any Pfizer in the final month of the year?

Once again, Morrison wants Australians to believe he has come to the rescue with more doses, when the fact that we are so terrifyingly in need of them is entirely on him. For months, premiers have been crying out for additional vaccine supply, with the prime minister blaming everything from international supply chains to hesitancy to ATAGI. Now, he tells us, he is overturning stones. It’s clear many had been left unturned until now. Is this another example of Morrison not planning ahead? The UK government may want to be a little wary of promises made to it by the Morrison government. Australians certainly should be by now.

Listen to The Politics Podcast, with Rachel Withers

“The modelling calculates how many people die under each scenario and that’s the challenging decision that our leaders need to make.”

Queensland Deputy Premier Steven Miles asks for national cabinet to nominate its acceptable death toll, so that restrictions can be decided accordingly.

“So the worst-case scenario is not the plan. That is not the plan. What is the plan is the better-case scenario.”

The prime minister, in attacking Queensland’s “misreading” of the Doherty modelling, fails to grasp the meaning of best- and worst-case scenarios.

Are we heading towards a pandemic election?
The country might still be in the grip of a pandemic and ongoing lockdowns, but our major parties are already planning for a federal election. The prime minister has strongly hinted the nation could be heading to the polls in just a few months, and the political battle lines are now being drawn.


The number of recommendations, out of a possible 16, that the government has legislated from the “[email protected]” report, in a response that many advocates see as an insult.

“In its 2021 plan, Infrastructure Australia has called on the Morrison government to provide policy certainty to kickstart investment in low-emissions technology and prevent saddling taxpayers with the cost of stranded high-emissions assets.”

Australia’s peak infrastructure advisory body is calling for new vehicle and fuel-emissions standards, along with sector-specific emissions-reduction targets.

The list

“Lorde has always fashioned herself as an intellectual, even if she would baulk at a term like that. It’s easy to slap a label like ‘wise beyond their years’ onto anyone who’s successful and vaguely precocious, but how else to describe an artist such as Lorde, who appeared at age 16, fully formed, with a track lampooning the proper-nouned extravagances of celebrity culture? How else to describe an artist whose primary form of contact with the public nowadays is a sporadic longform newsletter brimming with ecstatic, ekphrastic prose, often name-dropping the signifiers of an educated, tasteful curation: Jia Tolentino, Dries van Noten, Maggie Nelson, a William Blake painting for good measure?”

“It wasn’t ever about having all the records: it was about having some and appreciating the gaps. The unknown places between one record and the next used to be the place of dreams.”

“Watching The Chair can resemble seeing a 1000-page book reduced to six brief lectures. In grappling with privilege, racism, misogyny, ageism, cancel culture, the rise of university managerialism, the crisis of the humanities and a succession of personal calamities, it never quite works out how to balance these subjects in such a way that they seem not to be jostling for space. To be fair, this is also how working within an English department – something I have done intermittently since 2015 – can feel.” 

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Politics.


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