The Politics    Wednesday, July 21, 2021

The hardest word

By Rachel Withers

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaking at a press conference today

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

Do Australians want an apology from Scott Morrison?

With more than half the population waking up in lockdown today, the missing prime minister resurfaced this morning for a string of radio interviews, followed by a defensive afternoon press conference. Appearing in Canberra from his new, limited-movement bubble, Scott Morrison came forward with no major announcements, instead repeating his usual talking points before taking questions. Morrison addressed the “challenges” the Delta variant had presented, as well as the latest economic impacts, with economists predicting Australia may be about to enter the recession it didn’t have to have (to go along with the lockdowns we could have avoided). “The economy in Australia is fundamentally resilient and strong,” he said, before confirming expectations that current lockdowns will push GDP growth into negative territory in the September quarter. The PM also took questions on the current AstraZeneca advice from the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI), which he has recently started blaming for the fact that the vaccine rollout is so slow. When asked if he would appeal to ATAGI to change its advice given current circumstances, Morrison told reporters it was a “constant appeal, I can assure you”. Later in the presser, the PM incredulously accused a reporter (who had noted Morrison held some responsibility for the rash way in which he had communicated ATAGI’s changed advice) of suggesting the government should have pushed back against medical advice (the PM then spoke over the top of him when he tried to point out the inconsistency). But the most revealing moment came when Morrison was questioned about an earlier interview on commercial radio, in which Jase Hawkins of KIIS FM tried to get him to apologise for the way things are going. Why, a Canberra reporter asked, was it so hard for Scott Morrison to just say sorry?

The interview in question was one that Morrison might have been expecting to be easy, similar to his demeaning recent appearance on the Kyle and Jackie O Show. But with Morrison so often dodging more “serious” journalistic outlets (he’s been avoiding 7.30 for some time), hosts like Jase and PJ, along with David and Will on Adelaide’s FIVEaa radio, have been forced to step up and hold the government’s feet to the fire. In this morning’s interview, Hawkins demanded the PM take some accountability for the slow vaccine rollout: “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.” Morrison wouldn’t be drawn, of course, saying only that there had been problems and he was fixing them. “Can you just, you know, can you just say, ‘Sorry Jase’?” Hawkins later tried. “I’d even take ‘My bad’. Just a ‘My bad, Jase’.” (“What does S-O-R-R-Y spell?” he even tried. His post-interview exasperation was palpable). It was little surprise that the topic came up again in the afternoon press conference, with Morrison asked why he was so resistant to apologising for the obvious vaccine rollout failings. “I think Australians just want us to get it right,” he said, admitting that Australians would probably like to see the rollout further along, while insisting that all they wanted from him was to fix the problems. But is it?

It’s not hard to understand why Morrison – a politician long characterised by his extreme aversion to taking any kind of responsibility – would not want to apologise for his errors, which have indirectly led to half the population being back in lockdown. He wouldn’t even admit to there being a link between his actions and the current scenario, even though we all know there is. But it’s also not hard to see why the many Australians Jase speaks for might want a simple apology from the PM. Australians who have by and large done the right thing for more than 12 months, many spending a solid chunk of that time in lockdown, are now facing more lockdowns, five months after the vaccine rollout began, because the federal government decided to rest on its laurels on both vaccines and quarantine. An apology, obviously, wouldn’t change the situation we are in now. But it would give Australians the acknowledgement they need – not an explanation (they hardly need that), but a show of respect. Morrison’s attempts to lie, to rewrite the past and to shift blame onto whoever is nearby are an insult, and they certainly don’t get us out of this mess – quite the opposite.

That’s the other reason many would like the prime minister to just admit he got some elements of the pandemic recovery wrong: so it doesn’t happen again. If he doesn’t admit that errors were made, will he actually learn? It’s become apparent that Morrison doesn’t have much talent for foresight, evidenced by his recent scapegoating of the future, and his government’s insistence on errors only being identified as such “in hindsight”. It was a line Morrison again used today, telling the press conference that while delays in the vaccine rollout were “regrettable” (though not quite regretted by him), people have “perfect hindsight after these events”, as if there weren’t many people telling him to prepare for these eventualities – whether a mutated virus, vaccine issues or a fluke outbreak – since last year.

If Morrison can’t predict (or even try to predict) the future, we’re going to need an acknowledgement from him that he can at least recall the past, that he can remember what experts and premiers tried to tell him, that he regrets not listening, and that he will perhaps pay them a little more mind next time.

“What we’re trying to do is not just stop corruption but to stop ourselves from sliding down the slippery slope towards corruption … We’re sliding down it fast.”

Professor A.J. Brown, the leader of the Centre for Governance and Public Policy’s public integrity program, calls for the government to toughen up its proposed integrity commission.

“Reviews like this, by people like this, tell you all you need to know about the @ABCTV & @annabelcrabb’s #msrepresented. It’s anti @LiberalAus & anti @The_Nationals. Please watch (or, rather don’t!) with these facts in mind.”

Liberal MP Nicolle Flint attacks The Project’s Lisa Wilkinson over her endorsement of an ABC program exploring the experiences of female MPs across the political spectrum.

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“Business leaders are calling for the return of a national wage subsidy to support firms and employees caught in ever-widening lockdowns, as Victoria extended its lockdown for another week.”


The Morrison government is sticking to its COVID-19 disaster payments, in the face of increasing calls to reintroduce JobKeeper.

The list

“We get a phone call from our six- and seven-year-olds’ primary school. They are automatically creating Google G Suite logins for students to use for document sharing and the like. If we want to opt out, they need to know now. My partner relays this to me, the school still on the line. We stare at each other, well aware not everyone is getting this phone call. We queried the school’s information and communications technology (ICT) policy at the beginning of the year, and requested to know what apps they’re using in class. We had decided not to sign all and sundry digital consent forms. It was a kind of hubris, I’ve learnt, and as COVID-19 brings the country to a standstill, I feel briefly chastened.”

“The next time a scandal breaks – and one will break soon – the public might be outraged, but will be neither shocked nor surprised. This is simply what happens with a government that pursues those who keep it accountable, ignores ministerial codes of conduct, is unconcerned by conflicts of interest, is intent on shielding its workings from the public, and distrusts its own agencies and institutions. To the Coalition government, citizens are, as the saying goes, like mushrooms: to be kept in the dark and fed bullshit.”

“There is a growing view in the medical community that child vaccination for COVID-19 must be considered urgently – and well before reopening Australia’s international borders. The Australian Medical Association’s federal council is poised to examine the challenges around childhood vaccination and adopt a formal position, after its Western Australian branch declared itself in favour.”

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Politics.


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