'Rude and arrogant': PM avoids 'critical' questions in TV grilling

·News Editor
·6-min read

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has called for a change in the nation's attitude towards Covid-19 while avoiding questions about the early failures of the federal government's vaccine rollout program.

The PM rankled many viewers with an evasive performance on the ABC's Insiders program on Sunday morning when he danced around questions over why the government didn't order more Pfizer vaccine doses and whether he voiced concern with the US about the sudden pull out of allied troops from Afghanistan.

Host David Speers clashed with the prime minister after asking if the withdrawal was a mistake.

"Well, David, after 20 years, the United States made a judgment," Mr Morrison said, saying he wouldn't speak to previous conversations he may have had with US leaders.

Speers pressed the PM, cutting him off.

"Don’t the Australians who served there, the Afghans as well, deserve to know? This is an important question, a critical question: Did you as Australian Prime Minister disagree with the American withdrawal?" he asked.

"If you’d let me finish. If you’d let me finish ... Yeah, of course, David, and over a long period of time all prime ministers have had that discussion, going as far back as John Howard," Mr Morrison said, before referencing decisions by previous US administrations.

Scott Morrison tried to contain himself during a testy interview in which he avoided directly answering a number of questions. Source: ABC
Scott Morrison tried to contain himself during a testy interview in which he avoided directly answering a number of questions. Source: ABC

"I understand that, Prime Minister … I’m sorry to keep asking this question," Speers interjected.

"David, if you’d let me finish. Please, David, no, I’m sorry, David, if you’d let me finish."

The host again sought to ask if he "agreed or disagreed" with the move, but to no avail.

"I'm sorry, David. I'm going to insist on finishing my answer. At the end of the day, what we've achieved in Afghanistan was trying to give that country a go at being a success. Now, sadly, at the end of the day, as the Taliban forces rolled in, it was very clear that that state was not able to defend itself," Mr Morrison said, again refusing to directly answer the question.

'Arrogant': PM dodges answer on vaccine orders

The interview then turned to Australia's worsening Covid-19 response, where the PM again sought to avoid scrutiny over a lack of early orders of different vaccines when the safety and efficacy picture was less clear.

"If we had more Pfizer available months earlier, we may not be in this situation, so do you concede you should have done more to get that supply earlier?" Speers asked.

In response, Mr Morrison said he "disagreed with the assessment".

Speers pointed to the UK, saying "they’re vaccinated over there, they’re not in lockdown".

"Yeah, but they were, they were, David," the prime minister said.

"My point is, now they’re not. So, we still have another couple of months of lockdowns to go. If we got going earlier with Pfizer, we wouldn’t be here," the host explained.

"Well, David, there's many wise [people] in hindsight," Mr Morrison argued.

"Can you just be straight with people and say you should have got them earlier?" Speers asked.

"David, I'm trying to be but you keep interrupting me," the PM said, before citing early problems with the rollout that were unforeseen by the government and saying "the real problem" was Covid-19.

Online, many viewers voiced their frustration at Scott Morrison's refusal to answer certain questions, calling it "arrogant and rude".

"Plenty of folks were wise in foresight on vaccines and other Covid-related issues. He [Morrison] just didn't listen to them," tweeted UNSW professor Richard Holden.

Morrison's government is facing mounting criticism over its slow and at times obstinate handling of a number of crises.

"The Morrison government’s approach to climate change is not the exception. It’s the rule. The prime ministerial inertia began with the bushfire emergency. It extended to vaccine rollout, the fixing of hotel quarantine, the demands for justice for women, and most recently the evacuation of Kabul," SMH political editor Peter Hartcher wrote in his weekend column on Saturday.

"There is no crisis so big or so urgent that the Morrison government cannot find a rationalisation for avoiding it."

PM pens opinion piece, calling for change in Covid attitudes

On Sunday, the prime minister's office took the unusual step of issuing an "opinion piece" saying it is time to shift the focus from case numbers to hospitalisations when it comes to the pandemic.

"A focus on case numbers was very important when we knew nothing about this virus and whether our hospital system would be able to cope.

A lot has changed since then. Increasingly we need to look beyond just the case numbers to know what our future holds," he wrote.

"Our hospital and public health systems are prepared ... Our ICUs have the know-how, we have vaccines and the new drugs like sotrovimab that has been approved by the TGA for use that can better treat those who are infected. This all means we can battle Delta and seriously reduce how much harm it does to our health, our way of life and our economy.

"So while right now our national strategy is necessarily about suppressing the virus and vaccinating as many people as possible, a one-eyed focus on just case numbers overlooks the fact that less people are getting seriously ill, let alone dying."

Mr Morrison urged people to keep abiding by lockdowns and "hang in there".

"I know it seems pretty dark now, but it’s always darkest before the dawn, and dawn’s coming," he wrote.

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