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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.
"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.
Does the Prime Minister concede Australia should have worked harder to secure more Pfizer supply earlier?
"There are many wise in hindsight," @ScottMorrisonMP says.#Insiders #auspol pic.twitter.com/rtFjiJs4FB
— Insiders ABC (@InsidersABC) August 21, 2021
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."
Morrison wouldn’t answer the question about rejecting Pfizer last year, he should be voted out on back of that #insiders
— Dave Dawson (@demon_dave) August 21, 2021
He takes responsibility for nothing this PM. Rude and arrogant and refuses to answer for anything. #insiders
— Tony Z-Raffa🕯️✳️✳️ (@TStamatiZ) August 21, 2021
“I’m sorry David, I’m going to continue my answer which is avoiding your question.”#insiders
— The Cathy Wilcox (@cathywilcox1) August 21, 2021
PM on #insiders: "many are wise in hindsight". but plenty of folks were wise in foresight on vaccines and other COVID-related issues. He just didn't listen to them.
— Richard Holden (@profholden) August 21, 2021
“I’m going to insist on finishing my answer”
Says same PM who won’t answer questions on Carpark Rorts, Sportrorts, Clive Palmer and so much more. #Insiders
— Patrick Gorman MP (@PatrickGormanMP) August 21, 2021
I listened to Scott Morrison and I’m left convinced that he will never admit a mistake, never accept responsibility. When we need honesty, hard work, clear communication, vaccination access for all and government support for people effected by lockdowns. #insiders
— Michele O'Neil (@MicheleONeilAU) August 21, 2021
Morrison bares his teeth to let Speers know he's trying to answer the question.
(blah blah - overcoming challenges, living with the virus, General Frewin, hope, more hope)
And when you run out of excuses, blame covid!!#auspol #covid19nsw #covid19vic #insiders pic.twitter.com/vXAChe2QW9
— Squizz (@SquizzSTK) August 22, 2021
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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