Scott Morrison has come under heavy fire for refusing to answer uncomfortable questions from journalists at a press conference to announce measures to combat coronavirus.
The Prime Minister used the press conference to announce an agreement with states and territories to bear the health costs of tackling the coronavirus on a 50/50 basis, which could end up costing up to $1 billion.
However following the preamble, journalists who wanted to question the PM on new developments in the so-called sports rorts scandal, which has engulfed his government for weeks, were met with an unprecedented reticence from the national leader.
Morrison simply refused to take questions on the subject – drawing the bewilderment of some in the press pack.
The questions were warranted after sports minister Bridget McKenzie on Thursday revealed she didn't know last-minute changes were made to a list of projects for which she approved funding under the controversial program. It is the latest piece of evidence that suggests the Prime Minister’s office was far more involved in the scandal than it wants to admit.
Not that Mr Morrison was willing to talk about it this afternoon.
“So when asked a question about sports rorts Scott Morrison hides behind the coronavirus and won’t answer it,” Ten’s political editor Peter van Onselen lamented on Twitter during the press conference.
The Guardian’s political editor Katharine Murphy who copped the stonewalling, was lost for words.
“The PM has declined at this press conference to take a question on sports grants. Seriously,” she wrote.
“I have no words for what just happened.”
“McKenzie's statement raises a number of serious questions. Zero questions permitted,” she said.
Calls for more government transparency
It comes after Morrison was grilled for his government’s excessive secrecy, even on issues which he himself says are relatively unimportant.
This week the Prime Minister admitted he has tried to get Hillsong pastor Brian Houston invited to the White House after his office spent months avoiding the question and rejecting freedom of information requests by citing national security.
“I could have been more candid about it at the time, I wish I was, but frankly it wasn’t a big deal,” he told the ABC’s 7:30 program on Tuesday.
The Opposition has seized on the perception that the prime minister is loose with the truth after Morrison and his ministers have repeatedly deflected calls for more government transparency.
“Scott Morrison has shown that he is incapable of being straight with people. Again and again, his first instinct is to hide the facts,” Opposition leader Anthony Albanese said this week.
“Australians expect and deserve a PM who tells the truth.”
Here I was thinking he was evolving after finally fessing up to the Brian Houston invite... https://t.co/pakYTQuGVY— Peter van Onselen (@vanOnselenP) March 6, 2020
“The lack of trust & accountability in government is worse than I have ever seen in my lifetime” says Wendy McCarthy @RadioNational Powerful words echoing the disappointment many share— Virginia Haussegger AM (@Virginia_Hauss) March 5, 2020
$100 million pledged upfront for coronavirus fight
When announcing the funding agreement to help mitigate against the threat of COVID-19, Morrison said it was a stand-alone arrangement, with $100 million put down for the states upfront, and not linked to any other funding arrangements.
“This is about dealing with the coronavirus, and making sure that the states, as they are leaning forward and responding we are leaning forward and responding with them,” he told reporters.
The Commonwealth will contribute $500 million while the states make up the rest.
“It could be more, but we at least have to enter into these arrangements having some sense of the scale of what we're dealing with here,” Mr Morrison said.
Deputy chief medical officer Paul Kelly said meetings are taking place with key health department officials on Friday, looking at vulnerable communities within Australia, such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and people with disability.
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