Scott Morrison had two jobs in 2021: Roll out the COVID-19 vaccine, and fix the nation’s broken quarantine system.
The Prime Minister has bungled both.
It is sobering to think how far behind the rest of the world Australia is when it comes to the rollout of COVID vaccinations.
About 9 per cent of Australians are fully vaccinated against COVID.
In the United Kingdom the majority of people have had both jabs, while in the United States the figure is almost half.
And now, with five million people in lockdown in Sydney and other states closing their borders to New South Wales, the human consequences of Mr Morrison’s failures are mounting.
Once again, Australians are in intensive care wards fighting off the virus.
Once again, businesses are closing their doors and laying off workers, requiring taxpayers to fund financial support for those affected.
Once again, the virus has penetrated the aged-care system, where more than 60 per cent of workers are yet to receive their first jab.
This is despite Mr Morrison promising in January that aged-care residents and their carers would all be fully vaccinated by Easter.
It didn’t have to be like this.
If Australia had an effective vaccine rollout and a national quarantine system, we would be moving toward normal right now, instead of backsliding.
>From the time Mr Morrison launched the vaccination program with a photo opportunity for himself on February 21, the government has been unable to meet its nominated rollout targets.
Mr Morrison told us four million Australians would be vaccinated by the end of March.
He missed that target by 3.4 million.
He also said six million people would be fully vaccinated by May 10. That didn’t happen either.
Mr Morrison said Australians would be “at the front of the queue’’ for receiving vaccines, yet other nations are leaving us in their wake as they move quickly to vaccinate their populations.
Mr Morrison’s complacency and incompetence mean the government is squandering all of the good work Australians and their state governments put in to get us through the COVID crisis during 2020.
And it all comes down to vaccine supply.
Mr Morrison has been too slow to secure vaccines early enough or in sufficient quantities to meet Australia’s needs.
Last year, as Mr Morrison and Health Minister Greg Hunt were patting themselves on the back, other countries were pre-ordering vaccines that were being developed by pharmaceutical companies.
Nations like the US and Canada were also hedging their bets by sealing deals with as many as six different drug companies so they would have a fallback in the event that one or more vaccines provided ineffective.
Mr Morrison sat on his hands. We have now squandered our advantage.
We know that in June last year, drug company Pfizer contacted the Australian government to assess its interest in buying its vaccine.
But by the time Mr Morrison announced a deal with Pfizer on November 4, the company had already committed to provide more than one billion doses to 34 other nations.
>From Australia’s position, we could not even see the front of the Pfizer queue.
And our other vaccine, AstraZeneca, has been the subject of changing medical advice.
Mr Morrison’s mistake was to put all of his eggs in the AstraZeneca basket, ignoring advice to adopt the world’s best practice of sealing deals for five or six vaccines.
Now, the chickens are coming home to roost.
Mr Morrison has been even slower to act on the critical issue of quarantine.
In the absence of purpose-built national quarantine centres, hotels have been used.
But hotels are built for tourists and so far there have been 26 leaks of the virus from hotels into the community.
For a year, experts have been calling for the government to create new quarantine centres similar to the Howard Springs workers’ camp near Darwin, where travellers have been isolated with no leakage of the virus into the community.
But after 18 months, Mr Morrison has failed to take meaningful action, despite more than 30,000 Australians still stuck overseas.
Proposals were made for new centres last year, but they were rejected.
The Australian people have been magnificent during the past 18 months, working together to suppress the COVID outbreak and prevent the soaring death tolls seen overseas.
Our frontline health workers – doctors, nurses, cleaners and drivers – have emerged as national heroes.
But now, with our economy depending upon a return to normal conditions, Scott Morrison has let Australians down.
A Labor government would fix this mess with a four-point plan: Build dedicated quarantine facilities, fix the vaccination rollout, start a mass advertising campaign and manufacture mRNA vaccines locally.
Anthony Albanese is the Leader of the Australian Labor Party
This opinion piece was first published in The New Daily on Wednesday, 14 July 2021.