Paul Bongiorno: PM missing the podium with ‘going for gold’ pandemic rallying call

Scott Morrison has spectacularly underperformed on vaccination over the past 18 months.

Scott Morrison has spectacularly underperformed on vaccination over the past 18 months. Photo: Getty/TND

Rarely, if ever, has a Prime Minister’s rallying call to the nation been more self-defeating.

Just two months ago Scott Morrison was assuring the nation “it’s not a race” when the supply of vaccines missed targets and the virus only seemed to be forcing Labor-governed Victoria into draconian lockdowns.

Now in an “exclusive” opinion piece in The Australian with Coalition-governed New South Wales in a prolonged lockdown that is failing to contain the “far more infectious Delta strain” Mr Morrison has dramatically changed his tune.

We are now told “vaccination is the gold medal we aspire to” and that “all the nation needs is you”.

The race is on and its success to beat the virus depends on every Australian to make sense of the ever changing, conflicting and confusing messages coming particularly from the federal government and not made any better by its Coalition colleagues running the “Premier State”.

Showing all the skill and chutzpah of a highly paid marketing guru’s copywriter, the PM tells us that he and his family has been inspired “by watching the extraordinary performance of our athletes in Tokyo”.


The PM’s lagging vaccine rollout continues to limit Australia’s response to the ‘far more infectious’ Delta variant.

Mr Morrison distils their achievement down to their “honesty, sincerity and passion” where “you just push through life’s trials and get on with it”.

Sure athletes need all that dedication to push through the pain barrier, but without skill, competence and planning they would literally fall at the first hurdle.

Our Prime Minister may well take his inspiration from a gold medal winner like the amazing freestyle BMX champion Logan Martin, but it’s a pity for the nation that he did not show the same relentless dedication and initiative to the task the Australian people had entrusted to him.

Martin realised to achieve his Olympic dream he needed to replicate the arena in Tokyo in his backyard.

He bought a property big enough to hold the massive fixture and spent $70,000 constructing it. He then spent hours perfecting his routines.

We are now nearly 18 months into the pandemic and the nation still has only one dedicated quarantine facility, in the Northern Territory.

Dragged kicking and screaming by the premiers of Queensland and Victoria, the federal government is still only drawing up blueprints for dedicated quarantine facilities in Brisbane and Melbourne.

In Queensland the Commonwealth government rejected the offer of a purpose-built facility near Toowoomba on seemingly spurious grounds.

The site, like the one near Darwin, has an airport capable of taking the big charter jets that deliver returning citizens to Australia and further it is just a 40-minute medevac helicopter ride from Royal Brisbane Hospital.

There is also the nearby, well-equipped Toowoomba public hospital.

It is no coincidence that the latest outbreaks have been tracked down to yet more leakage from the far from fit-for-purpose hotel quarantine, even if we concede a 1 per cent failure rate, those 28 failures have led to the disruptions that keep recurring and that have shut down two of our major cities again.

The Morrison government has shown no urgency, let alone the sort of initiative to deliver the gold medal performance the PM is urging on the rest of us.

The Howard Springs quarantine facility in the Northern Territory remains our only dedicated quarantine facility. Photo: AAP

His attempt to share the blame for the national crisis with every Australian is transparently feeble.

Vaccine policy specialist Dr Katie Attwell told ABC TV “the responsibility for the rollout rests with our executive government,” she said.

“It does rest with the Prime Minister and his team.”

Mr Morrison appears to agree with her.

He says he “takes responsibility for the early setbacks in our vaccination program,” but ever the salesman he adds he also “takes responsibility for getting them fixed and that we are now matching world-best rates”.

He nominates “one million doses a week” to support the claim, but it’s difficult to know by what contortion he claims it is world best practice when, for example the United States at its peak was rolling out 4.18 million doses a day and last week had a daily average of 615,000.

On Monday Sky News reported from Western Sydney that people heeding the premier and Prime Minister’s calls to get the jab were being turned away when pharmacies ran out of vaccine supplies.

It is somewhat curious that Mr Morrison used an “exclusive” newspaper opinion piece for his national call to arms, but some Liberals are grateful he didn’t take the cringeworthy Olympic comparisons to a nationally televised address – because it would only invite ridicule.

Labor’s national president, former treasurer Wayne Swan took to Twitter to blast the effort.

He said “our shameless PM should not be using our proud and dedicated athletes as a human shield to camouflage his incompetence in securing and delivering vaccines”.

The PM says the gold medal he now aspires to is getting 80 per cent of the population aged over 16 vaccinated by the end of the year.

To achieve that he will have to put in a better performance than the one he has so far.

Paul Bongiorno AM is a veteran of the Canberra Press Gallery, with 40 years’ experience covering Australian politics

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