Getting some answers

By now it is staringly obvious that we need a royal commission into the procurement and rollout of Australia’s vaccine program. This government held one into roof insulation and another into the renovation of an old kitchen, so it should not be too great an ask.

The commission would establish what advice was given to government on vaccine procurement and if it was followed. It would make clear what was offered and when. It would establish whether Australia was insufficiently aware of advancements in mRNA platforms and whether choices were being made on cost.

Such a commission would establish whether the government ever formally or strategically updated its vaccine rollout plan. It would clarify the advice given on side effects and determine whether the prime minister’s announcements on AstraZeneca were necessary or if they were a distraction from limping supply.

It would consider the underfunding of the country’s biotechnology sector and look at university research that stalled when it might have instead produced a viable vaccine. It will look at appeals made to government by scientists and why they were ignored. It will ask if the University of Queensland vaccine was dropped too hastily, and why.

The commission would establish why leading public health experts weren’t approached to advise on the rollout, and why management consultants were engaged instead. It would determine why information about who has been vaccinated and where has been so poorly shared.

It would consider the latest outbreaks in Sydney and now Melbourne, and whether they were avoidable. It would test Scott Morrison’s petty claims that the slowness of the rollout was the fault of medical advisers.

When did the Morrison government become aware that Australia would not be able to access anything like the necessary supply of vaccines? Who was told and what did they do? What new plan was made at this time? When was it communicated? What alternatives were considered? What – if not all of it – was avoidable?

It is easy to think of Morrison as leading a first-term government, innocently inept and trying its best. But this government has been in power since 2013. It has stumbled without purpose or ideas for almost a decade.

In that time, there has been no vision for the country. Imagination has existed only to serve strategy. The future has been sectioned up into electoral cycles. There are skills in this kind of government, but not useful ones.

The coronavirus has shown up this farce. Morrison has fewer and fewer answers and more and more blame for others. He has created a vacuum in which the country’s fate is now caught.

It cannot be expected that he will be honest about any of this. The greatest crisis the country has faced in a century has been reduced by him to a series of specious interviews on talkback radio.

A royal commission is needed to understand how and why it went so wrong, and, although it might seem obvious and probably is, who was responsible.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on July 17, 2021 as "Getting some answers".

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