Scott Morrison aged care press conference presser
Health Minister Greg Hunt and Prime Minister Scott Morrison (Image: AAP/Dean Lewins)

There’s more than a whiff of panic from the government about its faltering vaccine rollout, with more spin, if not doses, being hastily rolled out. Today it’s the “war footing” and hastily organised bi-weekly meetings of the secretive “National Cabinet”, presumably in order to try to share the blame with the states.

That comes after vaccinations on Monday fell to just 56,000, a figure hailed by Health Minister Greg Hunt as not a “significant drop”, a peculiar interpretation given the rollout reached 75,000 last week, but anyway.

More noteworthy was another statement by Hunt. The government will no longer even commit to reopening international borders once the full vaccination rollout is complete.

“Vaccination alone is no guarantee that you can open up,” Hunt said. “And this was a discussion that in fact I had with Professor Murphy in just the last 24 hours, that if the whole country were vaccinated, you couldn’t just open the borders.”

Wait, what?

Just a month ago, Scott Morrison stood next to Qantas’ Alan Joyce while the latter announced that “international is some time off, it’s probably not going to happen until the end of October when we have the full adult population vaccinated”. Asked to comment on that, Morrison said: “Well, we haven’t made any firm decision on these things, but I mean, exactly as Alan Joyce has just set out, that that’s our hope and that’s our expectation.”

That garnered positive headlines for the government like “International travel could resume by October if Australia’s vaccine rollout goes to plan” and “International travel by this year ‘more likely’“, exactly as it was intended to do.

Nor was that the result of Alan Joyce pushing the government further than it wanted to go. In February Morrison, asked about the link between vaccination and international travel, said: “I’m confident that as we move through the vaccination process, we can significantly change how things are done here in Australia.” Even before that, Health Secretary Brendan Murphy had told News Corp that vaccination would speed up the return of international travel. Cue positive headlines.

This doesn’t make the long list of egregious Scott Morrison lies — the Prime Minister has always caveated his remarks with statements like “one step at a time” and ensuring the vaccine impact on transmissibility was demonstrated. But the government has been very happy, as part of its intense vaccination PR efforts, to let the media link the rollout — by October — with the return of international travel, all part of the government’s plan to go to an election with a grateful electorate ready to reward its rollout success.

What’s changed now? The debacle of the rollout has forced Morrison to ditch any targets at all — even humiliating one of his own ministers, Dan Tehan, in the process. And that has now extended even to the link, encouraged by the government, between completing the rollout (whenever that might be — on yesterday’s figures, the second half of 2022) and the reopening of borders.

That’s terrible news for travellers and Australians stranded overseas. And it’s not too flash if you’re a business trying to plan with any kind of certainty, either.