Australians don’t know when they will be vaccinated after mixed messages from the government, and it’s all based on one central budget assumption.
The deadline for when all Australians will receive their COVID-19 vaccines remains unclear after mixed messages from the nation’s top leaders.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg on Tuesday delivered a free-spending federal budget based on the assumption a “population-wide vaccination program is likely to be in place by the end of the year”.
Mr Frydenberg told reporters on Tuesday: “The assumption is that every Australian who wants to get two shots of the vaccine (will be able to) by the end of the year.”
The comments came after Finance Minister Simon Birmingham told the ABC he expected “some Australians will still be getting vaccinated next year”.
And during question time on Wednesday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison moved to ensure the government was not pinned to the treasurer’s timeline, insisting the measure was “not a policy commitment” from the Coalition.
“It is a Treasury assumption that has been put in place and it makes no reference, I note, to second doses. It only refers to doses,” he said.
Labor health spokesman Mark Butler accused Mr Morrison of failing to give a “clear answer” on when Australians would be vaccinated.
“If the budget’s assumptions aren’t based on policy settings, what are they based on?” he said.
Labor treasury spokesman Jim Chalmers said the government had used “weasel words” to avoid being held to a specific timetable.
“The prime minister has been out and about this morning, we are none the wiser on what his assumptions are about the rollout of this vaccine,” he said.
“It’s been one humiliation after another when it comes to the Prime Minister and vaccinations.”
Vaccination targets have proved a vexed issue for the government since revelations the AstraZeneca jab was not advised for people under 50.
AstraZeneca had been set to make up the bulk of Australia’s rollout, with 50 million doses to be produced in Melbourne.
But April’s development saw the Coalition abandon all vaccination targets, as the prime minister warned “you don’t get to set the agenda” during COVID-19.
Mr Morrison was then forced to walk back a claim from Trade Minister Dan Tehan, who said the government aimed to offer a first dose to all Australians by the end of the year.
“The government has also not set, nor has any plans to set any new targets for completing first doses,” Mr Morrison said.
“While we would like to see these doses completed before the end of the year, it is not possible to set such targets given the many uncertainties involved.”