Scott Morrison has conceded the "buck stops with me" on the vaccine rollout during a fiery interview where he walked away from a budget night prediction that everyone will have two doses by the end of the year.

During a tense clash with ABC 7.30 host Leigh Sales, the Prime Minister was accused of trying to "blame shift and duck responsibility wherever possible".


Leigh Sales grills Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Picture: ABC
Leigh Sales grills Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Picture: ABC


Prime Minister Scott Morrison defended the government's vaccine strategy.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison defended the government's vaccine strategy.


Citing the vaccination rates in Israel, the United States and the United Kingdom, Sales asked the PM: "How has the government fumbled this so badly when everything relies on it?"

The PM said those countries had been facing emergency situations and that Australia's vaccination program compared favourably to countries like New Zealand and Japan.

He conceded that the vaccine rollout could take "months" longer than forecast in the 2021 budget on Tuesday night as he insisted that wouldn't be a major problem.

Despite a forecast in Tuesday's budget that the population would be fully vaccinated by the end of the year, the Prime Minister conceded it was an aspiration, not a promise.

"There is a general assumption of a vaccination program likely to be in place and by the end of this year,'' the Prime Minister said.

"But what that means is that there is an understanding that over the course of this year, the vaccination program will continue to roll out. And will reach as many Australians as we possibly can."


Challenged on the slow pace of the vaccine rollout, Sales then asked the PM: "Does the buck stop with you on the success or otherwise of the vaccine rollout?."

"Leigh, everything stops with me. I'm the Prime Minister at the end of the day,'' he said.

"The Budget rests on many things. It is important we get it done. The vaccination program, as it set out in the budget papers, assumes it's likely this will be in place by the end of the year.

"That could happen with two doses, one dose. It could be months either side of that and that will not have a material impact on what's in this Budget and it would be a mistake to think it did."

Josh Frydenberg told reporters on Tuesday at a budget lock up press conference Treasury expected everyone who wanted a vaccine by the end of the year would get the jab and that included "an assumption that [Australians] will get two doses by that time".

But a transcript of the "two dose" press conference has subsequently failed to appear on Mr Frydenberg's media website, with the Treasurer and the PM declining to repeat the two dose pledge.

The Prime Minister sought to walk away from the budget prediction in question time, noting the budget "makes no reference to second doses".


The budget also revealed for the first time that Australia's borders remain shut until mid 2022.

Asked if Australian with sons or daughters or daughters will be allowed to travel overseas at that time without having to do the two weeks quarantine on return, the PM said he couldn't offer any guarantees.

"It's impossible for me to say at this point,'' Mr Morrison said.

"It's impossible for me to make those sorts of predictions in the middle of a global pandemic, the likes of which we haven't seen for 100 years. I can fully understand why people want greater certainty but I can only provide the certainty that's available."

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg with Scott Morrison in Canberra. Picture: Gary Ramage
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg with Scott Morrison in Canberra. Picture: Gary Ramage

An exasperated Sales then asked the PM what he policy matters he did take responsibility.

"You've been the Prime Minister now for nearly three years and so Australians have had a chance to observe how you've responded to various things,'' she said.

"When it comes to taking responsibility, they've seen vaccine stumbles, not your fault, it's a supply issue. Quarantine, mostly problem for states. Bushfires, I don't hold a hose. Brittany Higgins, I was in the dark. COVID deaths in aged care, the state's fault. Christian Porter, Minister's breaching standard."

"Does it add up to a tendency to blame shift and duck responsibility wherever possible?"

The PM replied he rejected Sales' "narrative."

"That's your narrative, Leigh, but that's not one that I share,'' the PM replied.

"There will be an opportunity for Australians to express their view when the election finally comes.

"Right now I'm fighting the virus and keeping Australians in jobs and I'm seeking to provide the best possible support for their health in response to the COVID crisis. I'll get on with my job and I'll let you get on with yours."


Originally published as 'Fumbled so badly': Leigh Sales grills PM