Kevin Rudd rides in to save a grateful nation
By John McDonnell
Surprise, surprise: a week after the government announced that it had done a deal with Pfizer to bring forward the supply of vaccine, the ABC’s Laura Tingle published a report based on anonymous sources, that Kevin Rudd had, like Clint Eastwood in a ‘Fistful of Dollars’, ridden in to save a miserable and leaderless nation. Her report stated:
“In late June, senior Australian business figures based in the United States had discussed making contact with the vaccine manufacturer Pfizer to see whether it was possible for Australia to get earlier access to larger supplies of the Pfizer vaccine as the COVID-19 Delta variant emerged in Australia.
“This came amid continuing reports that Australia had bungled its negotiations with the company in talks going back to June and July last year which displayed a "rude, dismissive and penny pinching" approach, according to one source.”
In the circumstances, Tingle reported:
“Senior Pfizer executives told one senior Australian businessman that former prime minister Kevin Rudd could have some influence in Scott Morrison's absence.”
The Tingle report went on to make the unsubstantiated comment that:
“This came amid continuing reports that Australia had bungled its negotiations with the company in talks going back to June and July last year which displayed a "rude, dismissive and penny pinching" approach, according to one source.
“Australia eventually signed a deal for just 10 million Pfizer doses in November 2020, four months behind other countries.”
When the report was released, Mr Rudd refused to comment. However, there was a stream of support for Mr Rudd in the media from the ABC and luminaries like Malcolm Turnbull. A comment by the health minister, Greg Hunt, thanking Mr Rudd for his efforts but denying they were responsible for the deal, was described as “petty”.
Labor politicians could not resist piling on. The tenor of their comments was that Mr Rudd would not have had to intervene if Scott Morrison was not ‘missing in action’. This message seemed to contradict Labor’s earlier position that the announcement of the ‘bring forward’ of vaccines was old news that had first been announced in June.
As the story gained momentum, the ABC obtained a letter that Kevin Rudd wrote to Scott Morrison on June 30 reporting on a zoom meeting he had held with the global head of Pfizer. This seemed to authenticate Tingle’s report that Rudd had saved the day.
However, later Monday Pfizer released a statement that denied that the former prime minister had any role in the contract variation negotiations. The statement said:
"Recent media reports suggesting that any third party or individual has had any role in contractual agreements reached between Pfizer and the Australian government are inaccurate," a Pfizer spokesperson said.
"The only two parties involved in these agreements are Pfizer and the Australian government. "
As with any good gunslinger movie, this smoked Kevin Rudd out. His ‘spokesman’ said that Mr Rudd had not said he was involved in the contract negotiations, just that he had influenced the outcome. He went further and said Mr Rudd would not want to be associated with the vaccine roll-out.
As the ABC fights a rearguard action to demonstrate that its report by its senior political correspondent, represented responsible journalism by interviewing various Pfizer executives who may or may not have reliable knowledge of the contract negotiations, Mr Rudd appeared on Fran Kelly’s ABC breakfast program to reinforce the Tingle piece. He effectively ran interference against the Morrison government and made sure the story stayed alive. It was the sort of undermining Rudd is renowned for.
The film scenario is beginning to morph from Eastwood western to Monty Python’s ‘Life of Brian’. It is not clear whether Mr Rudd is the saviour or just a ‘very naughty boy’.