PM’s letter to Frewen shines light on thinking behind Vaccine Taskforce

By Melissa Coade

Wednesday September 1, 2021

John Frewen
The PM promised Lt Gen John Frewen ‘direct operational control’ of all government resources relevant to the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine scheme. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

Top Army brass Lt Gen John Frewen was promised by the prime minister ‘direct operational control’ of all government resources relevant to the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine scheme, which had been beleaguered by delays and bad press.

The Guardian has obtained a letter via Freedom of Information laws from Scott Morrison to Frewen asking him to accept the coordinator general role for Australia’s National COVID Vaccine Taskforce

In the letter, the PM assures Frewen that he will have ‘direct operational control of all relevant assets and resources across commonwealth government departments and agencies engaged in the direction and implementation’ of the plan.

“I expect the necessary resources and assets will be put at your disposal by the Australian Public Service. I ask that your work closely with the Secretary of the Department of Health, Dr Brendan Murphy, and Australian Public Service Commissioner, Peter Woolcott, to ensure that you have the support you require,” the letter reads.

The letter also provides a non-exhaustive list of what Frewen’s key responsibilities relating to Australia’s vaccine rollout will be, underscoring that in performing the functions of the role he will be directly responsible to Morrison and health minister Greg Hunt. 

“You will be responsible for communication around the vaccine rollout, engagement with states and territories, distribution and delivery of vaccines, engagement with health providers including hospitals, GPs, Aboriginal Health Services and pharmacies, and engagement with key community stakeholders, business groups, and unions,” the letter read. 

“In performing these functions, you will be responsible directly to me and the minister for health. Accordingly, communications should be jointly addressed to both of us and coordination should occur with both of our offices simultaneously.”

The letter goes on to say that Frewen will be expected to attend National Cabinet meetings, brief first ministers, and engage with the First Secretaries group chaired by Phil Gaetjens with a view to ‘ensuring proper coordination with the states and territories’. 

Ensuring public confidence in the vaccine rollout is one of the primary goals of the National COVID Vaccine Taskforce Coordinator General, Morrison’s letter says, and to get as many Australians vaccinated as soon as possible — within the TGA guidelines and subject to available vaccine supply. But the pm also tells Frewen that the achievement of the taskforce will mean ‘Australia’s economy is well supported’ and international borders reopen ‘as soon as possible’. 

“My expectation is that a direct command and control structure, with you as Coordinator General, will ensure that these goals are met,” Morrison said. 

Top personnel CCed in the correspondence were health minister Greg Hunt, defence minister Peter Dutton, Chief of the Defence Force Angus Campbell, Brendan Murphy and Peter Woolcott. The letter was also shared with National Committee members and the the secretaries committee on national security.


Calling in the army for the vaccine rollout and every other emergency shows how ill-prepared we are

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