'Fantasyland': PM hits out at billionaire over virus claim

 

Scott Morrison has slammed "fantasyland" claims by billionaire Andrew "Twiggy" Forrest that COVID-19 could have come from Australia instead of China and urged him to stop freelancing in foreign affairs.

The Prime Minister slapped down suggestions made the virus may have come from a Western country before it was discovered in Wuhan as "nonsense", a claim that was recently made by the mining magnate.

"I don't think anybody is in any fantasyland about where it started, it started in China,'' Mr Morrison told 2GB on Friday morning.

"It started in China. That is not a statement of accusation or criticism, it's just a statement of fact."

Mr Forrest sparked national headlines this week when he invited Victoria's Chinese consul-general Long Zhou to a press conference with Health Minister Greg Hunt.

 

The surprise appearance blindsided the Morrison Government and the Prime Minister confirmed today he was not invited by the government.

On Thursday, Mr Forrest laughed off the criticism and declared the consul-general's presence "the biggest non-story ever".

"I'm the most Australian person I know," he said.

"Take a chill pill."

Andrew Forrest, the rich philanthropist from out west. Picture: Tricia Watkinson
Andrew Forrest, the rich philanthropist from out west. Picture: Tricia Watkinson

 

The billionaire has repeatedly defended China in recent days, where he has extensive business interests. Amid calls for an independent inquiry into the origins of COVID-19 he even speculated the virus could have started in Australia.

"I'd be taking those positive steps before we say who's at fault," Mr Forrest told the West Australian's podcast on April 2. "Because it just might be Australia, it just might be Britain, it just might be China."

The Prime Minister said the claim COVID-19 started in Australia was simply not true.

"That's obviously nonsense,'' he said.

"What the world over needs to know is.. how did this start. What are the lessons to be learned? That needs to be done independently. And why do we want to know? Because it could happen again, it could happen in South America."

Mr Morrison said the Minderoo foundation would be "fully reimbursed" for the 10 million testing kits that Mr Forrest had helped to organise with Chinese contacts.

Long Zhou at the media conference this week. Picture: James Ross/AAP
Long Zhou at the media conference this week. Picture: James Ross/AAP

 

"Look, I appreciate what Andrew has done as well in working on this issue with us. We've got access to testing kits which have all been tested in Australia to make sure they're up to the mark, which they are,'' Mr Morrison said. "The Minderoo group will be fully reimbursed."

The mining magnate explained this week how he organised the deal to get the testing kits and how by paying upfront privately Australia secured the tests against fierce competition from other countries. He explained the federal government would not have been able to pay upfront under procurement guidelines and could have missed out.

Mr Morrison confirmed today the involvement of a private company to secure the tests had helped Australia secure the testing kits.

"I am not going to go into how we get things done. The point is we get things done," he said.

"We've worked with Andrew to that end."

Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull backed the push for an independent inquiry into the origin of COVID-19.

Andrew Forrest and Greg Hunt. Picture: James Ross/AAP
Andrew Forrest and Greg Hunt. Picture: James Ross/AAP

 

"The point I made in my book, I said that if there is ever a dispute between Australia and the Chinese government, you can never expect any support and solidarity from the Australian business community," Mr Turnbull said.

"Invariably, they are totally invested in the economic aspect of the relationship and if there is any conflict between Australia and China, they will generally side with China.

"I'm sure Scott Morrison is feeling the same way I did a few years ago."

Mr Morrison also criticised the Victorian deputy chief health officer Annaliese van Diemen after she compared Captain James Cook to the COVID-19 outbreak in a tweet on the 250th anniversary of Cook's landing.

On Wednesday, she tweeted: "Sudden arrival of an invader from another land, decimating populations, creating terror. Forces the population to make enormous sacrifices & completely change how they live in order to survive. COVID-19 or Cook 1770?"

"I found those sorts of comments very disappointing. She certainly won't get the job as chief historian," Mr Morrison said.



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