Amid the devastation of the bushfires and drought, what has become bleedingly obvious is that Australia is bereft of the leadership so urgently necessary at this time of national crisis. Morrison is the emperor without clothes, revealing his total lack of moral authority.
He has none of the statesmanship that Australia desperately needs right now. He is a flimflam man, shallow and inappropriate as he bumblingly reacts to the tragedies unfolding across the nation.
Scott Morrison’s visit to the burnt-out town of Cobargo may be the turning point in his prime ministership. After a post-May election period of self-congratulatory spin that managed to portray him as a “dad” among the people, he has now morphed into a clumsy figure of derision. His awkwardness when confronted by the jeers and anger of the citizens of Cobargo was palpable, very embarrassing for a prime minister trying to appear relevant. In the words of the NSW Liberal Minister Andrew Constance, “he probably got what he deserved”.
He was effectively chased out of the town with his tail between his legs, having arrived earlier expecting to be hailed as the “dad” figure he pretends to be. His Cobargo critics accused him of just wanting photo-ops; they saw little sympathy emanating from the prime minister brimming over with fake empathy.
What the Cobargo incident indicates is that Morrison is becoming someone whose proffered hand is one that firefighters and others simply don’t want to shake. They would prefer him to “piss off back to Kirribilli” and leave them to get on with the job. What is clear is his lack of legitimacy in this crisis. His visits to the fire zones are far too little and far too late. He and his entourage are just getting in the way. PM Morrison has become redundant. Maybe even the federal government is now redundant as State leaders like Dan Andrews and Gladys Berejiklian step up to the plate so effectively.
Morrison can’t say he hasn’t brought this on himself. The deplorably planned and ridiculously concealed family holiday is Hawai’i is beyond belief. Why ever would a prime minister in his right mind go off on such a merry jaunt at a time of national emergency? Why indeed! His woeful responses to criticisms of his leadership amid the crisis were compounded by his blathering on about being sorry he’d upset people already fearful and anxious, and by the shocking failure of the federal government to respond immediately with a well-prepared national response to the fires.
His Saturday (4 Jan) press conference saw him nervously listing some hastily cobbled together Commonwealth resources to be rushed into help the fire fighters and to assist with evacuations. Well and good. But the question is: Why now? Why wasn’t the need for these resources anticipated months ago. This is the worst kind of late-in-the-day policy knee-jerking. It’s not a case of better-late-than-never: rather, it is a pathetic attempt by a lame-duck PM trying to cover his backside.
The two most important policy issues now facing Australia are seeing the direct causal relationship between the fires and climate change on the one hand, and on the other developing a scientifically precise nationally coordinated policy to deal with catastrophic natural disasters like the bushfires and the on-going drought on the other. Viewed through this prism, Australia’s federal system needs a radical overhaul. The states obviously lack the capacity to deal with the climate change-induced crises on their own. Indeed, all levels of government – local, state, and federal – need urgently to brought together to devise a long-term, well resourced nationally led disaster strategy.
Only fools will look upon the crisis the country hoping it will pass and be forgotten.This is just the beginning of what is going to be a long and traumatic summer.
There are more than enough fools in the Coalition government who are preventing such a strategy being established. They share the deranged views of Tony Abbot who has attacked what he calls a “climate cult.” They are fixated on the denialism of the science of climate change and they are ready to destroy any leader who dares to disagree with their antediluvian dogmas. Look at what they did to Malcolm Turnbull! The mad dog views of these people and the power they wield within the Coalition are now endangering the security of the nation. They have to be over-ridden.These people need to be stood up to. Their views and the power they wield within the Coalition are now endangering the security of the nation. They have to be over-ridden.
Morrison remains a creature of these people. He has neither the moral courage nor leaderly authority that would enable him the sideline the destructive elements in the Coalition party room.
What Morrison needs is a group of advisers around him to steer him towards the kind of reformist agenda the country so desperately needs at this time. They must also encourage him and the Liberal and National parties to rid the Coalition of idiotic reactionaries who are endangering national security such as Craig Kelly, Barnaby Joyce, Eric Abetz, Greg Hunt, and Kevin Andrews.
The group Morrison so badly needs should be led by Josh Frydenberg and include the likes of Trent Zimmerman, Paul Fletcher, Russell Broadbent, Dave Sharma, Darren Chester (absolutely the stand-out Nationals MP who should be the leader of his party and deputy PM), and Warren Entsch. Zoe Steggall and Helen Haines should also be invited to join the group. Their first task must be to keep Morrison under wraps. This would be the way for the Coalition to begin to look less like the rabble they are now and, for once, govern in the interests of the entire nation.
Meanwhile, it has to be observed that Anthony Albanese is unassumingly and steadily burnishing his leadership credentials. His measured and intelligent proposals for a national response to the crisis, as well as being out in the fire zones supporting the heroism of the firefighters, is in marked contrast to Morrison’s bungled attempts to “empathise” with the people suffering from the disasters on the ground.
As they face the grim realities of a long and horrific summer Australians are starting to realise that Morrison is absolutely not the leader the country needs at this time. He was, after all, an accidental choice for the leadership after Turnbull’s overthrow. This makes him an accident that Australia simply cannot afford. He is clearly unfit for high office. He must be sidelined.
Allan Patience is a political scientist in the University of Melbourne.