DAVID SOLOMON. Morrison mis-fires. Leadership or Photo Opportunities!

Since Scott Morrison declared, back in November, that this was not the time to be talking about climate change, people have been talking about nothing else but the fires, and climate change, and Scott Morrison’s attempts to pretend (or pray) them out of existence. But in the past week or so its all gone wrong for him, through his own deeds and his own words. With just a little help from his political allies.

His worst error was his decision to take a highly subsidised (who else can get airline and accommodation upgrades like he can?) family holiday in friendly Hawaii. It wasn’t that people missed his leadership (his what?) or a show of empathy with everyone affected by the fires including friends and relatives; it was his demonstration that he believed his holiday rated higher than braving a national crisis. It seemed that living it up in luxury in a foreign holiday destination was more important than witnessing the impact of the most destructive fires in Australia’s history.

And having cut short his vacation by a day, he quickly showed he did not understand just why people thought that he had failed in his duty. Leaving aside his tortured metaphor in which he likened his decision to go to Hawaii with the decision of a plumber deciding not to do an extra job of a Friday afternoon, there was this:

‘I get it that people would have been upset to know that I was holidaying with my family while their families were under great stress,’ he said. ‘But I’m comforted by the fact that Australians would like me to be here, just simply so I can be here, alongside then as they’re going through this terrible time … and I apologise for that.”

Note: he would be comforted – presumably for sacrificing a day of his holidays. Wow. Oh, and let’s go back to that first sentence – ‘people would have been upset to know that I was holidaying with my family’ etc. Indeed they were. He also said he texted Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese before the trip and ‘everybody knew I was away’. That last statement was simply not true.

In fact the Prime Minister seems to have done (or condoned others doing) almost everything possible to prevent people knowing that he was holidaying in Hawaii. People in his office did their best to mislead journalists who asked about his whereabouts, and the official procedure for publicising that in his absence the Deputy Prime Minister would be acting in his place was not followed.

Having resumed command and demonstrated for the cameras his sympathies for victims and admiration and gratitude for those fighting the fires, the Prime Minister tackled some of the policy issues that had arisen – such as paying volunteers, and doing (or not) more about climate change.

On Christmas Eve, he was asked by a journalist: ‘Why not offer cash or cash for firefighters or some sort of reimbursement? Wouldn’t that help the volunteers on the ground more?’

The Prime Minister replied: ‘Well, that’s not the advice that I’m receiving from the premiers or the fire commissioners… I’ve been in discussions with premiers about the issues. What they need is for the focus to be on the things that they say the focus should be and I’ve got to back in the operational agencies that are fighting these fires.’

But just four days later it all changed. Eligible volunteers would receive $300 a day, and up to $6,000 in total, if called out for more than 10 days during (only) this fire season. Strangely enough, this decision was also based on advice from those same premiers and fire commissioners. Oh well, people can change their minds, and their advice (assuming that’s what happened?)– particularly if there is money being made available by the Commonwealth.

But even this scheme was botched. It was to apply only to NSW. Other states could join in, perhaps. Immediately there was a disagreement over whether Queensland had said it would do so or not (as the PM’s people suggested).

Meanwhile, on the bigger question of whether more should be done about climate change, Mr Morrison was reminded that in his absence the Deputy (and Acting) Prime Minister, Michael McCormack was asked by a journalist if he accepted that community sentiment and fear of climate change had increased as a result of the unprecedented bushfires and if further action should be taken.

“Yeah I do, absolutely — yeah I do agree entirely,” Mr McCormack said. When asked what more could be done, he said “we’ll have those discussions” while adding there has been “a lot of hysteria around climate change”.

But the Prime Minister rejected the suggestion that there would be changes. ‘We are saying the same thing … our existing policies have increased efforts, that’s the point.’

Really, saying the same thing?

It is worth returning to the question to which Mr McCormack gave an affirmative answer, whether he accepted that community sentiment and fear of climate change had increased as a result of the unprecedented bushfires, and if further action should be taken. The issue of community sentiment about the impact of the fires clearly separates the Prime Minister and his deputy. Mr McCormack, a long-time journalist, appears to recognise the facts. The fires have changed attitudes to climate change and its importance to everyday living in Australia. A huge proportion of the Australian population has been affected by the fires, directly or at a distance.

That could have enormous political ramifications. At the May election, according to the Australian election study conducted by the Australian National University, the environment (including climate change) was the most important consideration in the way 16 per cent of people voted. Just one percent voted for the coalition on this issue. And the main reason why a very small number (1.5 per cent) of former coalition voters switched to Labor was the environment. (Many more switched away from Labor on other issues, such as the economy and leadership.) If voters become more concerned about the environment and climate change, it would be bad news for the Coalition, unless its policies undergo major changes.

David Solomon is a former political and legal journalist.

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7 Responses to DAVID SOLOMON. Morrison mis-fires. Leadership or Photo Opportunities!

  1. Simon Sedgley says:

    “Scott Morrison has been abused by community members on a visit to the bushfire ravaged town of Cobargo.” So the Sydney Morning Herald tells us. Morrison, uninvited, put his hands on a young Cobargo woman who was probably in a state of trauma and possibly shock. Realising that the young woman was not going to perform according to his script and for the cameras, Morrison walked away. Bega Valley councillor, Tony Allen, then stepped in and put his hands on the young woman, again uninvited. Who was abused here?

  2. Chris Borthwick says:

    Australians voted for the coalition knowing that it was lying to them about climate change, because they wanted what they knew to be true not to be true and they wanted an excuse for not doing anything about it.

  3. Peter Timmins says:

    David,
    You could add to the list the failure to meet months ago the retired fire chiefs who wanted to give a word of warning, the decision to watch the fireworks from Kiribilli-a better option: spend the night on the beach at Mooloolaba- the tin ear at Cobargo yesterday……
    All you can hope for is the light to go on that we need to plan mitigation, transition and the long term.
    And that the best people we have are put to the task while Angus Taylor and others who share his views take a cold shower.

  4. Jerry Roberts says:

    In this instance the Prime Minister is talking more sense than his critics. To conflate the fires with Prime Ministerial holidays and climate change theories is foolish and dangerous because it makes the task of reaching consensus on bush fire management even more difficult.

    We desperately need to hear from people who know what they are talking about and that does not include politicians, political journalists — like you and me, David, — and “fire chiefs” whose viewpoint is inevitably bureaucratic and (disturbingly) political.

    We must look to experienced foresters, bushmen and farmers. The Australian bush is highly combustible. It needs controlled, low-intensity burning to reduce fuel loads

  5. Jim KABLE says:

    The LNP mob have clearly forfeited Heaven’s Mandate. The citizens have the right to literally turf them out of Canberra. History tells us we have that right. When the ruler/s does/do NOT govern for the people – that’s clearly “time’s up!” Off you go insensitive monsters. And a huge shout out to the heroes of the south Coast of NSW who refused to shake the photo-op-seeking PM’s grubby paw and who told him quite succinctly where to go.

    I am in these ugly times however heartened by the birth of a new political party – made up of non-politicians! Hey, how good is that? A party of ethical decency and respect for the citizens, the environment, for “public” over rorting “profit-taking private” for Indigenous/First Nations people! It’s the New Liberal Party (the NLP) – a restoration of the true meaning of liberal – not the fascist vested-interest IPA-serving LNP led by the current subject of this essay above – but by a man of integrity, of experience and service Vic KLINE! In a recent online interview he pointed out that 80% of present Federal politicians are career politicians – from student days to advisers/staff spin-doctors into elected office. Some have better rhetoric than the others – but very little real-world life experiences! Anyway – check it out – Victor KLINE – The NLP – its Charter and Statement of Beliefs. It’s the first time quite frankly that I have felt any degree of hope for Australia since returning here nearly 11 years ago from Japan. Yesterday I applied to become one of NLP’s Wave-of-Change ambassadors…I hope I might be successful in that aim…

  6. Stephen Saunders says:

    Mirabile dictu, even Albanese has joined in, he who initially refused to “politicise” the fires. Surely “Cobargo handshake” ought to go into the language.

  7. Allan Kessing says:

    In Voltaire’s Candide Dr Pangloss was hanged to prevent earthquakes – carbon dioxide reduction policies will be slightly more effective.
    As with obesity, there are no quick fixes or cures for the result of long term deleterious behaviour – rectification takes longer than causation.
    The damage caused by carbon emissions since the Industrial Revolution has already raised the temperature in the permafrost zones (specifically Siberian but also Canada) so that the release of methane, a far more damaging green house gas, is inevitable.
    The only effective action that can be taken in the short term – a human life span – is adaptation to the tip-over effect.
    Low lying countries such as Bangladesh & Holland (dykes notwithstanding any number of little boy’s fingers) will cease to exist and the world’s port cities, previously the basis for international trading economies, will be inundated – the Thames Barrage was built in the 1980s to protect the southern areas of London from tidal flooding which will be a thing of the past when Hampstead Heath becomes a ferry terminal.
    How long before some smart marketting type is promoting pasta from wheat grown in Greenland, washed down by Icelandic wine followed by a dessert of Vladivostok pineapples & bananas?

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