World's media derision for Scott Morrison over bushfire crisis

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Cartoon by Mark David / @MDavidCartoons

“Scott Morrison, est un con! (he’s a prick!)" shouts the French satirist Tanguy Pastureau

It is not all like that, but Australia has hardly ever had such a bath of exposure in world media.

Amid much sympathy for Australia, none has been complimentary about Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who has declared he doesn't take it personally because people often "fixate".

Millions of foreigners also care about Australians, to judge by the headlining of Australia’s crisis; and at a people-to-people level, to judge by the messages so many are getting from overseas, asking if we are alright.

Even sincere-old Prince Charles in a rambling, presumably unscripted piece to camera, as stylish as brother Andrew, did his doddering best to inform us he and the wife were worried, actually “in despair”. He is being lined up as the King of Australia, to reign over us (not for that long, surely), and then somebody sets fire to it — you would be anxious.


Much international media is giving the bushfire crisis as thorough coverage as a "local" story. This is putting much focus on the spectacle and size of it; the human tragedy and loss of life. This includes the interviews with traumatised people in the ruins of their homes, much concern about the wildlife and stock and questions about Australia’s dog-in-the-manger national stance on climate change. That while we don’t accept it and won’t join stepped-up world efforts against it, in the flames is the proof of it.

The strengthening commentary – even back home in Australia in newspapers such as Sydney Morning Herald – is that this terrible episode is connecting up the dots: coal, fires and climate.

In international eyes, our leaders have been found wanting not only in planning for such a catastrophe – and not just for the failure of some to match the tenacious heroism of our volunteers – but for their refusal to accept the catastrophic reality of climate change and its link with the burning of coal.


Typical of the global coverage, CNN in America has almost all the Australian angles. Apocalyptic scenes in a fire zone “the size of Manhattan”; tantalising rain (using their own weather crew to show it); the koalas; police chasing miscreants; U.S. firefighters helping out; celebrities donatingclimate change is behind it. And naturally, we see the Prime Minister getting told off at Cobargo.

In England, the BBC, with a quick eye for a story, has also splashed the problem Prime Minister getting an earful at Cobargo. The heavy coverage has kept the bushfires story prominent right up to the recent taste of rainfall and Tuesday’s updates on the plight of animals.

Comprehensive packages have been given by broadcasters in China and Germany, where they interviewed a man trapped on the beach at Narooma about the national leadership, showing the world that there is also anger here: “They should pull their heads out”, he suddenly says. “They act like kids. They need to act like they want Australian people to act and be a good representative of us.”


On France Inter, Fabienne Sintes, presenting her well researched national radio show on 7 January, depicted the Australian Prime Minister as a man running to catch up.

Most of the program was on Australia’s crisis, starting with two contrasting word pictures: thousands of teenage protestors against climate change in Melbourne, versus Morrison taking his lump of coal into Parliament. She talked about the PM winning a two-seat parliamentary majority, on the back of the vote in Queensland, the "coal state", where millionaires funded an attack on the opposition Labor Party. Then, the story goes, the climate change reality came home with the smoke pollution in major cities.

In an interview, an Australian woman who had lost her house talked about the ember attack and was asked if she felt any anger towards the government and authorities. “I wouldn’t waste my time,” she said. “They don’t seem to understand and I wonder about the state of their brains.”

Then came a resident French radio correspondent in Sydney talking about the psychological blow to the country. He had chanced by people chanting the Kyrie Eleison prayer, 'Dieu a Pitie' (God have Mercyin a cathedral and thought it was the first time he had heard Australians appealing for compassion.

He’d considered Australia was unprepared, despite having plenty of firefighters and equipment organised by the states, because of weakness at the national level. Scott Morrison, after resisting more spending on equipment and refusing to meet the ex-fire chiefs who had been warning of a conflagration, took the Hawaiian holiday “far away”.

The PM's eventual promise of $2-billion in additional equipment and support was after several weeks and there was still an “attitude” that “things are always like this” – even though “things” had become an “existential crisis”. He said the Prime Minister of Australia was a “committed Evangelical” and, “like Trump”, might still be able to fall back on some "no-matter-what" voter support.


On France Inter at midday, Tanguy Pastureau – billed as a man who satirically “tears the news to pieces” – launched into the bushfire story, but mainly Morrison, on 6 January. 

Once again Australia was presented as waiting by the roadside (said in a whining sarcastic voice), “We’re sticking to the Kyoto levels” — while the rest of the world have driven on to do something more. Pastureau tells a studio panel about the catastrophe with the losses, numbers of houses and animals, then gets some laughs about the Prime Minister who says “climate change is just for yuppies in the inner city”.

Pastureau warms up. “Scott Morrison est un con”, he declares, five times. He goes through his litany of points: the thick smoke haze, the holiday, that he doesn’t know what is happening with the price of coal, holds off on paying the firefighters and that Scott Morrison does not understand — "est un con!".

The kindest and least accurate translation of this expression is, an ‘idiot’, but mostly it is a choice of swear words, starting with, Scott Morrison is a "prick". A quick delve into a dictionary entry gives the idea of how much distaste can be packed into just one short word.

Media editor Dr Lee Duffield is a former ABC foreign correspondent, political journalist and academic.

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