When his country is disintegrating in the manner of a blockbuster apocalyptic film, what is the leader of the nation to do?
Make quick his escape — of course! At least if that “leader” is Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
This week, fires raged across three states, with 720 homes, 49 facilities and 1,582 outbuildings razed, 2.7 million hectares burnt, six lives tragically lost, and emergency services personnel broken and spent.
There is scarcely a city where evidence of the destruction isn’t palpable. A thick black blanket of acrid smoke hangs over Sydney, Brisbane, the Gold Coast and Perth, causing respiratory issues and fears of water contamination, and filling hospital emergency units, while black ash adorns the sand dunes of our most famous tourist beaches.
WHERE THE BLOODY HELL ARE YOU?
In response, the PM reportedly whisked his family away — far, far away from dangerous smoke inhalation and sullied water supplies. On a business class flight. To Hawaii. On holiday.
This may seem reasonable. After all, the PM hasn’t had a break since winning the election, when he took the fam to Fiji in June. And before that, when he took off to Christmas Island — oh wait, that was a $185 million photo opportunity.
All clearly well-deserved, since Morrison has been working so hard to set a new record for the shortest parliamentary sitting time.
What other possible courses of action could the leader of a nation faced with this bushfire emergency take?
HOW GOOD ARE FIRIES?!
Here are 11 suggestions for what Morrison might have done instead of running away:
- visit a bushfire site to listen, learn and glean first-hand knowledge of the crisis, not just take pics and tell the firefighters they're "amazing";
- declare a state of emergency;
- listen to emergency service personnel to make informed decisions on what is required;
- give immediate and sufficient monetary aid and resources for emergency services in a coordinated national response;
- ensure the needs of all firefighting personnel and volunteers are met;
- accept all offered assistance, including help from overseas;
- give immediate aid to affected families;
- accept that his Government’s policies are exacerbating the risk, frequency and intensity of bushfire events;
- declare a climate emergency;
- act to reduce carbon emissions; and
- formulate a long-term strategy – incorporating action on anthropogenic climate change – to deal with future events.
Back in 1952, when the Great Smog descended upon London (coincidentally also a by-product of burning coal), Winston Churchill was slow to act. As thousands died from inhaling the poisonous air, he relented, however, taking legislative measures to ensure such a calamity would never be repeated.
In Australia, the devastating Black Saturday fires of 2009 occurred during the time of the Rudd Government. In response, Prime Minister Rudd gave $10 million emergency assistance to bushfire victims, made available immediately. He deployed the Australian Defence Force for recovery efforts. He visited bushfire sites. He met with emergency services leaders. He graciously accepted help from U.S. firefighting agencies. Admittedly, the Rudd Government could have done more to deal with climate change, but at least it acknowledged that global warming required addressing.
HOW GOOD IS CRICKET?!
Today, as Australia faces extraordinary fire activity and braces for worse to come as summer intensifies, what did our climate change-denying PM actually do?
Prime Minister Scott Morrison:
- obfuscated, ignored, denied and gave perfunctory responses to any and all questions about the fires, insisting all that could be done was being done;
- dispatched climate-denying disciple Angus Taylor to the Paris talks to ensure the merry path of climate denial is upheld;
- rejected additional help;
- tried to deflect attention away from the billowing smoke and raging flames by making soothing “thoughts and prayers” comments about a disaster on foreign shores — in this case, New Zealand;
- made a “one-off” $11 million commitment for firefighting aircraft, while ignoring a 12-month old plea from emergency service departments for ongoing fire-fighting resources;
- persisted with ignorant spruiking of the merits of coal to all within earshot while ignoring scientific and emergency services advice, advice from most of the rest of the world and the smoke before his very eyes;
- attempted to inform the rest of the world that they’re all wrong – including rejecting a damning report ranking Australia near last of 57 countries on climate change action – and his Government right to ignore the climate emergency;
- said it was okay that volunteer firefighters were exhausted because they “wanted to be there” and therefore, were happy to be exhausted;
- told the firies to cheer up and watch the cricket;
- rushed to introduce a religious freedom bill, of course (!); and
- avoided bushfire sites (like most people might avoid defecating in their pants at a remote McDonald’s) by escaping with his family out of harm’s way to a luxury island resort.
HOW GOOD ARE SMOKOS?!
As the PM unwinds in an island paradise while the bushfire emergency rages, it is interesting to note that during Black Saturday, he was a loud and vocal critic of former Victorian Police Commissioner Christine Nixon because she went out for a meal during the fires — labelling her dinner out a “bad judgement call”. Of course, at the time, most thought Morrison meant she shouldn’t be away from the disaster, but he clearly meant she hadn’t gone far enough away.
Tuesday (17 December) was Australia’s hottest day on record and more intense heat is predicted for much of the country.
Crowdfunding has been underway to feed and provide essential equipment for our volunteer firefighters. Let’s pause and think about the irony of that for a moment. As our PM relaxes by the sea, our unpaid volunteers risk their lives, fighting 70-metre fire fronts and pay for their own meals and also equipment.
A group of 29 former emergency services bosses have joined together to come up with strategies to deal with Australia’s current bushfire crisis and future perilous vulnerability to extreme fire events because, they say, the Federal Government is "asleep at the wheel”.
Former Fire and Rescue NSW Commissioner Greg Mullins told SBS:
"Climate change is driving this problem to a place where you simply can't deal with it."
The country continues to burn. Doctors have declared a “toxic smoke emergency”. And ScoMo is on an extended smoko. That’s leadership right there.
This editorial was originally published as part of the Independent Australia weekly newsletter. These editorials are usually only available to subscribers and may be read online in the IA members-only area.
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