Australia is ablaze: Morrison smirks

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Cartoon by Mark David / @MDavidCartoons

Psychotherapist Dr Jennifer Wilson analyses Scott Morrison's response to the bushfire crisis.

WHAT WE KNOW about Prime Minister Scott Morrison, after years of observation, is that unless there is a perceived advantage in it for him, he will postpone taking action on anything until his hand is forced.

This is exactly what he has done in his belated response to our catastrophic bushfires, some of which started five months ago when the NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) declared the fire season in that State had begun.

Morrison is one of those people, particularly dangerous when in positions of power, who are entirely focused on their own survival at the expense of everyone else’s. In this situation, his preoccupation has been with his political survival, rather than the survival of those of us caught up in apocalyptic fires.

Were it otherwise, the PM would have met with experts as requested. He would have put in place recommended contingency plans that, while they would not have prevented the fires, would have mitigated their dire consequences for many people, much country, and a staggering number of native animals and stock.

From the PM’s perspective, it had to be business as usual. All fires are equal. We’ve got past them before and we’ll do it again. Let's go to Hawaii. To acknowledge otherwise and take preventative action would mean facing questions on the contribution of climate change to our current conflagrations. Morrison is not comfortable with this line of inquiry and its inevitable segue into the role of the fossil fuel industry. He has a global reputation for his love affair with coal.

The Prime Minister could not afford to acknowledge the seriousness of the fires, because of the threat any such acknowledgement poses to his neoliberal ideology, his relationship with political donors from the coal industry and – many would add – his Pentecostal religious beliefs. All of these considerations superseded any of the concerns one would expect to preoccupy the leader of a country facing unprecedented burning.

Scott Morrison did nothing. He could have done a great deal, but he did nothing. He was advised. He was warned. He was exhorted to take action. Yet he did nothing. In fact, he did worse than nothing. He took a holiday in Hawaii and left his country to incinerate.

The consequences of Morrison’s disastrous inability to see beyond his own concerns are as follows. Some six million hectares of this country have now burned in NSW, Victoria, and South Australia. NSW is ablaze from the coastline to the high country. At least 23 people have died so far. Hundreds of homes have been lost — my sister’s among them. Hundreds of thousands of sheep and cattle have perished. Hundred of millions of native animals have been incinerated and some species will have been pushed to extinction.

Had Morrison allowed the country to prepare as he was advised he should, the recovery phase, a longer and more disheartening process than even the fires themselves, would already be well underway. Instead, this implementation of this process was announced only on Saturday, 4 January 2020. It follows no predetermined plan, because Morrison still will not listen to those who seek to advise him.

It is entirely ad hoc. That is not to say the agencies who are directly involved with providing recovery assistance are without plans and experience. It is to say that the Prime Minister of Australia would not authorise the implementation of those plans earlier than a mere three days ago — when he apparently underwent a minor change of heart after consultation with former Liberal Prime Minister John Howard.

It isn’t feasible to blame all this devastation on one man. One man cannot wield that much power without a great deal of support. However, Scott Morrison is the face of the gang who collectively do wield this much power, and bear moral responsibility for the deaths – human and animal – the loss of homes and livelihoods, the destruction of country, the extinction of species and the ongoing ravages wrought by these fires.

It appears that no one in the Federal Government attempted to persuade Morrison to listen. Publicly, everyone in the Government held to the line that these fires are nothing exceptional. Morrison is headstrong and dangerous and so is the rest of his Government. We are in the hands of men and women incapable of seeing beyond their own immediate concerns. They are, as Naomi Klein so eloquently puts it, "planetary arsonists" and we are their first victims.

Morrison has smirked his way through these events and, as recently as yesterday, continued to smirk. Who, we might ask ourselves, smirks like this at any time, but particularly now?

As recently as four days ago, Morrison defended his Government's climate change stance and refused to consider even the necessity for any review. It’s reasonable to assume that Morrison’s intention is to adapt to catastrophic fires, rather than address the causes, prevention and mitigation. In other words, we will continue to burn and all Morrison will do is call in the ADF earlier — if we’re lucky.

We have no guarantee that when this round of fires is subdued, Morrison will act any more speedily on the next round.  Indeed, we can expect his reaction to future conflagrations to be exactly the same as this one. He does not act until he absolutely has to, and unless there’s something in it for him. His game is to get away with as much as he possibly can, before taking action. These are not the characteristics you want in your leader.

You can follow Dr Jennifer Wilson on her blog No Place for Sheep or on Twitter @NoPlaceForSheep.

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