In the name of Australia's future, the Morrison Government must go

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The handshake heard around the nation - the moment Scott Morrison forced a distraught bushfire victim to shake his hand (Screenshot via YouTube)

Due to political incompetence leading to the devastation of our country, Australians are becoming increasingly vocal against the Morrison Government, writes Peter Henning.

BACK IN 1940, when British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain completely failed to comprehend the threat of Hitler, his own political party forced him to resign after one of his own backbenchers, using the words of Oliver Cromwell 300 years earlier, told him in the House of Commons: 

“You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. In the name of God, go!”

In Australia in October 1941, just weeks before Japan attacked Pearl Harbour and invaded south-east Asia, it was fortuitous that two independents crossed the floor to support a government led by John Curtin, a Prime Minister who knew that the national emergency required dispensing with the political inertia of the status quo. In a vital and urgent sense, the Australians told the complacent and inept conservative government of the 1930s, “you have sat too long here for any good you have been doing”.

At the beginning of 2020, Australia faces a complex set of issues which all conservative administrations since 2013 have ignored or dismissed, but which now in combination have created a grave national emergency.

The arrogant refusal of the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison administrations to listen to scientists across the broad spectrum of expertise has contributed significantly to the level of devastation which is now occurring.

The current Morrison Coalition Government has neither the competence nor the intellect to comprehend or understand the nature of the crises facing Australia and is therefore incapable of providing effective leadership now and in the difficult years ahead.

For months now, various political commentators have been asking Morrison to be a leader, thereby making the mistake of assuming that he has some ability to actually comprehend what is happening. Before Christmas, the mainstream press was still asking Morrison to change direction. One editorial from The Age said ‘Mr Morrison must step up’ and ‘now is not the time to be out of touch’.

One leading political commentator said:

‘It may be that Morrison is simply too small-minded or too politically timorous to respond to his country’s needs.’

Even now, as Australia is engulfed in the most serious bushfire crisis in the recorded history of this country, the media carries headlines like ‘Take charge, Prime Minister’.

The point is that his set of beliefs and attitudes mean that he cannot take charge and that whatever he does, he will take Australia in the wrong direction. He is Australia’s Neville Chamberlain, entirely out of his depth and simply incapable of doing the job. 

This was graphically demonstrated when Morrison visited Cobargo and Zoey McDermott, a young woman who had lost her home, tried to engage him in a discussion about Federal assistance. Film footage supports Zoey McDermott’s comment that Morrison “just wanted photos” and when it didn’t go as he planned, he “turned his back… and walked off on me”.  Morrison couldn’t get out of Cobargo fast enough when the photo opportunities turned sour. He turned and fled.

The stark reality that Morrison is totally inauthentic and merely concerned with his own image has been further laid bare when he peremptorily announced the call-up of 3,000 army reservists without even consulting the impressive leadership on the ground, like NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons, about how they could be integrated effectively into the firefighting operations.

It is not only that Morrison has no conceptual understanding of how to work collaboratively.  It is not only that his outrageous attempts at self-promotion and self-advertisement in this time of crisis are counter-productive and a hindrance to creating cohesion within what should be an integrated decision-making process. 

Australia needs leadership which is scientifically well-informed, which integrates science into forward planning and the allocation of resources. This is exactly the opposite of what Morrison offers. Morrison and his government cannot move beyond their fixed mindset of power for its own sake, for pork-barrelling, sloganeering, intrinsic self-promotion and climate change denialism. They cannot move beyond regarding this crisis as a “one-off event” rather than regarding it as overwhelming evidence that climate change must be the basis for national policy direction. 

The question for Australians is how to respond to such abysmal myopia at a Federal level. The media cannot continue to ask Morrison to step up and, along with the Australian public, should be asking Morrison to resign, to get out of the way.

Greg Mullins, the former Commissioner of Fire and Rescue NSW, reacted appropriately to the absence of Morrison on a secret holiday in Hawaii when he said:

“Frankly, at the moment, the Federal Government’s not doing much in this space anyway. So I don’t think it really matters.”  

Morrison thought he could have a secret holiday while the country was burning. Why bother being Prime Minister, then? 

Unfortunately, as we have seen, Morrison is now attempting to use the catastrophic bushfires as a means of opportunistic self-promotion, employing all means of marketing spin to draw attention to what he is doing.

It is not as if it is only the catastrophic bushfires which have shown Morrison and his colleagues to be holding positions that they are ill-equipped to occupy. They have all demonstrated that it is beyond their competence to do anything to prevent the ongoing destruction of the Murray-Darling system and the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef.  

Internationally, Australia under Morrison is now recognised as one of the key destroyers of the latest climate change talks, when Angus Taylor helped sabotage efforts by the United Nations in Madrid to cut emissions.

The Morrison Government is akin to the Chamberlain Government in Britain in 1940. It has to be persuaded by Australians to resign. They have to be told loudly by us all, by the media, by State governments, by young Australians whose future they are stealing, including the “quiet Australians”, that “you have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. In the name of Australia’s future, go”.

Peter Henning is a Tasmanian historian and author.

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