No, Scott Morrison hasn't changed since bushfire crisis

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Cartoon by Mark David/@mdavidcartoons.

Has our Prime Minister's demeanour improved since the beginning of the bushfire crisis?

Has he reflected on the community’s assessment of his character and decided that he needs a make-over, or a session of barnacle removing, a la Tony Abbott? Is it possible for him to change the dismissive, arrogant, "my way or the highway" approach, especially towards journalists, who are only asking him questions for public interest reasons.

Ever since he returned from his ill-conceived holiday in Hawaii, he has been traversing some difficult ground. Generally and sincerely disliked on his return, his first steps into the unknown territory of regret were badly managed, and to many, his words were betrayed by his seemingly innate contempt for open conversations.

His faux apology for the holiday’s destination and its timing were similar in tone to how a famous sportsperson might apologise. Most people see through such an apology. 

He later likened himself to a plumber, torn between a commitment to his business and his commitment to his family. Except that he went on holiday, overseas, while his home town (Sydney) was potentially burning and definitely choking on toxic smoke. 

We don’t want our leaders as stand-in father figures, we want them to present themselves and to share our difficult times, with grace and fortitude and empathy. If they really care, they should hurt along with the rest of us. We are all able to recognise when someone is sharing our pain.

Morrison continued his rehabilitation efforts steadily. He seemed to jettison his stance that he would deliver Commonwealth help only when asked and came up with the offer of two billion dollars to help with the recovery and the rebuilding of the country. But every time he showed himself, it became a recitation of how generous he was being and how he was seemingly giving up his dream of a budget surplus, for us.

He was also at pains to establish in the public mind that the Commonwealth had been assisting in the bushfire crisis from early on in the piece, rather than as a sop to the country when most of the damage had been done. Too little, too late was the public's feeling. His message was undercut by his insistence that fighting bushfires is a state responsibility, and the Feds only act when asked.

The eventual arrival of the naval ships was very welcome, but, again, every time he appeared on television, or radio he made it all sound as if he was speaking at a political rally. His army, his navy, and he didn’t even bother to warn the firefighters that much-needed help was on the way.

After the deployment, his office actually spruiked the use of the Defence Force as an act of grace, provided by the Liberal Party, on Facebook. There was even a “donate” button until someone had it removed. 

As the country burned, the issue of climate change was the elephant in the room. Morrison appeared, momentarily, to budge on it, acknowledging the science and promising that the Government was “evolving” in its position. This proved to be a false dawn, however, because he began repeating his colourful mantra that we would “meet and beat our Paris targets at a canter". A nonsense, of course, achieved by using a dodgy accounting trick. His ability to repeat these claims without batting an eyelid is testament to his superb indifference to the community.

At least he had moved on from saying that during the fires was not the right time to discuss the likely causes, but he did introduce a couple of diversions, picked up directly from the Murdoch press. These were that arsonists were the major cause, or that the lack of fuel reduction burning was to blame. Obviously they were factors, but grossly overstated.

This muddied the waters and was an attempt to move attention away from the obvious effects of the hottest year on record in Australia, and a near-record dry spell. The predictions that climate change would increase the number of extremely hot days and even the likelihood of prolonged low humidity were proved right. Helpfully, MP Craig Kelly continued his ridiculous tilting at "climate change windmills".

While this effort at re-branding the Prime Minister was proceeding, Morrison was busy backgrounding journalists by denigrating the NSW Premier and her efforts during the darkest days, including stating that she had refused an offer of assistance from the Commonwealth. She vehemently denied the fact, so so much for Liberal Party solidarity. 

Recently, he has been pushing the "adaptation and resilience "theme, which is another diversion away from the main game: the climate is getting hotter, and the bush-fire season is only going to get longer, year on year if we do nothing about the climate.

The latest controversy over using public funds to shore up his electoral chances was dealt with at the National Press Club, where he stated that if people were disappointed, he would look at re-opening the scheme, so that even more money from our hard-earned taxes could be directed to sports clubs. When asked whether it was proper for Minister Bridget McKenzie to override the relevant Department in allocating grants, he said that ministers knew more than the career public servants tasked with the job anyway, so no problem there.

In breaking news, he has attempted to excuse the inexcusable, by accepting McKenzie's resignation for breaching ministerial standards, over a petty $36,000. Whatever happened to the $100,000,000?

This is staggeringly inept from a politician. Even he knows how lowly we rate politicians,  especially when it comes to using taxpayers’ money for personal gain. Morrison continues to be the arrogant operator we all thought he was, without a shred of self-awareness.

Mark Buckley is a Melbourne based writer with an interest in politics, history and ethics in public life.

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