Lee Duffield says Prime Minister Scott Morrison came back to Australia from holidays literally under a dark cloud and questions remain about how he has been handling things.
We heard the answers at your first-of-the-year media conference on 2 January in Sydney. Well, one answer anyway: don’t mention climate change while they are rescuing people from the bushfires (which appear to be caused, one way or the other, by climate change).
A question has been going around: why not have an early meeting of COAG – the Federal and State governments together – to handle the crisis and talk about a future plan for fire emergencies as suggested by Anthony Albanese? We understand, Albanese is not the Government, he’s the Opposition, so we will get a meeting of the Government Security Committee instead. (Will mentioning climate change be declared a breach of security?)
Are these porkies, or what?
My friend and colleague, Nicholas, has been troubled, thinking that you don’t like questions and that you get a bit dodgy when asked about matters that cause you discomfort. He is one of the old school — goes on about character and suchlike. He seems to think you shouldn’t be shifty, shouldn’t try and slip things past the public. How long would he last in the marketing business? Where the bloody hell would he be?
Looking over your interventions during the current bushfire season, the time when you were quietly off to Hawaii for a while, he asks:
Are the following lies, or omissions of fact, or stumbles, or just matters we should not talk about until all the commotion dies down?
Somebody put it around that last month you were off on your first holiday for a year.
Could it have been some of those dim Young Liberals in your office who put that around? Your friends at The Australian filled us in on 17 December, mentioning something that you might have put a bar on questions about — the earlier holiday in Fiji:
Scott Morrison has opted to take an early personal holiday this year ahead of several bilateral overseas trips in January, with Deputy PM Michael McCormack in charge until Thursday. The Australian understands the PM caught a plane to an undisclosed overseas location with his wife Jenny and daughters Abbey and Lily on Sunday evening.
It is Mr Morrison’s first holiday since taking his family to Fiji after his May Federal Election win. It follows the Morrison family’s Christmas holiday closer to home last year, when they surprised locals by travelling to Shoalhaven Heads on the NSW South Coast.
They denied you were in Hawaii, but you were there.
For example, Davide Crowe of the Sydney Morning Herald asked around with some of his colleagues:
‘When The New Daily's Samantha Maiden asked the Prime Minister's office on Monday if Morrison was in Hawaii, she was told this was "wrong". When BBC journalist Frances Mao asked on Wednesday, she was told it was "incorrect" to say he was in Hawaii.’
Somebody told journalists you were off for a “couple of days”, not the full week, overseas.
Same crowd getting it all wrong? Nothing misleading intended, sure.
Those troublemakers at The Guardian, of course, had an angle on it:
‘The PM went on holiday for a few days. It didn’t need to look like a political crime scene. But as usual, the cover-up made everything ten times worse.’
Nobody made an announcement that you were off on holidays, leaving the Deputy in command.
Up in Queensland, they did it the old way: the Premier put an advance notice in the Government Gazette that she would be on leave, with the Deputy acting. Your political consœurs and confreres on The Australian Online tried a line that this was “double standards,” but no-one took it up.
When it got out that you were indeed in Hawaii and had declared you were interrupting the trip to come back to Australia as “soon as it can be arranged”, you took well over 24 hours to get back.
Nicholas is not alone in thinking that you were a bit slow coming back that time and then, when you said “sorry”, may have come up with only half of what was expected of you.
Upon return, you did apologise for any offence you may have caused. But Nicholas is definitely not alone in wondering if you said “sorry” also for walking off the job and not being around when the fires were already firing up — it’s a bit different to only saying “sorry if you got offended”, see?
These perversive comments might be troubling at a time when you are trying to work out whether to go on a roadshow or somehow stay in the background and let the Premiers do it.
It is just fair to let you know that people have been talking about you and that they have been putting out wisecracks.
Here are a few examples:
Q: What do Captain Cook and the Member for Cook have in common?
A: Both probably thought: “I wish I hadn’t come to Hawaii”. (James Cook was the sea captain who circumnavigated some Pacific islands, but not Australia as you may have been led to believe.)
Q: How many people does it take to get an Australian Prime Minister off-base to Hawaii then bring him back at short notice?
A: At least 21:
- three or four to hold up screens as he gets on the plane, to ensure secrecy;
- two more to blindfold the cabin crew;
- half a dozen Liberal Party hacks in the office to throw journalists off the scent, (see above, what David Crowe found out);
- the National Party liaison person, to find out where Wagga Wagga was and tell somebody called McConachie, or something, he was Acting Prime Minister for a while, but keep fairly quiet as it would not be formally announced to the public;
- later on, one brave soul on staff to admit they’d found out that the Prime Minister, during the climate crisis, was in Hawaii after all;
- half a dozen spin doctors to word up a statement, that he ‘deeply regrets’ any offence caused by him taking leave during the fires, (you can bet he does; it may be the most truthful utterance of that week — but maybe not in the way he meant it to read);
- one booking clerk to stuff up getting him on a plane within 24 hours — unless he tried and failed to do it himself; and
- the man himself sort-of trying to get back to face the music.
How does someone get on a plane in Honolulu within 24 hours?
By the Saturday morning (21 December), some rudely curious reporters were uttering a question arising in many people’s minds: if Morrison announced before 8 A.M. on Friday he was coming home early and there was no announcement by mid-afternoon Saturday that he had got back, then, as they say, where the bloody hell was he?
How does someone stranded in Hawaii get back to Sydney for an emergency, such as a national disaster?
Bear in mind he said it would be as quick as could be “arranged”.
If he is on the island of Oahu, he grabs his overnight bag, races to the airport and gets a stand-by seat on the next direct or one-stop flight home.
If he is on another island, at a pinch he can charter a flight or get a fast boat to Oahu.
He might have used our trusty Webjet site to see what planes were available.
When IA did this, in an act of curiosity-driven deep research, we found several flights to Sydney, some with Australian airlines. There may have been additional ones to Melbourne or Brisbane; we did not check those.
Morrison, with his overnight bag in the taxi, ought to have been able to get a first or business class seat on one of those, or, if necessary and feeling humble, might have come over to Australia in economy class. It was just before Christmas, but surely an Australian company could have found a seat for the Prime Minister on one of their planes.
Tapping at his mobile, he would have learned about services available on the plane: new seats with a deeper recline, generous dining service, a welcome drink, 500 hours of entertainment — probably including a few disaster movies as a primer. Not bad, in a crisis.
The man did arrive on the Saturday night, still ahead of his originally scheduled return from holidays on the Monday; so as a prize for participating, if a bit late, in our national travail, we should give him a hearty “aloha”.
Media editor Dr Lee Duffield is a former ABC foreign correspondent, political journalist and academic.
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