Polls 2022 Opinion

Scott Morrison — the great Australian disaster

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Communities are outraged at the lack of response from Scott Morrison over the flood disaster (Image by Dan Jensen)

IA is thrilled to announce our special 'Polls 2022' series – featuring Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, Independent Member for Warringah Zali Steggall, Independent candidate for Hughes Georgia Steele, Labor Member for Moreton Graham Perrett and FIN candidate and IA investigations editor Ross Jonescovering the issues as the Federal Election nears.

As communities are struggling to rebuild from devastating floods, the Prime Minister has once again bungled the response, writes Labor Member for Moreton Graham Perrett.

IT’S NOT THE sticky dark mud, the stinking water or the smashed-up sodden piles of belongings on footpaths that I most vividly recall from Moreton’s 2011 floods. Those phenomena are memorable, but what stays closest to my heart is how our community came together to help out others.

This is the memory I hold most dear from the aftermath of that deluge. Only 11 years on and my community is again recovering from a “once in a hundred-year event”. Too many suburbs were again devastated by a flood event. And once again, my community has turned out in great numbers to help out neighbours and strangers. Their generosity is humbling. If only our national leaders in Canberra followed my community’s great example, this country would be in a much better state.

For too long, Australians have been let down by a Government that is not prepared to lead. The Coalition Government won’t take responsibility for anything but will put out press releases on everything. Prime Minister Scott Morrison prioritises seeking political advantage far above his responsibility to serve everyday Australians.

In November last year, he proudly announced during a pandemic press conference that his idea of a National Plan ‘was about getting government out of people’s lives’. In a democracy, the people are the rulers. However, Mr Morrison seems to want the title and trappings of office but without doing the hard work.

It’s not like the Coalition hasn’t had the opportunity to show leadership and pull communities together during times of crisis. Since the 2019 Election, this nation has endured significant devastation and destruction. First, it was the Black Summer bushfires that saw the loss of 33 Australian lives, the razing of 24 million hectares, the destruction of 3,000 homes and the loss of around three billion animals.

Surely, this was the time for good solid national leadership. A chance for our Prime Minister to stand with the many Australians who had their homes devastated and lives destroyed. Good leaders provide comfort and demonstrate that governments care about people enduring such horrors. Instead, Prime Minister Morrison went to Hawaii for a holiday.

All leaders need a break, but the Prime Minister’s Office then tried to hide his absence from the nation. His staff denied he was in Hawaii, refused to disclose his location or when he would return from leave. All while volunteer firefighters were giving their time freely, risking their lives and devastatingly, some even lost their lives.

Then, before the fires were even extinguished, a virus that had been taking hold in other countries made its first appearance in Australia. A global pandemic was declared. Our international borders were closed and we were plunged into a frightening game of cat and mouse with an invisible virus. People never knew whether they would suddenly be forced to isolate for days, weeks or months at home or elsewhere.

For many, isolation meant forfeiting wages. Contracting COVID-19 meant some had to live from hand to mouth, from day to day. Many Australians have faced financial hardship and even ruin. For those who contracted the virus, some have suffered from “long COVID” effects many months later.

This once-in-a-century pandemic was another opportunity for Prime Minister Morrison to show leadership. Thankfully, the fact we’re a relatively sparsely populated island nation gave us a natural buffer. Consequently, it took the virus longer to take hold. This meant we could learn from what was happening in other countries.

We had the opportunity, once vaccinations had been produced, to be vaccinated before the virus could infect much of our population. We could protect our most vulnerable people first. Unfortunately, this opportunity was squandered through poor leadership and lack of planning. Not enough vaccines were ordered. There was no effective priority rollout to the most vulnerable.

Australians fruitlessly looked for leadership. The die was cast early. Way back in March 2020, Mr Morrison showed his pitiful guidance by announcing a ban on large crowds to minimise the spread of COVID-19. However, then our Prime Minister attended an NRL game. It was a case of “do as I say, not as I do”. This is not worthwhile leadership and a confusing message to the people he is supposed to serve.

More stuff-ups followed. After the Morrison Government bungled our vaccine orders, it might be expected they’d get the Rapid Antigen Tests regime right. Surely, the Government would have learnt their lesson and ordered enough. Sadly, no, this was not the case. Most Australians will remember Christmas 2021 as being the time when everyone was chasing RATs.

We have commenced 2022 with flooding disasters across multiple states. Twelve suburbs in my electorate of Moreton have been impacted. There is devastation and dislocation. Nevertheless, there is something different this time around. Initially, there was no Centrelink staff placed locally to help those wandering in, dazed and bedraggled from flood-affected streets. I certainly would never blame Centrelink staff for the tardiness associated with their deployment.

It is the Minister who should have ensured that staff were immediately deployed to help all flooded electorates. They were deployed to L-NP held seats in Brisbane, but the Labor held electorates of Moreton, Griffith, Rankin and Lilley, all flood-affected, had none. For five days, people in my electorate, many unable to return home, many without electricity, Wi-Fi and water, were unable to access the Disaster Recovery Payment from Services Australia.

It was different back in 2011 when Julia Gillard was Prime Minister. Centrelink staff members were sent immediately where they were needed. Whether an electorate was held by a Labor or Coalition representative was completely irrelevant. Disaster victims just need help and good government should be offering it. That’s their job. That’s leadership.

My community is resilient. I know we will bounce back from the pandemic. I know they will rebuild their homes and lives after these latest floods, but they need support from the Government. I was part of the Labor Government that led the recovery after the 2011 floods. I know how government support that is immediate and targeted can be life-changing. I know that after the clean-up, the recovery should include a strategy for mitigation.

Sadly, this won’t be the last flood my community faces. We need to be ready. We need to plan now. The Morrison Government’s $5 billion Emergency Response Fund should be used to help my community – and others affected – recover and rebuild. It is not the Government’s personal term deposit. It belongs to taxpayers. This is what democracy is. Investing in mitigation now will result in saving taxpayer money down the track.

The last three years have starkly revealed a Prime Minister who naturally shirks responsibility. We have someone in The Lodge who happily blame-shifts to states and territories whenever he can. A man who leaves every decision to the last minute and then does as little as possible. The next Election will decide if Mr Morrison is fit to lead our country into a second decade of Coalition rule.

Amongst the mud and the destroyed belongings piled on the sidewalks, my local communities are helping each other pull through this latest challenge. I could not be prouder of them right now. Good governments step up during times of crisis. I know very well that the people of Moreton are my boss. Those who step back during a crisis aren’t worthy of the title of government. They are frauds or charlatans and Australia deserves better.

Graham Perrett is the Federal Labor Member for Moreton and worked as a schoolteacher, solicitor, author and political staffer before entering parliament. You can follow Graham on Twitter @GrahamPerrettMP.

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