The Liberal Party’s bushfire civil war

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NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has denied claims of rejecting naval assistance during the bushfire crisis (Screenshot via YouTube)

Political tension has escalated between NSW State and Federal Liberal Governments over claims of a rejection of bushfire assistance, writes Tarric Brooker.

BACK BEFORE CHRISTMAS, I was discussing the Morrison Government’s response to the bushfires and the consensus was if things got bad enough, Prime Minister Scott Morrison would happily throw NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian under the bus.

In recent days, an effort has begun to do just that.

A report of a conversation between Berejiklian and Morrison was leaked to the Daily Telegraph.

The Daily Telegraph reported that Berejiklian had rejected Scott Morrison’s offer of further defence force assistance and naval support.

However, when asked about the alleged rejection of further aid from the Morrison Government and the defence forces in an interview, Berejiklian replied: “Not true. Not true.”

Shortly after the Daily Telegraph’s report emerged, 10 News political editor Peter van Onselen tweeted:

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to guess who leaked the account of the alleged conversation to the media.

With such high political stakes, and much of the nation seething with anger and frustration over the repeated failings of both the NSW State Government and the Morrison Government, it’s unsurprising that the latter is actively moving to shift the blame.

After almost two months of completely misreading public opinion over the fires and a foolhardy getaway to Hawaii, Scott Morrison has seemingly finally begun to realise the absolutely gargantuan scale of his mistakes in the eyes of the electorate.

Despite being hardly a scientific measure, a poll conducted on 3 January by the A Current Affair Facebook page showed that 82% of respondents were unsatisfied with Morrison’s handling of the bushfire crisis. 

(Source: A Current Affair Facebook page)

The reality is there is more than enough blame to go around. Both the NSW State Government and the Morrison Government have made mistakes that would have likely led to resignations in any other era of Australian politics.

Whether it’s the NSW State Government not requesting greater assistance almost two months ago, when the ADF first put forward plans, or the Morrison Government not realising that the leader of a nation is actually meant to lead, both sides have made serious mistakes.

The leak of this potentially untrue account of a conversation between the Prime Minister and the NSW Premier is just the first salvo in what will likely become a Liberal Party civil war fought in an attempt to ensure Scott Morrison’s political future.

Morrison truly believes he is the next John Howard, and these fires will ensure his continued power and a place among the pantheon of all-time great Liberal leaders.

According to one Liberal MP, Morrison believes the fires can be his “Tampa moment”.

This refers to the incident with the cargo ship MV Tampa, which rescued a number of asylum seekers back in 2001, ultimately leading to the re-election of the Howard Government after struggling in the polls for months beforehand.

In reality, the Prime Minister could soon be potentially fighting for his political future, as an angry public let loose their frustrations at his Government’s continued tone-deaf responses to this crisis.

Even in attempting to defuse the situation by announcing a large deployment of Defence Force personnel and equipment to assist with firefighting and evacuation efforts, the Morrison team made the entire exercise quite literally an advertisement for the Liberal Party, authorised by none other than Morrison himself.

In the coming weeks and months, the NSW Coalition Government and the Federal Coalition Government are likely to be engaged in what is effectively a party civil war.

Team Morrison will attempt to put all the blame on the Berejiklian Government and avoid taking any sort of responsibility. The Berejiklian Government will likely eventually respond with its own hard-hitting evidence of the Morrison Government’s failings.

There will be no winners in this conflict, only a bigger loser. But given the stakes for Scott Morrison after multiple train wreck attempts to deal with this crisis, attempting to deflect the blame may be his best hope to consolidate his leadership.

Tarric Brooker is a freelance journalist and political commentator. You can follow Tarric on Twitter @AvidCommentator.

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