Real reason ScoMo is under fire

COMMENT

The only thing more ferocious than the flames tearing through eastern Australia at the moment is the political firestorm that has accompanied them.

In times of natural disaster the convention in this country has always been to put politics to one side for the sake of national unity but these have not just been the most powerful bushfires we have ever seen, they have also been the most political.

There are many who claim this is because of Scott Morrison abrogating his leadership in a time of national crisis in favour of a family holiday to Hawaii but that is, frankly, crap.

The chaos of recent weeks is just the discordant final cadence in a decade of bitter, personal, small-minded and shortsighted political leadership that has crippled our country and consigned us to burn long before Morrison took the keys to the Lodge.

It is obvious to all but the most hermitic mountain monk that there is widespread anger in the Australian community that burns as hot as the bushfires themselves, and this anger has been simmering since long before the fire season.

We have had Liberal and Labor powerbrokers treat the office of the prime minister as a personal plaything and the electorate with contempt in the process.

We have had banks exposed for reaching into the pockets of dead people, churches exposed for dumping paedophile priests on unsuspecting parishes and a once in a century drought that was ravaging the regions for years before city politicians even noticed.

And so when that drought literally fuelled a literal firestorm that literally consumed people's lives and homes that anger could no longer be contained. That is the true source of the rage against the PM in the bush and what he faced in Cobargo this week.

 

These are the people who know better than anyone that the federal government doesn't have primary responsibility for fighting fires and that no politician, state or federal, is in charge of operational matters like this anyway. They have simply had it up to their necks with failure upon failure and they're sick of the whole damn lot.

And fair enough. Those are the ones genuinely looking to the Prime Minister for some kind of leadership, some kind of reassurance.

However even Blind Freddy can see that there is also a far more cynical campaign being waged against the PM that originated not from the bush but from the leafy and inner-city suburbs of Sydney and Melbourne - hashtag activists who are more angry at Morrison for winning the election than for anything he has or hasn't done about the fires.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and wife Jenny with Cobargo RFS captain Mark Ayliffe. Picture: Sean Davey
Prime Minister Scott Morrison and wife Jenny with Cobargo RFS captain Mark Ayliffe. Picture: Sean Davey

As has been noted, many of the same commentariat who condemned Morrison for not doing enough to fight fires condemned Tony Abbott for actually physically fighting fires.

It also insults the intelligence of every Australian to suggest that the same people who circulate pictures of the PM's face etched on a ballsack are looking to him for guidance and reassurance in these troubled times.

If anything, they only want Morrison around so they can spit in his face. Hell, even all of Sydney Harbour couldn't keep him safe from Tex Perkins.

Tex Perkins flipping off ScoMo during his New Year’s Eve performance. Picture: Supplied
Tex Perkins flipping off ScoMo during his New Year’s Eve performance. Picture: Supplied

The Twitter left's attacks on Morrison's absence is like the old joke about the two rich ladies complaining about their dinner: "The food here is terrible," the first laments. "I know," agrees the second, "and in such small portions".

That is the most obvious irony but the even greater one is that all this hypocritical hysteria is probably what tricked Morrison into thinking that all the outrage against him was confected and so he might as well go catch some rays.

While I cannot pretend to know his mind, I suspect that Morrison's political instincts told him that the bushfire crisis was a minefield in which he would always be wedged on climate change and thus one for him to avoid where possible. He thought about the problem as a politician, not as a prime minister, and hence saw a political crisis where he should have seen a national crisis. That, I believe, is at the core of what now appears to be a catastrophic misjudgment.

But this doesn't mean that his most strident critics are pure of heart. One of the few political leaders to acquit himself with dignity in this sorry mess has been Anthony Albanese, who has been consistently on the frontline - even personally buying snacks at his local supermarket to take to the firefighters - while at the same time refusing to get into the gutter and tear down the PM for his fateful family holiday. If the lunar left had any genuine concern for national leadership they would have applauded Albanese. Instead they attacked him for not attacking Morrison.

Anthony Albanese has been the only politician to acquit himself with dignity during the fire crisis. Picture: Twitter
Anthony Albanese has been the only politician to acquit himself with dignity during the fire crisis. Picture: Twitter

And it is in this microcosm that we see all the banality and venality of Australian politics writ large. On the one hand we have a few bitter ideologues who are callous enough to treat the bushfires as a political opportunity to be exploited and on the other we have a seasoned partisan warrior who is cynical enough to treat the bushfires as a political problem to be avoided.

Both camps are far more obsessed with political corpses than civilian ones, the same insular mindset of vendetta that has poisoned Australian politics for a decade. A mindset where victory is won by tearing down foes instead of building for the future.

Let us not forget that it was the Greens that blocked Labor's emissions trading scheme 10 years ago out of ideology and spite - the one piece of legislation at the one point in time that might have actually helped curtail the severity of these bushfires today.

Victorian man Wayne Johnston inspects what’s left of his property in Sarsfield, near Mallacoota. Picture: Darrian Traynor/Getty Images
Victorian man Wayne Johnston inspects what’s left of his property in Sarsfield, near Mallacoota. Picture: Darrian Traynor/Getty Images

Let us not forget the seesawing paralysis on every major policy area from climate change to border security to tax reform to infrastructure and the exodus of any half-decent political or policy mind from this noodle-nation maelstrom.

And of course let us not forget the bloodcurdling insanity that gripped both major parties as they killed off leaders with the dead-eyed conviction of the Manson Family in every single parliamentary term since 2007.

The product of all this is that while on paper it looks like we have had five prime ministers in the last decade, we haven't even really had one. Instead we have been governed by opposition leaders in nicer suits. The real problem with national leadership in Australia is that no one in the past 10 years has had any practice at it.

The truth is that leadership didn't just take a holiday when the PM went to Hawaii last month. Leadership vacated the field in this country a decade ago and we're all just skeletons on the platform waiting for it to return.

Joe Hildebrand is Editor-at-Large for News.com.au and co-host of Studio 10, weekdays from 8.30am on Channel 10. Continue the conversation @Joe_Hildebrand


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