Scott Morrison is unfit to be Prime Minister. His inaction in the lead-up to the bushfire crisis and his later response to it reveals this. The Hawaii holiday might have been just survivable but the handshake debacles, the refusal to change course and the Liberal Party’s cliché-ridden advertisement spruiking the Government’s “action” on the bushfires and calling for donations to, not the bushfire appeal, but the to Liberal Party, cement the conclusion.
This is akin to Mark Latham’s bullish handshake with John Howard or Alexander Downer’s glib undergraduate reference to the domestic violence element of his own party’s campaign’s stress on “things that matter” as “things that batter”.
When you look at the seriousness that Fraser, Hawke, Keating and Howard brought to the prime ministerial task, Morrison does not cut it. He is just a grab bag of slogans and PR mush. He is happy to apply any slogan or fake news to win an instant cheap point against his opponents or to try to justify the unjustifiable. He got away with it in May. It was not a miracle. It was just that Australians were not paying enough attention to see through the PR charlatan.
In the heat of an election, glib PR slogans, while people are a bit turned off, can pull off a “miracle”. But when reality bites and people’s attention is riveted, they see through this.
An increasing number of Australians must now be feeling utterly duped by the Liberal and National climate-science deniers. The crime of the deniers in the Coalition and the failure of others in the Coalition to bring them to heel is that they made it respectable and tenable for ordinary Australian voters to hold a climate-denial position.
They could hold that position at social functions and family conversations with head held high because the Treasurer brought a lump of coal into Parliament and because the selfish profiteering fossil-fuel industry provided them with any number of specious science-denying arguments which good political leaders should have put to rest.
It is going to be very hard for those Australians who bought in to this rubbish to find a self-respecting way out. So those who did not get duped, should go easy on any “I told you so stuff”, it will only make it harder for people to accept the reality of global heating and the need for action.
The primary task of a Prime Minister is national security. But when Morrison was warned by a host of former fire chiefs in November 2018 that subsequent seasons like the 2019-20 fire season were set to be unprecedented horrors he ignored them because it might look like he was taking global heating seriously. Their predictions, just like the predictions of climate scientists, turned out to be deadly accurate.
A Prime Minister and Government are supposed to act to protect the nation. Of course, no amount of action by Australia alone would have prevented the fires. But because of a decade of Coalition climate-science denial and inadequate emissions-reduction policy we are in no position to urge the rest of the world to do more, which we now must do because this dry continent is almost as vulnerable to the effects of global heating as the Pacific islands. We should be at the forefront of action. And it makes economic sense to be a renewable-energy leader.
But, no, the Coalition preferred to do anything to protect the profits of the fossil industries.
They denied the planet was heating, until the facts were obvious. Then they denied humans had anything to do with it. And now even if they acknowledge that humans are to blame, they say that Australia’s part is so small that it is pointless for us to bother. Or they say the costs are too great.
But the costs of not acting and setting an example to the world are far greater. Burning fossil fuel for electricity and oil for transport should be phased out as quickly as possible.
It requires a change of thinking, by voters and politicians.
The Vietnam War is a good analogy. The Liberal Prime Ministers Menzies, Holt and McMahon sent young conscripted Aussie boys to die in a fruitless war that had nothing to do with their world view that communism was about to take over the world, including Australia. Twaddle. Labor opposed the war from the beginning despite its initial popularity.
This is why Labor must now double down on climate policy, not walk away.
Global heating is more serious than Vietnam. This massive bushfire season should cause a change in thinking. But it does not seem to be happening. Morrison refuses to change Australia’s emissions policy.
The fossil apologist Coalition MP Craig Kelly humiliated and embarrassed Australia on British prime-time television and drew the world’s attention to the weakness and selfishness of our climate policy.
These terrible fires have not resulted in one mea culpa among the Coalition science deniers.
This is why Morrison is not fit to be Prime Minister. John Howard faced with the crisis of Port Arthur changed his world view and called in the guns against the hardcore objections of his key rural constituents. Hawke and Keating faced with massive world economic changes changed their whole policy outlook and broke down protectionism against the hardball objections of core-constituency union vested interests.
Malcolm Fraser faced down the white-is-right view of the world held by most in his party and did more than any Commonwealth of Nations leader to end apartheid in South Africa.
Even Kevin Rudd, faced with world economic meltdown, had the guts to go against the grain and listen to public-service advice to put cash into people’s hands. And Australia avoided recession.
Glib, marketing, sloganeering will get you by when not many people are watching, even in an election campaign, but when a crisis hits, like the bushfire crisis, they hold no water.
You can see the pattern of good Australian leadership. It happens when the leader has the guts to put aside all previously held views to meet the new event. Howard told his gun-totting National Party mates, sorry, no longer tenanable. Fraser told his establishment white chappies, sorry, no longer tenable. Hawke and Keating told their union mates, sorry, no longer tenable.
But this gutless, miracle-believing, market-driven prime minister without an ounce of spine to call Craig Kelly and the science-denying National Party out has missed his moment. The bushfires could have been his road to Damascus, instead, judging by his reactions, they are to be a road to hell paved by inadequate good intentions.
Scotty from Marketing, history has dealt you this card. It is bigger than Howard and the sporting shooters; Fraser and the white chaps or Hawke and Keating and their union mates. The choice is yours: go down with the fossil-fuellers as a nobody or rise to the occasion. Announce a quick transition to zero carbon and ways to get there or be a nothing Prime Minister.
But, unlike earlier leaders, it already seems Morrison has decided to make no changes, despite the threat to Australia’s security. And that is why he is unfit to be Prime Minister.
This article first appeared in The Canberra Times and other Australian media on 11 January 2020.