It has taken the deaths of two young firefighters for Prime Minister Scott Morrison to cancel his Hawaiian holiday and apologise to the Australian people.
But it is going to take a lot longer for the political bushfire to be extinguished and the issue is likely to smoulder, particularly given the government’s reluctance to discuss the great big climate elephant in the room.
I don’t think anybody begrudges the PM taking a break at this time of the year. In more benign times, Doug Anthony would run the country from his caravan on the NSW North Coast. John Howard would make the annual pilgrimage to Hawks Nest.
The key point is not that Mr Morrison and his family went on holiday but that he chose to leave the country in the middle of an ongoing bushfire emergency, with smoke choking Australia’s biggest city and the national capital, and an unprecedented heatwave stoking fear across the nation.
The miracle man of May fixated on those ”quiet Australians” has shown a tin ear for the concerns of Australians on the fire grounds and the growing alarm across the country.
First it was the steadfast refusal to discuss man-induced climate change and global heating in the context of the fires and the extraordinary temperatures being reached and forecast.
Then his flailing Energy Minister Angus Taylor went off to the climate talks in Madrid armed with dodgy arguments about credits in the bank that contributed to the scurrilous undermining of a united approach to reducing emissions and averting the catastrophic consequences of increases in average global temperatures.
And when it was obvious the country was in for a perilous week, Mr Morrison seemed unable to show the agility and nous required to change his plans and stay in the country.
The situation also raises questions about his close advisers, who are there to hoist a red flag when needed, talk truth to power and avert the kind of political firestorm that has blown up.
Did not one person put his or her hand up and offer that perhaps it would, at the very least, not be a good look to carry on regardless with the pre-arranged holiday?
The problem for the Prime Minister and his government now is that many more Australians are now more viscerally aware of the consequences of a changing climate and perceive a leadership vacuum on the issue.
These past weeks the abstract notion of climate change has condensed into the hard confronting reality of what it actually means.
It’s like turning up in your own disaster movie. The shocking truth about the world we may bequeath to our children, along with the dark and slightly nervous asides about the end times has been a recurring theme of conversation.
Mr Morrison will now face growing demands for him to stare down the deniers in his own party and start building a real climate action policy, that will have to include mitigation and management strategies to deal with fire.
He is now a diminished leader who will need to forget about his May triumph, listen to his advisers or get new ones, and map out a vision to take the country forward.
But his ‘business as usual’ press conference on his return to Australia does not give great confidence.
Yet the stakes are now too high for the country, and for his own Prime Ministership, for Mr Morrison not to change tack.
Let the holiday howler be a lesson and let’s, as the PM suggests, be kind enough at this time of the year to believe he will come around when he sees the calamity before him.
For all our sakes.