As the Prime Minister prepares to return to Sydney following the death of two NSW RFS firefighters, his absence on a pre-planned holiday while bushfires ravage the country continues to cause controversy across Australia.
Throughout the week, the public was given very little detail about our Prime Ministerial situation, with both the Prime Minister’s and Deputy Prime Minister’s offices refusing to confirm when Michael McCormack became acting PM, or how long he would stay in the role.
It appears that the only thing we could say definitively was that Scott Morrison is on a pre-planned holiday and our acting Prime Minister is Michael McCormack.
For how long is Mr McCormack our Prime Minister? We don’t know.
Was our Prime Minister in Australia? Officially, we don’t know.
When exactly did Australia get an acting Prime Minister? We don’t know.
When Region Media put a call to the Deputy Prime Minister’s office this week to ask how much longer Mr McCormack would be our Prime Minister, we were told a couple of days and then we were referred to the PM’s office.
The PM’s office confirmed that Mr McCormack would be our acting PM for a “couple of days”, but was unable to give definitive dates about when Mr Morrison went on leave or when he will return.
The PM’s office told Region Media that they do not disclose the location of the Prime Minister for security reasons, apart from public media events; however, his office directed us to comments that the Treasurer made at the start of the week saying Mr Morrison was overseas.
On Friday morning (December 20) the Prime Minister said on Facebook that he will return to Sydney as soon as he can following the death of two RFS firefighters.
“Given these most recent tragic events, I will be returning to Sydney from leave as soon as can be arranged,” the post said.
“The Federal Government stands ready to deploy whatever further assistance State and Territory authorities request to manage this disaster.”
Just wondering – what would Scott Morrison have said if Julia Gillard had taken a holiday while bushfires burned through NSW.
I’m sure he would have been very understanding.
— Stephen Jones MP (@StephenJonesMP) December 17, 2019
The office said they could not confirm whether he was overseas, although they told Region Media at the start of the week that Mr Morrison was still receiving regular updates about the New Zealand volcano tragedy and bushfires.
Video has also surfaced this week of Mr Morrison criticising former Victoria Police Commissioner Christine Nixon for going out to dinner during Black Saturday bushfire evacuations, calling it a “bad judgement call”.
“That was a very big event. She has clearly made a bad judgement call, that happens to people from time to time but this was a very serious issue and I think there are very serious concerns in the community about exercising judgement,” he said on the ABC’s Q&A program on 19 April 2010.
In 2010, Glen Turner asked the panel if Christine Nixon's absence while bushfire evacuations were underway was acceptable. Scott Morrison responded by saying that she'd "clearly made a bad judgment call". #QandA pic.twitter.com/3I0USelc3t
— ABC Q&A (@QandA) December 18, 2019
“I think what’s most important here gets beyond any one individual and that is public confidence in how the reconstruction effort is taking place.
“While the Premier may have made his call on Christine, it really is a matter for her to make a judgement about whether the controversy surrounding her actions may impede the ability of that organisation to get on with the job.”
1/ fires are well and truly still burning now. 2/ it’s a national emergency. 3/ she was police commissioner not fires commissioner. 4/ HE attacked her not ME, so practice what you preach. 5/ it was food – dinner – not a number of nights holiday. 6/ pot kettle black… https://t.co/vwiCr319p6
— Peter van Onselen (@vanOnselenP) December 18, 2019
Labor Leader Anthony Albanese says he did not have concerns with Mr Morrison choosing to go on leave with his family; however, former ACT Emergency Services Agency Commissioner Peter Dunn says he is worried about the firefighters who will not have a break.
“Everyone needs a break. Firefighters out on the fire front right up and down the eastern seaboard and across Western Australia are not going to get a break, and that is what concerns us,” he told Region Media.
“There is a leadership vacuum and we need to get that filled.”
Mr Morrison has repeatedly ignored calls to meet with former emergency Commissioners and Chief Fire Officers from across Australia to hold a national summit to discuss how best to tackle the fires and address the issue of climate change.
“The government has not taken any action. We asked the government to convene a national summit and they have gone missing in action. They are not doing anything about it so we need to get this organised ourselves,” Mr Dunn said.
Earlier today (20 December), Mr Morrison’s office announced he would be returning to Australia as soon as possible; however, further details would not be disclosed for security reasons. Region Media was told, “as much as we love you all [the media], then you will send a greeting party for him wherever he is coming back from or to”.