Skip to content Skip to main navigation

Ordinary Australians will continue to suffer because of our venal, shallow leadership

Genevieve Jacobs 6 February 2020 165

Cobargo’s main street burning on 31 December, 2019. Photo: Josh Mead.

After 30 years as a journalist, I don’t often bother getting angry with politicians.

I know there are good people on both sides doing their best. You only have to look at Bega MP Andrew Constance’s honesty and pain on Monday night’s Q&A to know that, or Member for Eden-Monaro Mike Kelly’s deeply felt response to the bushfire crisis that’s racked our region.

But I’m angry now, because 10 years of venal, shallow politics have come to this: an apocalyptic natural disaster that will take a toll on this nation for years to come.

And who will pay that price? Ordinary Australians.

Ordinary people who should have been helped earlier, supported better and recognised more, except it wasn’t politically expedient to do so.

There will be post-traumatic stress disorder and family breakdown after the fires recede. There will be suicides. Despite all the strength and resilience we have to muster, there are communities and families that will never be the same again, their lives permanently scarred.

Those on the frontline are worst affected but everyone in south-eastern Australia has been touched. Half a dozen times, I have talked to colleagues about letting the tears come, amidst relentless disaster coverage of the places they love.

In our staff meetings at Region Media we talk about referred trauma. On Monday I watched Four Corners and sobbed, helplessly, for my own friends who have faced down the blazes again and again. I cannot bear thinking about the suffering wildlife.

It’s felt like death is stalking us all.

You can argue all you like about who or what caused these fires, but an impeccably qualified panel of former fire chiefs gave clear warnings many months ago about this season’s exceptional risks. By November, as the fires began their deadly progress down the coast, it was abundantly clear those warnings were coming to pass.

Yet no deep planning had taken place. There was no coordination with the states to map a response, no recognition that this time it was different.

So what did we have?

We had a Prime Minister on holiday in Hawaii.

A government that said it wasn’t its role to deploy the ADF, it would wait to be asked.

A government in which someone, somewhere, thought it appropriate to throw shade at NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian while she was managing a crisis so considerable it would floor many nations.

A government that followed the long-overdue decision to deploy the ADF Reserves with a cheap political ad that initially included a Liberal Party donations link.

A government that didn’t want to poke the ant’s nest around climate change, preferring, instead, to minimise the situation as it became clearer and clearer this was an unprecedented disaster.

Make no mistake, we’ve seen impeccable leadership: Premier Berejiklian was clearly across her brief. Coastal mayors Kristy McBain and Liz Innes have been on the frontline for months. ACT ESA Commissioner Georgeina Whelan has been steady, unflinching, courteous and calm at all times. NSW RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons has not wavered.

But we have a Prime Minister who couldn’t handle meeting a Cobargo firefighter who’d lost his house, or a request for more RFS resources from a pregnant woman accompanied by a leashed goat.

Who told Scott Morrison to walk away from locals instead of dismissing the cameras and sitting the PM down to listen amidst the smoking ruins of their town? Who put together a flotilla of shiny white Comcars without thinking to load up every bottle of water to be had from Coles in Manuka to deliver to a town where people were queuing at the oval to get their drinking water out of a tanker?

I’ll tell you who: people who think about spin and polls and images first. Politicians and advisers who have learned that government is about how to massage the message and keep the donors onside. To attack rather than to listen. To tell critics that they are being unAustralian or, God forbid, part of the “Canberra bubble”.

That’s what leadership has been reduced to.

I don’t blame any one side of politics for this parlous situation. I blame a federal political class that has been captured by cynical opportunism for the last decade, Liberal and Labor alike. I blame the spinners and the dodgers and the sliders who think winning points matters more than serving the people.

Let them all think long and hard, up there on the Hill, about why they are there. Let them consider how different it could have been if they’d put the people before their own interests. And then let them consider what they have wrought.

Do you think the federal political class has been captured by cynical opportunism for the last decade?

What's Your Opinion?

Please login to post your comments, or connect with
165 Responses to Ordinary Australians will continue to suffer because of our venal, shallow leadership
stevew77 stevew77 9:32 pm 09 Feb 20

I think whingers need sit and take stock and ask if had they had the weighty responsibility of fairly extreme circumstance, if they could have done it better?

Maxine Moffitt Maxine Moffitt 9:16 pm 09 Feb 20

Well said. Why there was more effort put into the sports rort spreadsheet than planning / managing the fires that have ravaged our country from Qld to Kangaroo Island since July last year.

HiddenDragon HiddenDragon 8:16 pm 09 Feb 20

“….or a request for more RFS resources from a pregnant woman accompanied by a leashed goat.”

It’s perhaps worth noting that, unlike the federal Budget, the NSW Budget is already in surplus, and could doubtless have found more resources for the NSW Rural Fire Service –

“The NSW Government continues its record of sound financial management and is on track to deliver average surpluses of $1.9 billion over the four years to 2022-23.”

source –

This, of course, is just one relatively small detail, but it’s a reminder that facts and details – particularly those which are inconvenient to a preferred narrative – have too often been lost over the last few months.

    Ria Rakali Ria Rakali 7:54 am 10 Feb 20

    Fair point …. but looking at the “record of sound financial management” – the NSW economy is larger than South Africa, Thailand or the Philippines. Much of it’s income is derived from the housing market. …… NSW has the largest population in the country, with sky rocketing house prices driven by the demand for housing, which returns stamp duty. Other taxes the state gains revenue from are GST and gambling. NSW unashamedly scoops up revenue from an inflated housing market and taxes on gambling, as well as letting mining companies run rampant over agriculture, and encourages agriculture dependent on high water crops like cotton and rice, in a country where the water should be shared.

Lyn Kemp Lyn Kemp 7:31 pm 09 Feb 20

Wonderful articulate report on this government's total incompetence, thank you Genevieve. Sadly they will continue their shallow, opportunistic politics until hopefully they are voted out. I certainly hope the Labor Party has one hell of a lot more integrity if by chance they ever get into government again!!!

Gilavon Gilavon 5:45 pm 09 Feb 20

Why blame Morrison, again? How long did it take for Berejiklian to realise federal help was needed? Irrespective of Morrison’s status at the time we do have a Deputy Prime Minister with the power to do what so many people thought Morrison was too slow to do. Neither can act until the states or territories ask.

Whilst you’re allegedly fed up with politicians Genevieve you haven’t called out Andrews who didn’t show his face until 2 January and Paluszuzck (?) who was absent, I understand, on a cruise.

But you’re right about the spinners and weavers and the preoccupation with polls (ban them) by all sides of politics. There is also the insidious side of social media, so much negativity from mainstream media (too much of either) and sabotage by activists (outlaw them).

Don’t know when and where the rot set into our society but it’s high time we all took a deep breath and counted to ten.

    Capital Retro Capital Retro 9:13 am 14 Feb 20

    “……counted to ten….”

    That would be challenging for some.

Patsy Fraser Patsy Fraser 5:28 pm 09 Feb 20

Well said Cheryl Honey, I was only thinking that the farmers and the drought had been forgotten myself. I hope I'm wrong

Capital Retro Capital Retro 5:18 pm 09 Feb 20

What is an “Ordinary Australian”?

Cheryl Honey Cheryl Honey 4:56 pm 09 Feb 20

With respect to everyone who has been affected by the fires, (I was as well) , and I don’t mean to take the focus from the fires, but our farmers have been facing this drought and flood- caused devastation for years without the same level of interest from the media and the public.

When the task-force and government review the affects of the fires and plan for the future, let’s hope that ALL natural disasters receive the same consideration and funding opportunities. The effects of drought and flood cost the taxpayer, but most of all, they ruin the lives of people on the land and cause depression, family impacts and other sad issues.

I wish all those affected by the fires the best outcomes with sincere kind wishes.

Diane Asenoguan Diane Asenoguan 4:31 pm 09 Feb 20

Thank you for echoing many Australians thoughts and emotions at this time. Love the tags but the last one wont bother to read let alone respond. We need to find a new way of choosing our politicians and to look at banning all donations to every political party

Ian McTaggart Ian McTaggart 4:24 pm 09 Feb 20

What is really sad about the lack of planning and prepositioning of assets to cope with the fires predicted as far back as 2008, is the gross lack of adherence to published Emergency Management Australia planning documents. Guess who is in charge of EMA? Mr Dutton.

    Ian McTaggart Ian McTaggart 9:40 am 11 Feb 20

    Monica Tiffen it is not just about money. It is about taking account of what assets the commonwealth might have available and coordinating the use and prepositioning of those assets to effectively deploy them in the case of an emerging contingency. No different to having a Defence Force fully trained and available at short notice to be deployed into the region or elsewhere.

    Surely domestic safety and security of our population in the event of a natural or any other domestic disaster is more important than assistance outside our borders?

Elias Hallaj Elias Hallaj 4:06 pm 09 Feb 20

Genevieve I agree with most of this. What I think is missing though is the important point that elections have consequences, not just for us but for our children and future generations as well. I strongly believe the response to this summer’s bushfire emergency would have been very different had there been a different result in the federal election in May. I understand the anger and the need some have to blame politicians and parties but the solution doesn’t lie in the false equivalence of the leadership of Labor and Liberal. Over the past year the approach of the two major parties to this impending crisis has been very different. I don’t think Labor is perfect. Far from it. But I don’t think Labor representatives or their efforts should be so summarily equated to the disastrous lack of leadership of Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton during this fire season, which began in August 2019. Don’t forget there is only one PM, Defence Minister and Premier. They have a lot of power compared to a leader of the opposition (who doesn’t really have any power other than a microphone that a small section of the media might occasionally give him/her). The PM/Premier alone can decide how to use their power. Or not use it. Same goes for the media.

    Stephen Sherlock Stephen Sherlock 7:54 pm 09 Feb 20

    Agreed. For all their many faults, has any Labor figure ever brandished a lump of coal in parliament and taunted everyone present for being "afraid of coal"? A lump of coal supplied by the coal industry and specially varnished so it would not look dirty. Labor's policy in the election was for an ambitious emissions reduction target, the Coalition's policy was to fudge the figures with accounting tricks.

    Kathleen Lazzari Kathleen Lazzari 11:03 pm 09 Feb 20

    Completely agree, especially regarding the false equivalence when you consider where we might have been otherwise if Abbott hadn't got rid of the suite of climate change mitigation strategies put in place by the previous government. The drop in carbon emissions alone compared to what has happened since the 2013 election demonstrates the stark difference in approach.

Karl Varnsen Karl Varnsen 4:05 pm 09 Feb 20

Is that the sheila of RN who wrote this?

Kristy Morton Kristy Morton 3:42 pm 09 Feb 20

True all passing the buck sadly . Things must change now not tomorrow but now.

I agree 100% with the mental health problems this is going to happen. Ptsd ,marriage break downs , suicide and sadly a rise in alcoholism and drug addiction to cope and around and around. Our farmers already going through this from drought and government legislation. Change

John Ryan John Ryan 3:24 pm 09 Feb 20

The false equivalency drawn here between Liberal and Labor is shocking. The Liberals are in government. Labor isn't. The Prime Minister went on holidays when the country was burning. Albo spent his summer taking food and water to firefighters. Labor has a policy to act on climate change. The Liberals don't

Elizabeth Warren Elizabeth Warren 3:21 pm 09 Feb 20

Thank you, Genevieve.

Rob Calvert Rob Calvert 3:05 pm 09 Feb 20

Well put but not harsh enough. The time for polite rebuke is over. The LNP, particularly Abbott have ridiculed respectable and reasoned science. Molan’s recent gaffe exposes their mendacity. This government has no plan, has failed all Australians and is culpable in the deaths of 33 people, thousands and thousands of livestock and more than a billion native animals. Their neglect and self interest has resulted in the loss of 2500 houses and thousands of ancillary buildings. The economic cost is in the hundreds of billions, the human cost is almost immeasurable and as stated will scar those affected for years some for life. Businesses lost and economic loss could plunge the already faltering economy into recession. All because politicians of both major parties are beholden to an industry that employs very few, repatriates most of it’s profits overseas and will drop Australia like a ravished whore when fossil fuels become stranded assets. We will be left with the holes to fill and a destroyed environment. Instead of working on a future for the country this current government is pre-occupied with rorting public money, spreading misinformation, peddling outright lies and sucking up to their fossil fuel backers and the Murdoch press.

    Gilavon Gilavon 12:08 am 14 Feb 20

    A nonsensical rant. All of it. First responsibility is on the state governments, not the commonwealth who may only act when requested by the state. What has Murdoch got to do with bush fires?

Rosie Lorne Rosie Lorne 2:54 pm 09 Feb 20

So true. The dismissive attitude towards experts and everyday people and their concerns let alone questions, has reached an unbelievable level. As someone affected indirectly because of Asthma…. so far 9 days in hospital I find the sloganising and inability to listen to experts very dismaying.
I am actually now very angry that many lives including mine, are now being seriously affected by arrogance and refusal to act for all Australians. Choices being made are irresponsible. All we are getting is “resilience and adaptation”, absolute nonsense if you do not address the cause. I admire the way Gladys handled the situation.

    Gilavon Gilavon 12:12 am 14 Feb 20

    If you admire the way Gladys handled the situation you can’t complain about anything else. It’s up to Gladys (and the other premiers) to request commonwealth assistance. The commonwealth must receive a formal request before it can act, them’s the rules.

Paula Simcocks Paula Simcocks 2:43 pm 09 Feb 20

Our politicians do not seem to have been aware of what the majority of Australians think, so their ability to present a good image was impossible. Morrison is retreating to images with the military or pollies, as way out of touch with people’s experience of our environment. Totally ineffective leadership.

    Gilavon Gilavon 12:01 am 14 Feb 20

    What does Morrison have to do with this? Be aware the commonwealth can’t move until a request is made by the respective state government. You are familiar with the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act 1900, aren’t you?

Sue Purtell Sue Purtell 2:28 pm 09 Feb 20

Could not agree more.

Aldith Graves Aldith Graves 1:58 pm 09 Feb 20

Well said.

CBR Tweets

Sign up to our newsletter

Copyright © 2020 Region Group Pty Ltd. All rights reserved. | | | |

Search across the site