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

Genevieve Jacobs 6 February 2020 159

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?

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159 Responses to Ordinary Australians will continue to suffer because of our venal, shallow leadership
Mike Cosgriff Mike Cosgriff 5:34 am 11 Feb 20

I'd hope Barnaby and his mates would read this

I already lost my job to Climate Change Mr Morrison I already lost my job to Climate Change Mr Morrison 11:30 am 10 Feb 20

Here's a breakdown of an average insurance policy for a $500,000 building. The $1800 policy is made up of roughly $1300 in policy cost and $500 in taxes - stamp duty (state government) GST (federal government) and emergency services levy. Since Australian governments are collecting an average of around $500 from every household insured in Australia EVERY YEAR then we would say they are actually co-insurers and are liable for the costs Australian householders are exposed to - especially since their decisions, like, the decision NOT to call in more services to protect the region from the PREDICTED fires, which is undoubtedly why we are all now out of work.

    Amanda Heap Amanda Heap 8:11 pm 11 Feb 20

    I already lost my job to Climate Change Mr Morrison

    His name is Scotty from marketing. Nothing more.

James Barnes James Barnes 10:01 am 10 Feb 20


Bill Gemmell Bill Gemmell 1:05 am 10 Feb 20

Great article. A lot of people have had their enjoyment of life irrevocably altered as a result of this ongoing catastrophe. Let us not forget though that there are people in our society who should know better and just don't get it about what is happening in our environment. It is like communicating with someone who comes from an alternative universe. And then we have those in the political class who engage in a special form of double speak derived from self-interest. Besides the usual suspects, I find the mad rants of Joel Fitzgibbon a total failure of political leadership for those living in his electorate - it is like he didn't notice what is likely to happen with the next Hunter Vintage.

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!!!

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

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.

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.

    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.

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.

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.

Illona Amrein Illona Amrein 1:50 pm 09 Feb 20

And the millions of dollars given through charity, where has that all gone, earning the Government a pretty hefty interest balance I suspect, and the people will have to fight tooth and nail to receive any of it, please someone prove me wrong..... this government is pathetic

    Larissa Bress Larissa Bress 9:07 am 14 Feb 20

    Illona Amrein Yes I like to know where my donation is now.

Caroline Oakley Caroline Oakley 1:25 pm 09 Feb 20

Totally agree with you Genevieve, well said. I just hope we maintain the rage and don't let the spinners and pollies take us on a "nothing to see here - job done" journey!

Maggie Treleaven Maggie Treleaven 1:08 pm 09 Feb 20

Great article

Mark Chapman Mark Chapman 11:55 am 09 Feb 20

Agree completely, except

"Premier Berejiklian was clearly across her brief."

once you look past her government cutting funds to fire services and parks management earlier.

    Katrine Scott-Findlay Katrine Scott-Findlay 12:08 pm 09 Feb 20

    Mark Chapman .. .but now she has signed up to Federal funding for a big gas peoject in the Namoi all pollies, owned by the fossil fuel industry. ☹

    Sue Kalab Sue Kalab 8:04 am 13 Feb 20

    Mark. I agree

Cathy Dearnley Cathy Dearnley 11:49 am 09 Feb 20

Here's a suggestion.

Don't comment below. Give the post a 'wow' emoti, then go write to your local rep.

Ask them what they are doing to influence change.

Matthew Soall Matthew Soall 11:44 am 09 Feb 20

Whether it's Labor or Liberal our politicians have failed us and we as a country have suffered tremendously for their failure.

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