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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
Sue Palombi Sue Palombi 7:25 am 09 Feb 20


(from the article)

'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.'

Capital Retro Capital Retro 7:27 am 09 Feb 20

It’s clearly time for you to become a political leader and show us all how “leadership” should be done. You will have to stand as an independent though after bagging both the major parties.

Loris Manns Loris Manns 7:40 am 09 Feb 20

Well said! Losing faith that this country will EVER be governed properly by either side of politicians.

Robyne Mitchell Robyne Mitchell 7:46 am 09 Feb 20

Well said Genevieve. Where are the up coming politicians with backbones.

    Annie Mills Annie Mills 8:24 am 09 Feb 20

    Robyne Mitchell if you read up about how Morrison got selected for his seat you will see how aspiring politicians don’t get a chance unless they fit a certain mould.

    Paul Dowden Paul Dowden 8:39 am 09 Feb 20

    Robyne Mitchell where are the Backbenchers who think independently and not just blindly vote whichever way the Whip says.

    Peter Marshall Peter Marshall 10:12 am 09 Feb 20

    Those politicians exist. You won't vote for them.

Heather Lloyd Heather Lloyd 7:48 am 09 Feb 20

Well said.

Frederica Heacock Frederica Heacock 7:54 am 09 Feb 20

Well written Genevieve. Liberal and Labor alike. Egos, internal fighting, plotting, disloyalty, backstabbing, bad decisions, coverups, rorting, mistakes, mismanagement, blaming, cliches, empty words, denial, decline of citizen wellbeing 2007-2020.

    Kate Carey Kate Carey 8:13 am 09 Feb 20

    Frederica Heacock if you actually sit down and do a tally you soon see there is little 'alike' about it.

    Diana Nasr Diana Nasr 8:39 am 09 Feb 20

    Without sitting down to do a tally, first thing that comes to mind is Julia backstabbing Kevin, yes they are alike.

    Kate Carey Kate Carey 9:43 am 09 Feb 20

    Diana Nasr "Julia *freeing up decision making and enabling business by removing* Kevin..."

    There, fixed it for you. 🤦‍♀️

    Peter Marshall Peter Marshall 10:13 am 09 Feb 20

    Corruption, donations, coal. The actual differences are fairly minor.

    Stephen Sherlock Stephen Sherlock 8:38 pm 09 Feb 20

    Do you really think there were no differences between Labor and Coalition in the last election?? Labor had a policy for ambitious emissions reduction targets, Coalition's policy was (and is) more coal and fudging the figures on our already inadequate targets.

Suzie Mac Dougall Suzie Mac Dougall 8:00 am 09 Feb 20

Yes well said we must keep reminding the sheeple they need to stay awake

Noelene Lafferty Noelene Lafferty 8:02 am 09 Feb 20

Genevieve, this is the best summary of this current disaster, and, politics in general ever. Thank you.

Debbie Carlisle Debbie Carlisle 8:02 am 09 Feb 20

I could not agree more. The electorate needs to remember this and hold their members to account when voting next election.

Clinton Berry Clinton Berry 8:08 am 09 Feb 20

The people are to blame for this, allowing themselves to be brainwashed by the Murdoch media.

Paul South Paul South 8:12 am 09 Feb 20

Too right the cost will be around a long time .

The poeple sheltering in the Towamba hall said the valley shook when the boarder fire came to through , and the noise was deafening. Plenty out there the same .

Michelle Hood Michelle Hood 8:13 am 09 Feb 20

So true. 😎💔

John Taylor John Taylor 8:15 am 09 Feb 20

100% Genevieve.

Jenny Gawalski Jenny Gawalski 8:15 am 09 Feb 20

Well said, there’s not much trust nor respect.

Jean Waghorn Jean Waghorn 8:19 am 09 Feb 20

Well said Genevieve Absolutely agree!!!

Judith White Judith White 8:20 am 09 Feb 20

Good article Genevieve, but I think you need a rest. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Australia is a great Country. To a point, Leaders do have to protect themselves, just to get through. Good article though...

Veceslav Stanuga Veceslav Stanuga 8:21 am 09 Feb 20

Agreed Genevieve, There is a monumental disconnect with the Australian people , an assumption of authority without it being used to serve a need but for its own existence to stay in power. The nation is in great need of leaders with vision and compassion and conviction to care for the welfare of its people.

Tracy Harrison Tracy Harrison 8:22 am 09 Feb 20

Well said

Kerry Jackson Kerry Jackson 8:22 am 09 Feb 20

From the heart, Genevieve. And the referred trauma is so true.

Tracey Crump Tracey Crump 8:32 am 09 Feb 20

I agree with everything you've said Genevieve , but I think there's another dimension to it too. We need voters who are prepared to look beyond their own immediate interests, and vote for politicians and policies that address the wellbeing of the broader community and environment.

    Joanne Egan Joanne Egan 8:47 am 09 Feb 20

    Tracey Crump so true.

    Karen Collins Karen Collins 9:07 am 09 Feb 20

    Tracey Crump Agreed. I wonder what the outcome would be if they held an election right now. When there is enough collective horror to perhaps encourage people to move beyond their immediate interests and think about the environment and other people.

    Tracey Crump Tracey Crump 9:15 am 09 Feb 20

    Karen Collins I'd like to think it might be a different outcome, but as the spin doctors and pollsters know, people have short memories. Last time #frankingcredits trumped a national fire/emergency management plan. It's hard not to feel despair ...

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