Christopher Pyne: Sorry, But Scott Morrison Can't Put Out The Fires With His Breath Like Some Superhero
At the outset, let me put on the record how sorry I am, and I’m sure all Australians are, for the victims of the terrible bushfires that have wrought havoc across New South Wales and Queensland in recent weeks.
Particularly those who have lost their loved ones as a consequence of the fires.
Bushfires are a fact of life in Australia, particularly after a sustained drought, coupled with searing temperatures and hot winds, but that doesn’t make it any easier for the families, businesses and communities devastated by the effects of the current fires.
Our brave fire fighters and rural communities have fought these fires with the tenacity that you would expect. We must salute them and stand with them in the ongoing operation and the operations to come this summer across Australia.
As a South Australian who lived through the Ash Wednesday Bushfire in 1983 which claimed the lives of more than seventy people across South Australia and Victoria, I marvel at how much better we are today at fighting bushfires than we were many years ago.
Unfortunately, the outrage brigade has been out in full force this week accusing Prime Minister Scott Morrison of turning a hard face to the victims of the bushfires by choosing to holiday overseas this week rather than staying in Australia while the bushfires rage.
It’s an unfair criticism. I have seen the Prime Minister on the nightly news countless times in the last few weeks talking about the bushfires. He has acknowledged their devastation and overseen the appropriate response that you would expect from the Australian government to support those affected. He has approved new measures and sources of funds for the state governments that have primary responsibility for responding to natural disasters of this kind.
Short of becoming one of the superheroes in the Marvel series of movies with the special skill of putting out fires with the freezing nature of his breath, what more do people expect him to do? He isn’t a member of the Rural Fire Service, so he can’t volunteer to help on the front line -- with great respect to him, he would just be in the way.
He’s done what every Prime Minister would do in the same circumstances -- he has visited affected areas, he’s announced an increase in funding for aerial firefighting capabilities and of course Disaster Recovery Payments to those affected.
Let’s not lose sight of the fact that state and territory governments are responsible as first responders to fires. It is that level of government who owns and operates the fire, ambulance, hospital, police and emergency services. Fortunately, it is an area of bipartisanship and devoid of the usual state and national government bickering. The Australian government provides extra support to the other levels of government in times of need. As they have done on this occasion.
The Prime Minister has gone on holiday. He deserves it. He’s had a big year. Every one needs a break if they are going to perform at their best. We want our Prime Minister to be performing at their best. To be blunt, its never a good time for the Prime Minister to take a break. There is always a crisis or an issue that requires his or her attention. But that’s why we have cabinet government -- so that the Prime Minister doesn’t have to run every operation, deal with every issue or fight every battle.
None of this is going to placate those who want to be outraged about something. Presidents and Prime Ministers are expected to be available 24/7/365 days a year. And it’s not a partisan expectation -- when Cyclone Tracy laid waste to Darwin in 1974, then Prime Minister Gough Whitlam wasn’t there to respond immediately. He was overseas, so he sent his Deputy Prime Minister Jim Cairns. Then, as now, the tenets of cabinet government swung into action. He was criticised but despite being Labor, in my view, even Whitlam deserved a break!
When Morrison returns, I’ve no doubt he will throw himself into governing with his trademark good humour and resilience. Until then, every fair minded Australian would be wishing him a good rest and time with Jenny and his two daughters. After the year he has had, he deserves it.