Ten years ago, an ambitious young Liberal MP led the charge attacking Victoria’s police chief Christine Nixon for choosing to eat dinner at a gastropub as the horror of Black Saturday, the worst bushfires in the state’s history, unfolded.
Scott Morrison was that MP’s name and he did not hold back when condemning her actions when asked on the ABC’s Q&A program in April 2010.
“She’s clearly made a bad judgment call. That happens to people from time to time, but this was a very serious issue,” Mr Morrison said.
“I think there are very serious concerns in the community about exercising judgment, and it’s incumbent on all of us in public life to make decisions following that in the best interests of the ongoing nature of the program.”
Ms Nixon’s dinner of shame led to calls for her sacking, including from former Victorian premier Jeff Kennett.
“[Nixon] put herself first all day and then washed it down with a very good meal at the end. The community is becoming increasingly frustrated the Premier hasn’t removed this blot from our landscape,” Mr Kennett said.
At the time, Victorian Premier John Brumby backed Ms Nixon to continue the bushfire reconstruction efforts, but Mr Morrison was not so sure she was the right woman for the job.
“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,” Mr Morrison said.
“And while the premier may have made his call on Christine, it really is a matter for her to make a judgment whether the controversy surrounding her actions actually, at the end of the day, may well impede the ability of that organisation to get on with the job.”
The Black Saturday bushfires devastated Victoria, claiming 173 lives, including 120 in the Kinglake area alone.
More than 2000 houses were destroyed.
The New Daily confirmed on Monday he had flown overseas to a mystery location before a busy schedule of official trips in the region, including to India in January.
His office will not say where he is holidaying.
“The Prime Minister is overseas with his family. He’s having a well-deserved break and obviously, it’s been a very busy year,” Treasurer Josh Frydenberg told Channel Nine’s Today.
“He’ll be back at work shortly and then he’ll be off to India leading a delegation to advance Australia’s interests.”
Labor leader Anthony Albanese declined to criticise the PM, arguing he has a right to take holidays with his kids.
But NSW Greens MLC David Shoebridge said his conduct wasn’t good enough.
“When the country you lead is on fire, you have an obligation to stick around and sort it out,” Mr Shoebridge said.
“Or at least put the right policies in place before you clock off. But this guy’s just in denial, on holiday.”
For Ms Nixon, it was a bitter lesson that she said changed the game for leaders.
“I don’t think anybody will ever leave the scene of anything ever again, with the criticism that happened,” Ms Nixon said.
“Just in case something serious happens to them, they’ll be able to say, ‘Well, I was there’.”