Just a fortnight ago, The Australian newspaper ran a feature on the clique of seasoned political operators the PM has gathered around him to provide advice.
It would be fair to assume that such advice would include keeping one’s arse out of political trouble.
If so, every one of those so-called experts failed in their duty by not stepping in to stop the PM from making the eminently stupid decision to take a tropical holiday overseas while substantial parts of Australia continued to burn.
It is true, as some commentators have observed, that Scott Morrison is just as entitled as anyone to take a break with his family at the end of the working year. And if he had slipped away to an unassuming part of the world like Port Macquarie or the south coast of New South Wales for a quick beach holiday, the PM might have been forgiven for doing so.
There’s a reason former prime minister John Howard spent nearly every summer break over 20 years at the sleepy seaside suburb of Hawk’s Nest, just north of Sydney.
But for Mr Morrison, another politician whose credibility is dependent on his relatability to the average Australian, jetting off to a sunny and smoke-free location while most other Australians struggled with the heat, smoke or both while trying to work out how to afford Christmas, this behaviour indicated he wasn’t like the rest of us after all.
Taking off in the middle of a national disaster also suggested that he didn’t care.
Mr Morrison’s exotic island getaway was therefore seen as a poke in the eye for the voters left behind to endure Australia’s searing temperatures and raging bushfires.
The fact that he (or his advisers) did not realise this is how Australians would perceive the PM’s absence is probably the most troubling element of all.
It’s another surprising miscalculation by the man who is supposed to be a master of political strategy. Just like the unwise decision to take Pauline Hanson at her word on a Senate vote deal, and the foolish phone call to the NSW Police Commissioner to inquire about the investigation into Energy Minister Angus Taylor. And they’re just the latest missteps.
Another former prime minister, Tony Abbott, discovered during his short-lived tenure that being a brilliant campaigner doesn’t matter if you develop a political tin-ear. Bad advice and poor political instincts led Mr Abbott to deliver the horror 2014 budget, insist on sticking with a flawed proposal for paid parental leave, and give the Queen’s husband a Knighthood.
If Mr Morrison develops a reputation for similarly stupid decisions – like jetting to a tropical holiday during a national disaster – he may face a similar fate to Abbott’s.
Saying sorry is a good place to start, as any good crisis manager will attest. We can expect to see and hear similar expressions of contrition in the coming days once the PM returns.
However, Australians really only want one thing from the PM, and that is for him to do his job. That means doing something – practical and substantial – about the factors that are contributing to our Christmas conflagration.
Instead of highlighting one cause to deflect another, voters want to see acknowledgment of them all, and a comprehensive, coordinated and well-resourced plan to deal with the them.
Expand the research being done by the Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre, provide money to the states to buy more and better fire-fighting equipment, and find ways to increase the number of skilled firefighters.
Just as importantly, stop treating climate change as a dirty word, and instead acknowledge it as a bushfire cause that must be recognised, understood and addressed. We must get past arguing over whether Australia can address global climate change on our own. That is only one part of the issue.
The other part is doing what we can – and what is necessary – to adapt to the changes we can already see in Australia’s climate and conditions. Australia is literally burning while we argue over whether this is a normal climate variation. It’s not. But even if it was, we are badly prepared and need to better understand what is happening if we are to protect ourselves in the future.
The Prime Minister’s lack of action, or even a plan for action, is the reason people are angry about his unfortunately timed overseas holiday.