Given the amount of strife that PM Scott Morrison is currently in, it would be understandable if his main political adversary, Anthony Albanese, took the opportunity to put up his feet and relax. For as they say in the classics, never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.
However Mr Albanese appears to be using a completely different approach to take advantage of the Prime Minister’s woes.
The Opposition Leader’s Twitter posts over the past three months demonstrate that approach, which is to be what the PM is accused of not being – a leader who cares, who turns up, and who has practical ideas for dealing with Australia’s unprecedented bushfire crisis.
Mr Albanese has travelled extensively during this period, visiting firefighting crews and ‘getting briefed’ in emergency services headquarters around the country. As news emerged just before Christmas that the PM had taken a secretive family holiday to Hawaii, the Labor leader tweeted:
While our country burns, Australians are choking – and it’s only likely to get worse. This is a national crisis. It demands a national response. It’s time for Scott Morrison to show leadership and do his job.
The next day the PM decided to cut short his holiday, and Mr Albanese turned up to serve breakfast to firefighters at Gospers Mountain.
In fire-affected NSW to thank our incredible firefighters and volunteers. In the face of the worst of mother nature, these Australians have shown us the best of human nature. pic.twitter.com/F70HBS1vRw
— Anthony Albanese (@AlboMP) December 19, 2019
Praise, admiration and thanks for the efforts of firefighters are a strong theme in Mr Albanese’s Twitter posts. The Opposition also took that support to the logical next step, calling for volunteer firefighters to be compensated for the extended time they’ve been away from paid work.
Our volunteer firefighters are exhausted. Pretty soon they’ll be broke too.
We need to do more to support them. pic.twitter.com/1J3GZFGmAN
— Anthony Albanese (@AlboMP) December 20, 2019
And on December 24: It’s Christmas Eve – but instead of spending time with family, our volunteer firefighters are on the front line, keeping us safe. Their service must be recognised. Their sacrifice can’t go ignored. They need compensation. The Government should stand ready to deliver it.
This is the most interesting element of the Labor leader’s response to the crisis unfolding on the Coalition government’s watch. Instead of simply criticising his opponents for not doing enough, Mr Albanese has offered a number of reasonable and practical measures that would make the government look churlish to refuse.
In addition to compensating volunteer firefighters, which the government eventually implemented, the Labor leader also made these suggestion over the past three months:
- Convene an urgent meeting of state and territory leaders to make sure the nation’s emergency management systems were ready for the more intense and longer bushfire seasons that come with climate change
- Conduct a national ecological audit to identify what has been lost and where recovery action needs to occur
- Provide more bulk billing incentives for GPs and Medicare rebates for telehealth in bush fire areas, and lift the cap under a Medicare Mental Health Plan in bushfire areas
- Dedicate the first sitting day of Parliament for 2020 to bushfire victims, their families, volunteer firefighters, ADF personnel and emergency workers
Admittedly, an opposition leader has more time than a prime minister to take taxpayer-funded trips around the country to visit firegrounds, emergency control centres and at least one koala rescue operation. But in doing so, Mr Albanese has portrayed the type of leader that Australians want during times of national crisis.
In his own words, the opposition leader has been:
“Listening to people. Respecting people. Putting forward practical suggestions that would make a difference. That’s what I’ve been focused on. That’s what I’ll continue to do.”
Mr Albanese is also showing leadership on the critical issue the PM is too afraid to tackle – climate change. A month before the catastrophic fires of late December, the Labor leader tweeted:
We know that this isn't just fire as usual.
Climate change means longer and more intense bushfire seasons. Natural disasters will only increase in their severity and frequency.
We need to recognise the facts. We need to recognise the science. We need to make sure we're ready. pic.twitter.com/FrloAS1Pk5
— Anthony Albanese (@AlboMP) November 25, 2019
In early December he met with the Emergency Leaders for Climate Action, a group of former fire chiefs convened by the Climate Council to add the weight of their experience to the scientific links known to exist between climate change and bushfire risk.
I met with Greg Mullins and ex-fire chiefs a few weeks ago. I’m backing their calls for a national bushfire emergency summit. These Australians have served their country. They deserve to be heard. It’s about time Scott Morrison met with them too.
And since then the Labor leader has taken every opportunity to emphasise that what we are witnessing this summer is not normal, as the climate sceptics and deniers continue to claim.
Australia is facing an unprecedented crisis. This is a national emergency. It requires a national response.
And a week later:
This is not business as usual. And failure to act doesn’t just have consequences for us – it has consequences for the entire world.
Then the very next day:
We believe in climate action not because it’s popular, but because it’s the right thing to do.
Mr Albanese has not yet proven to be the progressive hero that many voters had hoped he would be, perhaps because he is genuine about taking a kinder, gentler approach to being opposition leader.
He might not be fighting Tories quite as expected, but he is taking the challenge up to the Prime Minister in an unexpected way.
Mr Albanese is showing voters what real leadership looks like.