When it comes to political clumsiness, the Prime Minister’s Hawaiian holiday was hard to top.
But the Liberal Party advertisement released late yesterday, as dozens of communities faced horror bushfire conditions, came close.
The ad shows Scott Morrison in the field, taking charge (angry locals refusing to shake his hand are nowhere to be seen). Firefighters battle the flames with abundant support from Defence Force personnel and aerial assets. The Federal Government’s contributions are proudly listed in on-screen text. Uplifting background music instils confidence that this is a man with a plan.
There will no doubt be debate as to whether this is indeed a party political advertisement capitalising on the disaster, or simply an effort to disseminate information.
But when it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck …
The social media post carried a link to the Liberal Party website, which displayed a big DONATE button at the top.
Donate to the Liberal Party, that is, not any of the worthy bushfire relief efforts. A grab for cash as well as political capital. Classy stuff. At least this appeal for donations was quickly taken down.
Late on Saturday night, the Prime Minister responded to the unsurprising backlash, insisting he only authorised the message on behalf of the Liberal Party because this was the “required practice” for any MP posting a video on social media.
The only other option would have been to use taxpayers’ money for the promotion, which would have created its own problems.
Either way, the ad looked like crass self-promotion and was very poorly timed. State premiers, who we’re told carry the bulk of the responsibility, haven’t felt the need for such social media grandstanding.
Morrison, the “miracle” man of 2019, has begun 2020 with his political judgement in question.
Within the Government there is widespread acknowledgement that the PM’s Midas touch has gone missing during the bushfire crisis.
This has not been his finest moment, to put it mildly.
But there are few signs of anger, hostility or panic within the ranks. At least not yet. Some reckon the social media pile-on is only coming from the usual suspects and those looking for someone to blame for this disaster.
Nor is there much sign among Coalition MPs of any clamour to dramatically shift position on climate change, despite the reality of its devastating impact.
It’s one thing to express “deep regret” if anyone was offended by the Hawaiian holiday.
It’s entirely another to concede the Coalition has badly mishandled the whole climate debate for the past decade. There’s no sign the Prime Minister is about to do that.
Morrison can’t afford any more missteps
As for what the Government is actually doing, those MPs representing fire-affected electorates are satisfied with the support that’s now flowing, even if it is overdue.
The additional measures announced on Saturday, including the call-out of Defence Force reserves, the deployment of more assets and the leasing of more water bombers, have been welcomed.
So too has the Prime Minister’s decision to postpone his visits to India and Japan this month.
The fire season still has a long way to run and Morrison can’t afford any more missteps.
The first job of a leader during any disaster is to be there.
Right now the Prime Minister stands accused of turning up late, blaming the states and then seeking to make political capital out of the crisis.