If this massive disaster is not the time for a national response, when would be?

Genevieve Jacobs3 January 2020
Prime Minister Scott Morrison

Prime Minister Scott Morrison says governments should not get in each other’s way during a crisis. Photo: File.

The Prime Minister has appealed for calm during the fire crisis and says the Federal Government is doing all it can.

“What you cannot have in these situations is governments stepping over the top of each other in responding to a natural disaster like this,” he said this week.

The Federal Government has been consistent (and indeed, insistent) in saying that bushfire emergencies are a state government responsibility. In “normal” emergencies – if such a thing still exists – the Government is correct to a significant degree.

States must request assistance. The Federal Government cannot ride roughshod over them.

But let’s reiterate the grim facts. Areas of land as large as European countries have been burned. There is no rain forecast. Communities have been razed and this weekend is likely to be as dangerous as New Year’s Eve, or worse. Seven people, likely more, have died.

There are estimates that perhaps four million animals may have died in the infernos. Surviving farm livestock and native animals alike risk thirst and starvation.

Our emergency responders are stretched beyond their limits. There will be a profound toll on their mental health and wellbeing.

This is well beyond an emergency. This is a natural disaster of unprecedented scale on the Australian continent as far as we are aware, stretching across state boundaries and with no end in sight.

NSW is the most populous and prosperous state and its resources are at breaking point. Imagine if a disaster on this scale were to happen in Tasmania? Or, God forbid, here in the ACT. Would it still be up to the state governments to respond?

But we’ve had not so much as a COAG meeting.

If it’s not the business of the Federal Government to lead a response now, then when would it be?

We have heard from Defence Minister Linda Reynolds about the ADF’s role in logistical support. She described “significant behind the scenes support” for frontline firefighters. And from Emergency Services Minister David Littleproud, also warning against “kneejerk reactions”.

Malcolm Turnbull and Peter Dutton

Then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Minister for Home Affairs/Immigration Peter Dutton. Photo: Wikicommons.

But there’s been a notable, almost hushed, silence from one other major Government figure: Peter Dutton.

The Home Affairs mega ministry was set up by Malcolm Turnbull in 2017 under Minister Dutton’s leadership and is seen as a key portfolio for a very powerful politician.

Described by Mr Turnbull as “the most significant reform of Australia’s national intelligence and domestic security arrangements” in more than 40 years, the super department combined the Immigration and Border Protection Department with parts of the Attorney-General’s, Infrastructure and Social Services departments.

Those parts include responsibility for Emergency Management. To quote from the Departmental website: “We lead the Australian Government disaster and emergency management response. We work to build a disaster-resilient Australia that prevents, prepares, responds and recovers from disasters and emergencies.”

It is difficult to see how and where this has happened during the unfolding crisis, and even harder to discern Mr Dutton’s role in this major national emergency.

Home Affairs could initiate a Crisis Coordination Centre, bringing together public and private infrastructure into a co-ordinated national emergency response across multiple sectors including telecommunications, energy supplies, transport, banking and retail, and many other areas where a strategic national approach could help alleviate the carnage.

Perhaps this is already happening. Perhaps not. We’ve certainly heard nothing to indicate that it is. And this emergency has been building inexorably for months now: nobody’s been caught on the hop without adequate time to respond.

So if now is not the time, when?

This is an awkward crisis for a government that does not want to discuss climate change because, they say, our focus should be on the disaster – as though we can’t all walk and chew gum at the same time.

It’s an awkward crisis because there’s no barnstorming piece of legislation that can “fix” the problem and work well in sound bites.

There’s no easy solution for this one.

But when we went to the polls in 2019, we elected a government for all Australians, for all of the time. That is what we asked Scott Morrison and his ministry to do for us. It’s time to see that leadership in action.

If not now, when?

Original Article published by Genevieve Jacobs on The RiotACT.

What's Your Opinion?

111 Responses to If this massive disaster is not the time for a national response, when would be?

Elizabeth Clarence Elizabeth Clarence 4:34 pm 04 Jan 20

The choices made today are great. But they should have been made a month ago. How many properties would have been saved how many lives saved. The kings highway could have been open. It closed for the whole of summer as previously envisaged. Why are the calling the reserves not the full army? What does it take? We are into fifth day no power no phone. But very grateful the weather has helped in the end.

    Vince Heffernan Vince Heffernan 11:31 am 05 Jan 20

    Elizabeth Clarence exactly. Govt was told. Things will be bad. More planes needed. They'll now arrive in Feb....

Julie Benson Julie Benson 9:18 am 04 Jan 20

Time for a visit to the Governor General.

Terry Kennedy Terry Kennedy 7:02 am 04 Jan 20

Incompetent politicians pointing fingers again instead of doing the job their paid to do

Veronica Coen Veronica Coen 12:20 am 04 Jan 20

That's the first picture I've ever seen of Morrison looking a bit stressed....it's about time!

Maryanne Beggs Maryanne Beggs 8:57 pm 03 Jan 20

He should resign now

Marianne Kambouridis Marianne Kambouridis 8:10 pm 03 Jan 20


Gabriella Tagliapietra Gabriella Tagliapietra 4:52 pm 03 Jan 20

I haven’t read every comment but the ones I have certainly echo my own thoughts and frustrations.

I knew the anger was coming, I’ve been waiting... and all the while my anger is building too.

While I haven’t been touched by the fires it is certainly a very real threat... on top of that seeing friends displaced... seeing the staggering statistics of wildlife lost, hearing how many people are unaccounted for and dead, hearing how many homes have been lost... knowing our firefighters are exhausted and we don’t actually have enough resources for them to be everywhere... my god... when will there be a national response!!!

We, the people, need to take the reigns when the dust settles but in the meantime the government has a duty of care to secure the immediate future of what wildlife is left.

We need:

- an Emergency and Disaster Assistance fund for wildlife

- a moratorium on any further tree felling and land clearing across Australia

- a robust fire management plan... and I don’t mean lulling us into a false sense of security with throwing money at firefighting equipment. While this would be one solution, firefighting is treating the cause and not the effect.

- an equally robust water management plan

I think we need a whole new political system if we are to secure a future worth living for all Australians.

Lindy Banks Lindy Banks 4:42 pm 03 Jan 20

The empathy consultants or whoever have clearly taught Scummo to wear the John Howard look of worried concern.🤢 It doesn't come naturally but some people will fall for it.

Kim Naylor Kim Naylor 4:05 pm 03 Jan 20

Really the GGeneral should find a better govt. Whitlam was tossed why not Scummo? Inept leadership.

Nina Poulton Nina Poulton 3:12 pm 03 Jan 20

Funny when the going gets tough the national leader and his crew get going to the safety of their north shore or Vaucluse Rose Bay homes where like the 3 blind monkeys....

Ian E Wheeler Ian E Wheeler 2:18 pm 03 Jan 20

Can we borrow Jacinda Ardern for a while ?

Amanda Midlam Amanda Midlam 1:44 pm 03 Jan 20

At the Merimbula airport PR exercise, Michael McCormack told us that fires go out and smoke blows away. Comforting isn't it

Judy Karamina Judy Karamina 1:08 pm 03 Jan 20

All smiles when he was elected in!!Knowing how to smile and send thoughts and prayers dosnt run a country!!😨

Brendan Ryan Brendan Ryan 1:04 pm 03 Jan 20

After the last two months, it’s hard to believe that any sensible person could,

1: blame the greens.

2: listen to and believe the spin from the LNP

3: still deny climate change.

I am gobsmacked by the ignorance.

Eleanor Waight Eleanor Waight 12:54 pm 03 Jan 20

Doesn’t this kind of demonstrate that there are too many levels of government in the first place, commonwealth, state and local? No wonder there is so much state / federal bs.

Stephen Garrett Stephen Garrett 12:40 pm 03 Jan 20

It’s about time they did their jobs!

Jay Bee Jay Bee 12:31 pm 03 Jan 20


    Kayla Jay Kayla Jay 1:47 pm 03 Jan 20

    Jay Bee that’s unkind but understandable! Labor had a plan for a national fire fighting force.

    Peter Marshall Peter Marshall 4:30 pm 03 Jan 20

    Labor had a plan for lots more thermal coal mines, just like the LNP.

    Jay Bee Jay Bee 8:38 pm 03 Jan 20

    Peter Marshall WRONG

Julianne Fraser Julianne Fraser 12:18 pm 03 Jan 20

Waiting for his chance at leadership 😎

Caralyn Naylor Caralyn Naylor 11:38 am 03 Jan 20

Why hasn't the far south coast got air support Mr Morrison?

Pete Heininger Pete Heininger 10:38 am 03 Jan 20

Where's Dutto ??? Oh he's here ... in the shadows... working the phones and numbers.........