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?

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

Monika McInerney Monika McInerney 8:20 am 03 Jan 20

This is a national crisis!!! We need a national response. We need it now!!!

Jeanette Prout Jeanette Prout 8:20 am 03 Jan 20

Didnt stop Howard or Keating

Jodi Sarah Russell Jodi Sarah Russell 8:12 am 03 Jan 20

What’s going on behind closed doors why are all the ex leaders SO SO quiet? Why is no one else shaking this up loud and fast??????

Chris McInerney Chris McInerney 8:11 am 03 Jan 20

There is a big wedge of land between these massive 2 fires called Moruya and Deua Valley

This is our home and is the safety evacuation centre for thousands of local residents this coming weekend as the fires hit again.

There will be similar safe zones in the Bega area.

Emergency services need to maintain these safe zones with aerial water bombing and maximum resources

Chris McInerney

Deua Valley


    Ronny Jeremy Ronny Jeremy 8:41 am 03 Jan 20

    Chris McInerney well yesterday they wouldn't send any helicopters from Canberra coz of the smoke. The water bombers are sitting idle overseas coz dopey Morrison told them not to come months ago.

    Suzie Mac Dougall Suzie Mac Dougall 9:42 am 03 Jan 20

    God help us if those areas get a big hit at least the sea is close by but craziness would kill many in the panic

Noel Dalton Noel Dalton 8:02 am 03 Jan 20

I hope this catastrophic event will finally stop this terrible impass in our politics...people and animals are dying,lives destroyed while they bicker...what will it take if not this 😞

Therese Wheatley Therese Wheatley 8:01 am 03 Jan 20

So well articulated.

Jen Russell Jen Russell 7:51 am 03 Jan 20

The time for such polite underwhelming commentary has well passed Genevieve. We need water, water bombers, animal feed, fuel Food, face masks, power, telecommunication and Human Resources to help our courageous volunteers. The scope of this emergency is escalating people’s despair and anger is increasing as they face the 2nd wave of fires. Step up the commentary support our/your community by using the power of media to demand more support and provisions. Please!!

    Julia Walsh Julia Walsh 9:03 am 03 Jan 20

    Indeed! The time for speaking out about our anger and for Civil Disobedience to achieve change is upon us. This is why I did this yesterday ~ a small act but a start ~ we need many actions, many voices, we need our country back


    Judith Hart Judith Hart 12:43 pm 03 Jan 20

    Jen Russell - so where is Dutton anyway?

    Not asking politely by the way .

    Jen Russell Jen Russell 12:51 pm 03 Jan 20

    Judith Hart just playing political games in a cosy office I reckon!

Wouter Ypma Wouter Ypma 7:50 am 03 Jan 20

excellent opinion article that I support
Would the prime minister AND mr Dutton be told to read it?
Wouter (one of the many evacuees at the Bega Showground)

Zoe Mithen Zoe Mithen 7:50 am 03 Jan 20

It’s because of the current laws. The State governments are responsible by law to deal with this, not the Federal government.

    Peter Hill Peter Hill 7:53 am 03 Jan 20

    Zoe Mithen Exactly

    Shelly Ben Skinner Shelly Ben Skinner 8:18 am 03 Jan 20

    Zoe Mithen unless a National Disaster is declared. Instead of the different states & Territories current different allotments of SOEs.

    Then a National Disaster Response happens rather all agencies working seperately.

    Its partly already happened with the Army,Navy,Air force being involved.

    Its old school but its much more affective.

    Mal Briggs Mal Briggs 8:19 am 03 Jan 20

    Zoe Mithen there plenty of ways around that. An emergency COAG meeting as suggested by Albo would be a start.

    A national emergency summit to co-ordinate efforts as suggested by former fire chiefs as suggested would be another.

    Simply picking up the phone to the relevant state ministers and telling them to ask for more help would be another solution.

    State and federal emergency services have had funding cuts recently. More could be done.

    Zoe Mithen Zoe Mithen 8:20 am 03 Jan 20

    Shelly Ben Skinner They can’t call a national disaster over fires, because fires are State responsibility under the existing laws. It’s not legally possible.

    Zoe Mithen Zoe Mithen 8:23 am 03 Jan 20

    Mal Briggs I’m pretty sure all levels of government are communicating already. A COAG meeting might help but not this week with the weather getting worse. A summit is better before or after a crisis not during when it’s all hands on deck. Yes I would hope funds are already being made available, but if they’re not they definitely should be as you say.

    Mal Briggs Mal Briggs 8:52 am 03 Jan 20

    Zoe Mithen have you spoken anyone within government offices?

    I have.

    Everything could be done is not being done because of layers of government. The PM does have the power to calla national emergency.

    He could do more.

    But he's enjoying passing the buck, and it frustrating his ministers and their staff.

    Zoe Mithen Zoe Mithen 11:08 am 03 Jan 20

    Mal Briggs It’s very difficult to call a national emergency in Australia under the current laws, and the fires don’t meet the threshold test. I’m not saying that’s a good thing, it’s just the state of the current laws.

    Zoe Mithen Zoe Mithen 11:09 am 03 Jan 20

    Mal Briggs “There is no legislation to allow the Prime Minister or the Governor-General to declare a National Emergency. In the absence of that legislation the only value of such a declaration is symbolism. A symbolic declaration may be important and useful, but it should be understood that is all it would be.

    There is, in the executive power of the Commonwealth, some residual power to allow the executive government to step up and deal with a truly national emergency but there is no reason to think the current fire emergencies threaten the existence of either the States or the Commonwealth to meet the necessary threshold for such an emergency.”


    Annabelle Brett Annabelle Brett 12:42 pm 03 Jan 20

    Zoe Mithen what about Centrelink? Who are paying out the victims with their compensation packages. There are 1000% elements of this that are federal

    Zoe Mithen Zoe Mithen 1:07 pm 03 Jan 20

    Annabelle Brett I’m not saying the federal government doesn’t have a role in various ways, but they are not responsible for fire fighting, and it’s very hard to call a National Emergency under existing Australian law

    Mal Briggs Mal Briggs 7:49 pm 03 Jan 20

    Zoe Mithen again, a reason to have an emergency COAG meeting months ago to establish a memorandum of understanding between states and federal to streamline this.

    In previous crises, floods, fires, etc the PM's staff have worked around the clock facilitating all sorts of connections and executive decisions at quick notice.

    Why is there an Emergency Management department within Home Affairs?

    What is their role...

    Wait... Has anyone heard from their Minister? Where's Dutton?

    Zoe Mithen Zoe Mithen 2:53 am 04 Jan 20

    Mal Briggs The Emergency Management department only do what the Australian federal government is allowed to do, they can’t take over the roles of the States. I looked at their website and they look small and under resourced and kind of crappy. They don’t look like they are capable of mounting a national emergency response program. I’m not arguing this is good, just that the current laws put the majority of the responsibility with the States not the Federal government. I imagine after this crisis is over there will be a discussion on how to improve the federal response to emergencies of this size.

    Zoe Mithen Zoe Mithen 2:59 am 04 Jan 20

    Mal Briggs Also as far as I can see it is possible that a hypothetical Prime Minister could try to invoke legal national emergency powers by arguing that the bushfires endangered the nation - but the obstacles to this are 1. It could be challenged in the High Court and found unconstitutional; 2. The Federal public service isn’t set up to deal with this presently so they are underprepared; 3. It would get criticism for being Federal overreach and for stealing the role of the States; and 4. The non-hypothetical actual Prime Minister is a risk averse right wing politician who isn’t likely to want to innovate in this way

Judy van Rijswijk Judy van Rijswijk 7:49 am 03 Jan 20

It just demonstrates the impotency of this government and the LNP.

Gail Hayes Gail Hayes 7:45 am 03 Jan 20

OMG you lot there are fires out there and all you can do is talk politics

    Ancret Shipton Ancret Shipton 7:52 am 03 Jan 20

    Gail Hayes We are talking politics because 1000's of traumatised people are experiencing a disaster of an enormous scale and they are desperate for help and leadership from the people that govern this Country.

    Mal Briggs Mal Briggs 8:13 am 03 Jan 20

    Gail Hayes we're talking about managing the response. This is the job politicians are employed to do.

    Brendan Rombouts Brendan Rombouts 9:07 am 03 Jan 20

    Failing to talk politics has brought us here.

    Kali Dalton Kali Dalton 10:40 am 03 Jan 20

    Gail Hayes if this crisis is not big enough to hold politicians accountable, what is?

Jennifer Buckett Jennifer Buckett 7:43 am 03 Jan 20

He is miles behind the ape ball.

Suzie Mac Dougall Suzie Mac Dougall 7:39 am 03 Jan 20

Exactly where is Dutton very low profile

    Mal Briggs Mal Briggs 8:14 am 03 Jan 20

    Suzie Mac Dougall yep. Trying to lay low so he swoop in when heads roll.

    His department are the ones who ignored advice immediately after election. He should be getting grilled.

    Amanda Evans Amanda Evans 8:44 am 03 Jan 20

    Mal Briggs yes he is the Minister for Home affairs after all.

    Neale Oxley Neale Oxley 9:29 am 03 Jan 20

    He's underground, where all potatoes grow.

    Suzie Mac Dougall Suzie Mac Dougall 9:40 am 03 Jan 20

    then we need to dig him up - pass the pitchfork

Phen Jones Phen Jones 7:36 am 03 Jan 20

Climate change is the root cause of these fires and it is an national and international issue. At times of crisis and catastrophe people need to see leadership, Morrison is buck passing and playing politics which is shameful.

    Andre Nachtergaele Andre Nachtergaele 8:10 am 03 Jan 20

    Steve Jackson how does climate change effect fuel load??

    Phen Jones Phen Jones 8:19 am 03 Jan 20

    Andre Nachtergaele if you have to ask that question then it’s pointless me explaining it to you .

    Greg Peterson Greg Peterson 9:01 am 03 Jan 20

    Steve Jackson https://20943.mc.tritondigital.com/OMNY_NIGHTSWITHSTEVEPRICE_P/media-session/dca410c7-1fd9-4625-bb49-c148df4f77c2/d/clips/88b564ea-a9a6-4751-910a-a5d800019396/a6a367c7-1cf2-4270-ba85-a6d600339454/28ec5162-006b-4cb7-baf2-ab36005a4419/audio/direct/t1577942955/Retired_fire_brigade_Captain_Ralph_Barraclough.mp3?t=1577942955&ttag=omny_clip_id%3A28ec5162-006b-4cb7-baf2-ab36005a4419%2Comny_clip_title%3ARetired+fire+brigade+Captain+Ralph+Barraclough%2Comny_program_name%3ANights+with+John+Stanley%2Comny_program_slug%3Anights%2Comny_network_name%3A2GB%2Comny_organization_id%3A88b564ea-a9a6-4751-910a-a5d800019396%2Comny_playback_source%3Apodcast

    Phen Jones Phen Jones 10:28 am 03 Jan 20

    Take a quick look on https://www.arcgis.com/home/webmap/viewer.html?layers=b8f4033069f141729ffb298b7418b653 at how many fires are burning around the world today, then come and tell me the global climate is unaffected.

    Peter Bond Peter Bond 11:33 am 03 Jan 20

    These fires are not climate change.

    The fires started 50k years ago.

    Every summer eucalyptus trees give off highly flammable fumes that ignite from lightning.

    This is a yearly event and about 10 years apart we get fires, like the present, from build up of fuel.

    The fires burn other trees and shrubs and dominate the land.

    This is natural change not climate change.

    Helena Rose Helena Rose 11:54 am 03 Jan 20

    Peter Bond Wrong. We don't have this number of fires this big, this unstoppable, starting in winter every year 🙄 If we did, we would have all been wiped out years ago. The build up of fuel is part of it, gum trees are part of it but people aren't saying there have never been bushfires. I listen to the science and the long term residents and the fire fighting professionals. High fuel load, drought high temps leading to fire are natural. What is happening now is not and has never happened before.

    Steve McEvoy Steve McEvoy 12:58 pm 03 Jan 20

    Maxine Power really? How moronic.. Drier + Hotter = more intense fires. It’s simple.

    Phen Jones Phen Jones 1:21 pm 03 Jan 20

    Peter Bond Your talking outside your area of expertise.

    Tanya Caroline Whyman Tanya Caroline Whyman 3:25 pm 03 Jan 20

    Steve Jackson at the world climate change summit in Spain, Scomo wet down any ideas about Climate change and missed a vital opportunity. Now look at our Australia burning. And.........he goes to Hawaii instead 😡

    Tanya Caroline Whyman Tanya Caroline Whyman 4:00 pm 03 Jan 20

    Steve McEvoy climate change = hotter weather = worse and longer droughts = tinderbox dry fuel loads not being managed = caboom!!!! Australia burns 🥵

Lisa Kremmer White Lisa Kremmer White 7:36 am 03 Jan 20

But we have a surplus, right?! And then we’ve got the cricket. Priorities. They just don’t include us.

    Lucy Wilson Lucy Wilson 7:38 am 03 Jan 20

    Lisa Kremmer White Where are you Lisa?

    We are in Bega?

    Lisa Kremmer White Lisa Kremmer White 7:42 am 03 Jan 20

    Lucy Wilson we’re out at Kameruka. Have a camping trailer set up at the evac centre. Still have a few things to do around the house. But we won’t be waiting for all hell to break loose.

David Howard David Howard 7:35 am 03 Jan 20

What a fantastic article - articulating how many Australians and fire affected people feel. Thank god for independent and quality journalism

Rhondda Purtell Rhondda Purtell 7:30 am 03 Jan 20

Dutton, responsible for national security, has failed dismally.

Sue Bell Sue Bell 7:27 am 03 Jan 20

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton is busy sharpening his knives and counting his numbers readying himself for the top job. God help us all when that happens.

Cheryl Ann Cheryl Ann 7:26 am 03 Jan 20

Dutton is planning his overthrow of Morrison. That’s where Dutton is, as for Scomo, we have no leader or leadership, he turns his back on people who ask him for help. I don’t like Andrew Constance much but what he said on sunrise about the PM is right. Stuff the budget and the surplus start helping.

    Peta Arthur Peta Arthur 7:29 am 03 Jan 20

    Cheryl Ann what did Andrew say about the PM. I don’t watch Sunrise so missed it

    Cheryl Ann Cheryl Ann 7:33 am 03 Jan 20

    Peta Arthur he said on sunrise he understands and can see why people are angry. Pm needs to start opening the check book and providing support. He did mention he is on the same side but says more needs to be done from the pm. If the publis it on FB I’ll tag u in it. It’s back on 7 now

    Tanya Caroline Whyman Tanya Caroline Whyman 3:32 pm 03 Jan 20

    Cheryl Ann time to spend the surplus on the very people who provide it. The Australian taxpayers who are suffering and have lost everything 😭😔😢

David Schmidt David Schmidt 7:24 am 03 Jan 20

Local government and state run resources have shown great leadership. Not sure that you could extend that to state parliament or the federal level at all.

    Peter Marshall Peter Marshall 4:31 pm 03 Jan 20

    The NSW Deputy Premier and Emergency Services Minister are both overseas. No leadership there. Something to do with sinking ships?

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