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?

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.........

Robin Smith Robin Smith 9:54 am 03 Jan 20


Chris Hall Chris Hall 9:53 am 03 Jan 20

I also note the spin doctors are out and hard at it, I am ex RAN and am not convinced the response for disaster relief for our own citizens had any planed or adequate response. How long were people left in Mallacoota, The fat boys club does not impress me.

Trisha Trisha 9:18 am 03 Jan 20

The banks could open atms and record account transfers to supply cash for people to buy food and fuel. Regional airlines could supply discounted flights with support from major airlines. This is not the time for profit. Major fuel chains could offer fuel cards. This is a time for big business to demonstrate community engagement. In the last few years companies have written well scripted policies of supporting volunteering for the community. Often multinationals who avoid tax. If there is a national emergencies in other countries we do offer very effective Australian Defence Force Support to address safe water and sewerage. Parts of the South Coast have lost the basic services. The national disaster response is defined and legislated in each state. Politicians have the ability from November till now to have met and coordinated these responses with the ADF. The police and the emergency services are fatigued strong clear leadership does not have to be a politician. peter Cosgrove could be placed as a coordinator for a direct grouping of each state disaster recovery. We all know most effective work in government is by practical staff. It is not about Hawaii or who is a politician behind the microphone. It should be about those with community trust to logistically and without political point scoring to actually on the ground practically act.

Wendy Hunter Wendy Hunter 9:18 am 03 Jan 20

All those boats they been stopping...going to be embarrassing when Australian climate refugees start using them .

Colin McPherson Colin McPherson 9:07 am 03 Jan 20

Well, we know Scotty- from Marketing- and Dutton are busy stopping the boats, and Michael MacCormack is still looking for those incendiary cowpats!

    Viv Campbell Viv Campbell 9:23 am 03 Jan 20

    Colin McPherson yes, the danger is inside our borders

Jhania Maliniemi Jhania Maliniemi 8:53 am 03 Jan 20

I am fairly sure everyone watching this from overseas sees a NATIONAL diaster unfolding

    Katarena Fittock Katarena Fittock 9:01 am 03 Jan 20

    Jhania its be going on way too long 😞

    Tanya Caroline Whyman Tanya Caroline Whyman 3:28 pm 03 Jan 20

    Jhania Maliniemi yes they certainly are

Ronny Jeremy Ronny Jeremy 8:38 am 03 Jan 20

Where are half of his cronies? Not 1 liberal is in government for the country. They are a bunch of used car salesmen but only through work hours. #Absolutely despise all of them.

Karen Johnston Karen Johnston 8:36 am 03 Jan 20

Excellent article.

Wendy Gorton Wendy Gorton 8:26 am 03 Jan 20

Bugger the laws. If six out of six states with major fires does not constitute a NATIONAL DISASTER then I do not know what would.

Glenn Merrick Glenn Merrick 8:26 am 03 Jan 20

I'm not a political advisor but surely the message should be "we will work with state governments to help you get your community back on its feet". May as well have stayed in Hawaii.