6 February 2020

Ordinary Australians will continue to suffer because of our venal, shallow leadership

| Genevieve Jacobs
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Cobargo’s main street burning on 31 December, 2019. Photo: Josh Mead.

After 30 years as a journalist, I don’t often bother getting angry with politicians.

I know there are good people on both sides doing their best. You only have to look at Bega MP Andrew Constance’s honesty and pain on last Monday night’s Q&A to know that, or Member for Eden-Monaro Mike Kelly’s deeply felt response to the bushfire crisis that’s racked our region.

But I’m angry now, because 10 years of venal, shallow politics have come to this: an apocalyptic natural disaster that will take a toll on this nation for years to come.

And who will pay that price? Ordinary Australians.

Ordinary people who should have been helped earlier, supported better and recognised more, except it wasn’t politically expedient to do so.

There will be post-traumatic stress disorder and family breakdown after the fires recede. There will be suicides. Despite all the strength and resilience we have to muster, there are communities and families that will never be the same again, their lives permanently scarred.

Those on the frontline are worst affected but everyone in south-eastern Australia has been touched. Half a dozen times, I have talked to colleagues about letting the tears come, amidst relentless disaster coverage of the places they love.

In our staff meetings at Region Media we talk about referred trauma. On Monday I watched Four Corners and sobbed, helplessly, for my own friends who have faced down the blazes again and again. I cannot bear thinking about the suffering wildlife.

It’s felt like death is stalking us all.

You can argue all you like about who or what caused these fires, but an impeccably qualified panel of former fire chiefs gave clear warnings many months ago about this season’s exceptional risks. By November, as the fires began their deadly progress down the coast, it was abundantly clear those warnings were coming to pass.

Yet no deep planning had taken place. There was no coordination with the states to map a response, no recognition that this time it was different.

So what did we have?

We had a Prime Minister on holiday in Hawaii.

A government that said it wasn’t its role to deploy the ADF, it would wait to be asked.

A government in which someone, somewhere, thought it appropriate to throw shade at NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian while she was managing a crisis so considerable it would floor many nations.

A government that followed the long-overdue decision to deploy the ADF Reserves with a cheap political ad that initially included a Liberal Party donations link.

A government that didn’t want to poke the ant’s nest around climate change, preferring, instead, to minimise the situation as it became clearer and clearer this was an unprecedented disaster.

Make no mistake, we’ve seen impeccable leadership: Premier Berejiklian was clearly across her brief. Coastal mayors Kristy McBain and Liz Innes have been on the frontline for months. ACT ESA Commissioner Georgeina Whelan has been steady, unflinching, courteous and calm at all times. NSW RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons has not wavered.

But we have a Prime Minister who couldn’t handle meeting a Cobargo firefighter who’d lost his house, or a request for more RFS resources from a pregnant woman accompanied by a leashed goat.

Who told Scott Morrison to walk away from locals instead of dismissing the cameras and sitting the PM down to listen amidst the smoking ruins of their town? Who put together a flotilla of shiny white Comcars without thinking to load up every bottle of water to be had from Coles in Manuka to deliver to a town where people were queuing at the oval to get their drinking water out of a tanker?

I’ll tell you who: people who think about spin and polls and images first. Politicians and advisers who have learned that government is about how to massage the message and keep the donors onside. To attack rather than to listen. To tell critics that they are being unAustralian or, God forbid, part of the “Canberra bubble”.

That’s what leadership has been reduced to.

I don’t blame any one side of politics for this parlous situation. I blame a federal political class that has been captured by cynical opportunism for the last decade, Liberal and Labor alike. I blame the spinners and the dodgers and the sliders who think winning points matters more than serving the people.

Let them all think long and hard, up there on the Hill, about why they are there. Let them consider how different it could have been if they’d put the people before their own interests. And then let them consider what they have wrought.

Do you think the federal political class has been captured by cynical opportunism for the last decade?

Original Article published by Genevieve Jacobs on The RiotACT.

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Rosemary Akesson5:43 pm 14 Feb 20

Is anyone in the Federal political class actually reading your article? How can you get this across to them? People are deeply hurting from the fires and the floods.

Brilliant, well written and so true.

Margaret Elaine Cozens3:06 pm 11 Feb 20

Totally agree.

Genevieve, hard to read, long winded, opinionated garbage 🗑. 2/10 try again

Sheridan Roberts9:08 am 11 Feb 20

I submitted a comment yesterday that was critical of mainstream media for not reporting responsibly on politics and climate change. I live in the Bega Valley. I am part of this community, exiled to Canberra since NYE because of the Werri Berri bushfire. Why have you only published articles that agree slavishly with the article? (I saw Genevieve at Open Minds last year and admired her contribution).
I wonder how many other comments were rejected. I wonder how well a media organisation purporting to serve a community can do so through censorship of members of that community.

I am really disappointed.

I agree totally, and you sumed it up.
What is recovery going to look like to our town, our region and our lives.
Stay tuned its going to test us all.

Matthew Smith11:30 pm 10 Feb 20

It’s a fair assesment.

Nadine Hills11:04 pm 10 Feb 20

Thank you Genevieve for summarising it so powerfully! Tragic, but true. Such devastation for so many, traumatising, scarring souls.. so much energy and so many resources required to rebuild.
Serving the people (ministering to) is the prime role of our Prime Minister and Government. What opportunity! What potential! ~ in this superb island continent, with a magnificent Indigenous heritage and wisdom, with peoples from so many other countries increasing the colour of its fabric, with natural energy in sun, wind and sea, with sophisticated technology and science, and with the depth and beauty that the Arts provide! The peoples of thid country Australia call on its leaders to have courage, to have intelligent compassion, to be brave and bold in connecting with its citizens, listening to the land and its needs, and making decisions that will ensure a future for all our children. Changing climate is not a political issue; it is about Survival! Let us all together stride with vigour and resolution towards that common goal, and let us more than survive.. let us thrive, because that is our common potential!

I fear for next summer and the one after that with a PM showing no willingness to plan and prepare
I’m very frightened

When you create a political city this is what you get. Yes Minister.
Our main problem is the media. You don’t challenge local or state government as you do federal yet they have more direct responsibilities for our daily lives. That’s why Trump, Brexit and Morrison got in and U didn’t pick it. It’s all about more $ from the Fed. Look at Sky and the ABC. Both so biased.and sorry About Regional is becoming the same.

I’m with you Genevieve! This goes to the core of what’s amiss in Australia at present. It’s ALL about spin. Take away the marketing. It’s time to remember that we all care about much the same things – but it’s NOT a contest to see who cares most or whose ideas are better. It’s about TEAM WORK to make people’s lives better. We agree on more than we disagree!

What perfectly written article.

Jane Barrett1:30 pm 10 Feb 20

I totally agree. Imagine a different response when your Prime Minister saunters up to you with his hands in his pockets looking like he didn’t want to be in Carbargo to a Prime Minister walking in with arms open asking if people are ok and what could he do to help. Try listening. No faith anymore in this government. No one can get much promised financial assistance. Wildlife being cared for by hundreds of volunteers many out of pocket to do so. Charities clinging on to public monies which was given in good faith by the Australian public to help immediately and very little forth coming. No confidence anymore. Very sad

Lesley Mosbey12:49 pm 10 Feb 20

Hell Yes. Vote Greens

Angela Hansen11:41 am 10 Feb 20

I agreed wholeheartedly, it’s time they got off their soap box & learner what it is like to be a real Australian, with real problems. Andrew Constance went through this crisis with his constituents & has been working tirelessly ever since. We are worried about his health through this. That is what a politician should be. We should all realise Scott Morrison is not responsible for what happened but he is responsible for how he handled the disaster. He needs to take a good look at himself as a human being, dismiss his advisers & cut the hype.

Sheridan Roberts11:13 am 10 Feb 20

I agree to a certain extent only. Our media has to accept a large portion of responsibility as well. Shallow journalism concerned with reporting on insider squabbles with the same interest and gravitas as, say, the tsunami of species extinction; a great lack of genuine non-sensationalist articles on climate change;a huge failure to out vested interest lobbying; failure to investigate the giant rorting of public money until AFTER the May election; the incurious wholesale swallowing and repetition of Morrison’s glib guff and the media’s relentless attacks on Shorten? (N.B.I don’t vote Labor.) Plus “ordinary” Australians” as you put it have been far more concerned with either “getting ahead” or “keeping their heads above water”. We have ended up with politicians that are a mirror of ourselves; selfish, selectively caring,and blind to the future.

Brian Matheson10:43 am 10 Feb 20

Well done, should be published on every Media platform….
Now to see what is going to be done to remedy the matter (s)…we can’t change what has happened but we can change the management of the future.
I would love to see if there are any true Statesmen /women interested in Australia for the next 50 years and plan/budget for it.i.e., Water, Infrastructure, Health, Education (of Australians not those using the system)..Review Welfare etc;i.e the past was Harbour Bridge, Waragamba Dam, Snowy Scheme etc etc…
All Superannuation funds should be managed by the Federal Government Trust…used for the people not political benefit.
Check out the system in Finland,
the retirement system works well without sales and managers getting big salaries and bonuses, all the benefit is for the retirement of the contributors. An annual average of the past ten years income is calculated and is the retirement benefit. Too sensible for our political masters and corporate pirates.
Thank you for allowing the ventilation of these matters, wish I was thirty years younger to do more about it.

Agree. I too have been in tears at the suffering whilst, photo opportunities seemed to be more important. All while chanting not the time for talking about climate change.
Long anguished droughts, devastating fires, lives lost from both suicides from droughts, now floods. When is a good time to get on and become a co-ordinated rescue operation/planning country fully equipped, and attacking Climate Change Head On. Not next year in 5 years, 10 or 20 but NOW.

Dr Douglas Simper10:14 am 10 Feb 20

I agree with this incisive article. If you put the comments in a moral framework you could say that the venal politicians are so consumed by their win-at-all-costs that they have become instruments of evil rather than operating for the public good. It is curious that Mr Dutton (Javert from Les Miserables) is noticeably silent.

JAN WILKINSON9:11 am 10 Feb 20

I agree wholheartedly and feel.powerless to do something about our politics.

Carole Williams8:52 am 10 Feb 20

I’ve never been a political person until now, i have an opinion and I’ll make it heard, this government fumbled about whilst our towns were burning. I live in a little town called Bemboka, half hour drive from Bega, a fire ravaged half the town nearly 2 years ago and then the catastrophe that was New Year. We evacuated 3 times to come into Bega which was just as bad as where we left, we saw the RFS constantly on the roads driving from one fire to the other, dirty, exhausted but amazingly still strong and resilient and where were our politicians?
It was our community that got us through it not them, not the too little too late money and resources, people setting up food tents, people donating goods and time, our community saved us, but be very aware government, we have not forgotten what you did to us in our desperate time of need, the quiet Australians are rumbling and voicing our total distrust and disappointment. Time for change

Great article Genevieve.
You’ve touched on an issue that’s been building for years, One that has a huge impact on our government. At a deeper level in the political class is a lack of general life experience.
There are advisors and party workers who’ve gone from school to Uni to work in their Party. In many cases a blinkered track to a what turns into a blinkered work place.
So much more to write about implications this has had in some portfolios but life is too busy today.
When the cavalcade of cars went to Cobargo I was not surprised at how inappropriate the whole exercise became. It said everything!

Olwen Morris8:05 am 10 Feb 20

A great article. I think not only have they been captured by ‘cynical opportunism’ they have also been captured by the fossil fuel lobby which throws money at both sides to prevent them denouncing coal production etc. Instead they talk about saving jobs and affordable energy. There could be thousands of jobs created in the renewables industry if the government became serious about investing. It’s already been stated that energy produced by solar, wind, hydro etc would be cheaper in the long run. However both sides of politics are terrified of upsetting the fossil fuel lobby and in turn the possibility of losing votes. We need real leadership on climate change before it really is too late.

Marianne Beuzeville8:04 am 10 Feb 20

Good writing that covers concerns here on the far south coast. It will take a long time to recover emotionly, mentally & physically.Will we ever feel safe again? Fire is terrifying, it has no mercy. The Federal Government is to be held responsible for deserting the people when the country was in crisis.

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