‘No shame’: Staggering reaction to fires
While Australia's firefighters were quietly proving their heroism in recent days, our politicians were busy disgracing themselves as loudly and obnoxiously as possible.
Most of us expect our leaders to come together in times of crisis, putting aside the endless stream of petty squabbling that usually consumes Australian politics.
Maybe that is a quaint idea, or a little naive. But it's not unreasonable.
The bushfires are as serious a crisis as you can imagine. Three people are dead, hundreds of homes have been destroyed, and the danger has not yet passed.
Still, some politicians can't resist hopping on radio or TV and blaming each other. It's like a reflex for them; a compulsive habit they have no control over.
For days we have had to listen to a bitter and increasingly shrill feud between the Nationals and Greens.
It started on Saturday, when Greens MP Adam Bandt reacted to the rampant bushfires by taking a shot at the government's climate change policies.
I’m deeply saddened by the loss of life. Hearts go out to all affected & to brave firefighters.— Adam Bandt (@AdamBandt) November 9, 2019
But words & concern are not enough.
The PM does not have the climate emergency under control.
Unless we lead a global effort to quit coal & cut pollution, more lives will be lost.
It was fairly innocuous, as political sledges go, and Australia obviously needs to debate the subject. But was Saturday the time to have that debate, while the country was burning? No. Come on. Of course not.
The government was never going to change its approach to a major policy area in the middle of an ongoing crisis. It had more immediate concerns to focus on, like keeping people safe.
Mr Bandt's defenders have compared that stance - that he should have waited for a more appropriate moment - to gun nuts in the United States refusing to discuss firearm control measures in the wake of a mass shooting.
It's not the same thing. Mr Bandt's comment was the equivalent of pushing for gun control while the shooting was still under way.
But that was just the beginning.
Nationals leader Michael McCormack could have brushed off Mr Bandt's attack, or ignored it altogether. As Deputy Prime Minister, he obviously had more important things to worry about than one poorly timed policy criticism.
Instead he decided to escalate the argument with some remarkably inflammatory language.
"We've had fires in Australia since time began, and what people need now is a little bit of sympathy, understanding and real assistance. They need help, they need shelter. They don't need the ravings of some pure, enlightened and woke capital city greenies," he said.
"Adam Bandt is very quick to really point the finger. What really galls me, and I think galls a whole host of other Australians, is the fact that he actually blames Scott Morrison and the government for the loss of those peoples' lives. If that doesn't get called out, he gets away with it. And I think sometimes people like him get way too much publicity."
What better way to deprive Mr Bandt of publicity than to start a very public spat with him?
Mr Bandt doubled down, saying Mr McCormack and Mr Morrison "bear some responsibility for what is happening" because they'd "done everything in their power to make these kind of catastrophic bushfires more likely".
His Greens colleague Jordon Steele-John went even further, accusing the government of being "no better than a bunch of arsonists".
And then, just to top it off, Barnaby Joyce chimed in.
While complaining about the Greens politicising the bushfires, Mr Joyce did some shameless politicisation of his own, suggesting the Greens were actually the ones responsible for the increased fire danger due to their opposition to hazard reduction burns.
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He also publicly concluded, for some reason, that two of the victims who had died in the fires were "most likely" people who voted for the Greens.
These politicians should have been providing calm, sober leadership. Instead they chose to waste everyone's time with childish name-calling and hypocrisy.
Their first instinct was to use a life-threatening situation to score political points.
Most politicians have practically no shame, but this is on another level.
The major parties, at least, have stayed largely out of the fray. But not entirely.
Labor's Kristina Keneally did take a little swing at Mr Joyce, and LNP Senator Gerard Rennick could not resist mentioning his favourite conspiracy theory about the Bureau of Meteorology supposedly rewriting weather records to support global warming.
You can see why the Prime Minister eventually got fed up.
Last night Mr Morrison told his colleagues to stop feuding with each other and focus on the needs of Australians affected by the fires.
"I think it's important that at moments like this, everybody take it down a few notches," he said.
"What matters is people who are in need, and ensuring the operational support is there for the services they need."
His Labor counterpart, Anthony Albanese, brought a similar sense of perspective to the situation.
"There's no place for the comments of the senator from the Greens party (Mr Steele-John) or from Barnaby Joyce. I just find that astonishing," Mr Albanese told 5AA radio today.
"I've been criticised, I've got to say, for not trying to politicise these bushfires.
"The priority right now has got to be about saving lives and about practical measures to provide assistance."
That is the sort of bipartisanship the vast majority of Australians expect during a crisis. Get the job done, make sure people are safe, and then get back to arguing.
Someone tell the minor parties.