Australia traumatised as blundered response to bushfires threatens political crisis

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Australia’s third Prime Minister in seven years, Scott Morrison, has responded to the bushfire crisis with a series of public gaffes that have led his popularity ratings to plunge dramatically. The Australia fires, which have so far caused the deaths of at least 27 people and over a billion animals, are some of the most devastating and wide-ranging blazes ever seen on the continent, yet Morrison elected to take a family holiday in Hawaii as volunteer fire-fighters battled the flames. After mounting derision from the Australian public, he reluctantly cut his overseas holiday short by one day.

What followed was a series of PR disasters, including, but not limited to: a viral video of an exhausted fire-fighter telling a news crew that the Prime Minister should “get f***ed”; being spotted relaxing on the beach and hosting a reception for cricketers; seeming not to realise that several lives had been lost when visiting Kangaroo Island; and, in a painfully cringeworthy moment, forcibly grabbing people’s hands after they refused him a handshake out of disgust, then promptly walking away when they expressed dissent.

Morrison, who is the leader of the Coalition between the Liberals and the Nationals that has dominated Australian politics for the last century, was also partly responsible for cutting funding for a key climate change research group before he became Prime Minister in 2018. The head of the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility has publicly stated that since then-treasurer Morrison axed government funds for the group in 2017, the nation’s ability to combat climate change is actually “smaller than it was decade ago”.

Australia is a country that relies heavily on fossil fuel industries, and is the world’s third biggest exporter of fossil fuels, and is ranked as “very low” in the Energy Use category by the Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI). Like America, a nation that also has an historic coal mining industry, Australia faces an economic/moral conundrum as to the future of their energy production. However, whereas Donald Trump has taken a firmly pro-economy, anti-environmental stance, Morrison is seen to be attempting to have his cake and eat it, openly expressing his support for climate saving measures whilst doing little to prevent global heating. Australia was also a key opponent to the COP25 climate agreement in Madrid late last year.

This serious blow to Morrison’s so-far healthy public image could lead to the collapse of not just his leadership, but his Coalition’s dominance in government. The left-leaning opponents, Labor, have long been pushing a pro-climate agenda, and as Australia is brutally awakened to the realities of the climate emergency, perhaps they will awaken to the hypocrisy of their current Prime Minister.

Written by POI Correspondent, Max Ingleby

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