Two years ago, on 16 December, MP Michael McCormack, the then Deputy Prime Minister, was appointed Acting Prime Minister whilst the country burned.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s whereabouts were unknown and despite predictable and growing outrage over a number of days, his office refused to confirm his where he was. Rumours swirled that he was holidaying in Hawaii. His office denied them.
It was only after the tragic death of two young volunteer fire fighters that Morrison reluctantly cut his holiday short and returned home early. He never said sorry for abandoning his ship during its darkest hour, though he did offer regret.
Australians were rightly infuriated by Morrison’s Hawaii holiday. His approval ratings reached an all-time low. 16 December 2019 has accordingly been labelled “Abscondment Day” (on Twitter at least).
And yet, Morrison may as well have stayed in Hawaii because the defining feature of his past two years has been abscondment. Abdication of responsibility is his leadership style.
Climate change is a good example, particularly because a recent CSIRO study proved climate change is driving Australia’s 800% increase in bushfires and because bushfires were what got Morrison into trouble in the first place.
Leadership on climate would have involved ambitious interim targets, an urgent plan to phase out fossil fuels, a national renewable energy policy and efficiency standards for vehicles. Morrison didn’t give us any of those things. He gave us a technology roadmap relying on technologies that don’t exist.
The pandemic, the defining event of the past two years, is another example. Quarantine was a federal responsibility, but Morrison left that to the states. He also couldn’t find the time to make a single phone call to the head of Pfizer in a bid to expedite Australia’s vaccination supply, meaning we were months behind in our vaccine rollout and forced into extended lockdowns in 2021.
While Australia did comparatively well in its handling of the pandemic, both in terms of death toll and vaccination coverage, that was because of effective state premiers. Morrison merely sniped, sneered and smirked from the sidelines.
There are many other ways Morrison abdicated his responsibilities. He abandoned accountability and ignored ministerial responsibility by allowing scandal plagued members like Christian Porter, Angus Taylor and Bridget McKenzie to remain in Cabinet. He refused to unambiguously condemn the far-right protestors marching our streets with makeshift nooses and gallows, thereby pandering to extremists and encouraging their violence.
He failed to legislate a national integrity commission despite this being an election commitment. Tragically, he failed to act promptly to save Afghan interpreters and support staff from the clutches of the Taliban despite months of warning before the botched withdrawal from Afghanistan. He also failed to show any moral leadership by increasing Australia’s intake of refugees in response to a crisis of Australia’s making.
There is some evidence that Morrison has, in fact, been the Prime Minister during the two years since Abscondment Day. He’s done some things. He signed us up to buy some nuclear submarines which we don’t need and can’t afford. In addition to being unnecessary and expensive, these nuclear submarines will also make us and the region less safe.
Additionally, he’s ruined our relationships with China and France. There’s also been some slogans and announcements. That’s about it though. He needn’t be here.
Hannah Thomas is a lawyer currently working in public policy. She has a keen interest in Australian and Malaysian politics.
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