The best leaders are those who can step up in a crisis. Those who can put their personal interests and needs aside in order to do their job for the greater good. Regardless of the time of year or the personal inconvenience required.
Some will falter — and when they do, the next test of their leadership comes in the lessons they learn from their mistakes.
This time last year, Prime Minister Scott Morrison made a terrible mistake in leadership, by taking off and traveling to Hawaii while bushfires ravaged Australia. He also failed to be upfront and transparent about the location of his holiday.
He made unforgivable excuses for being MIA as the crisis was unfolding. Even as the crisis escalated, he spent time addressing cricketers in Kirribilli, rather than effectively responding. He barely sent a tweet during the worst of the bushfire days and did a Smartphone recorded message on NYE declaring we’ve “faced this before”, just as kids were huddled in boats, escaping bushfires off the coast of Australia.
When asked in December 2019 why he was holidaying rather than being involved in the bushfire response, he declared “I don’t hold a hose mate”. He seemed to think that a direct, frontline response role was the only role he could take in a crisis, forgetting that the job of Prime Minister doesn’t require holding a hose, it requires communication.
It requires assisting with coordination and relaying messages, opening up additional support — these things may not always be needed, and indeed in many cases states have the mandate to coordinate and manage things themselves — but that doesn’t make a prime minister’s job redundant.
One year later, the PM is again largely absent during an unfolding crisis, that may or may not get under control. He hasn’t fronted journalists in a meaningful way. And appears to have done little — and it was little he did during Victoria’s second wave also — to assist with the coordination and communication between the states and territories.
The level of hostility between these leaders is obvious in the press conferences given, as it has been for months. One can only imagine what is occurring behind the scenes.
A quarter of a million Australians just entered lockdown and will possibly still be in such a position over Christmas. Thousands more will not reunite with families interstate. Thousands will be in isolation over the Christmas period — including many who live alone, or otherwise need to stay in rooms away from family members.
We’re witnessing mad dashes for borders, some such trips that may be considered dangerous in taking little to no stop along the way. Some interstate travellers successfully make it accross. Others drive for hours only to find that arrangements have been changed.
It’s a fast moving situation and of course plans need to shift accordingly.
But it’s also an emotional situation.
Premiers will look after their own, understandably. But somewhere over the top of that, there is a void for a leader to step up, to note the sacrifice and the uncertainty. To help ease the hostilities. To at least make us believe there is some kind of overarching coordination and information sharing happening beyond the drama playing out in daily press conferences. To bring people together, as they are being divided once again along state borders.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison, take this opportunity to fill this void.
Maybe we’ll forgive — or at least forget — the ‘gold standard‘ badge you gave NSW just hours prior to the extent of the starting outbreak being known.
There are other mistakes that are unlikely to be forgiven. But regardless, take the opportunity to be seen, constantly. Take the opportunity to surprise us.
You fought your entire career for this position. Part of the responsibility is to remain on high alert. It’s the price of leadership and one that many others would fight endlessly to have the opportunity to pay. Voters put their faith in you to lead on the issues they don’t have the opportunity to control, regardless of what time of year those issues emerge. You are paid accordingly and will take a pension for the rest of your life.
Don’t rest PM. And if you do eventually take that holiday in January, make sure you remain very much on call.