Morrison too slow on a natural disaster

The reality, of course, is that the federal government did what it usually does. He paid thousands of requests for assistance and he sent the Australian Defense Force to floodplains to help. Seeing the onslaught from Labour, the government began issuing updates on Tuesday to list all the money given and other help offered.

Federal aid as of Wednesday included $385.2 million in payments to 330,900 people and the deployment of 4,370 ADF members.

But this help came too late. Stories emerged on Monday of people in Lismore using a crowdfunding scheme to hire a helicopter. It has deepened the impression of a federal vacuum after Defense Minister Peter Dutton was criticized 10 days ago for backing a crowdfunding effort to help Queensland flood victims.

One of the lessons from the bushfires two years ago is that Australians expect the ADF to offer rapid relief in the event of a natural disaster. They don’t expect to have to fund the helicopters.

It has given Labor leader Anthony Albanese a strong national stake ahead of the election. He stepped up his criticism on Tuesday by calling for quicker decisions at the top to deploy the ADF, while refraining from criticizing defense chiefs.

The government’s frustration is evident as aid has always been available for Queensland and New South Wales. Asked on February 27 if he would send the ADF, Morrison said he had already made the offer. He said all prime ministers had to do was ask.

Loading

“They will only be used if the Prime Minister requests them?” asked a reporter.

“Yeah, well, yeah, that, I mean, because they run the show,” Morrison replied.

It’s the same dynamic as two years ago. Help is there for those who ask. This is dangerous for Morrison because it can cement the impression of a passive prime minister rather than a leader who takes the initiative.

And the timing couldn’t be worse. Morrison wants to repeat history by winning the election against all odds. Now, however, he finds himself repeating history with a natural disaster.

An earlier version of this article stated that footage of the private Prime Ministers’ meeting came from his personal photographer. The prime minister’s office said no images were released by his personal photographer.