While Australia Burns, Its Prime Minister Fiddled Away On Vacation

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison gets a lesson in governing the hard way.

Photo via The New York Times

It’s summer in Australia, temperatures are hitting record highs, fires are burning, resulting in the death of firefighters, and Prime Minister Scott Morrison finds himself in the middle of serious public blowback for taking a holiday vacation in the middle of a crisis:

Australia’s marketing expert Prime Minister has just had his first major product recall.

Scott Morrison’s brand has been damaged, as he wings his way back to Australia from Hawaii, a trifle shop-soiled and humiliated.

And all because Morrison and his office thought they could engineer silence on a family holiday.

As so often in politics, it’s the cover-up that gets you.

No-one begrudges the fellow going on holiday with his wife and lovely girls who have probably seen less of their dad this year than any in their short lives.

And he’s undoubtedly knackered from a hectic year in which he pulled off a miracle election win.

But it’s highly inadvisable to fudge on your whereabouts or when you’re going to return within radar.

This is not about preserving the PM’s privacy, the privacy of his young family or questions of their security.

Where he goes for a family holiday isn’t particularly important but confirming he’s clocked off, when he’s coming back on duty and who’s taken his place is important.

When it was briefed out on Monday that the PM was on holidays, it was explained he’d be on a “couple of quick days of leave”.

But as the PM revealed to 2GB on Friday morning, he texted Labor leader Anthony Albanese that day to inform him he’d be on a week’s holiday.

There was no official public note issued of his absence and when one Press Gallery journalist inquired with the Deputy Prime Minister’s office as to whether Michael McCormack was Acting PM, the journalist was referred back to the PM’s Office.


Of course, any Morrison family holiday was going to attract his critics, because the haters are going to hate, just as a holiday taken by Julia Gillard or Kevin Rudd at a time of community difficulty would have been the subject of haranguing commentary by those in the conservative media.

But what started as a social media storm, whipped up by the predictable hashtag army, morphed into a question of leadership and judgment when the calamity of the bushfires mounted.

If Gladys Berejiklian’s declaration of a State of Emergency in NSW hadn’t already made Morrison sweat a little more in his Hawaiian shirt, the tragedy at Buxton made the continuation of his holiday untenable

The death of two volunteer firies, who themselves have young families, only served to further embarrass Morrison, despite the fact that the PM is as helpless as most of us are in the face of these terrible blazes.

“I don’t hold a hose, mate, and I don’t sit in a control room,” Morrison told 2GB radio host John Stanley from Hawaii.

“That’s the brave people who … are doing that job. But I know that Australians would want me back at this time … of these fatalities.
“So I’ll happily come back and do that.”

As with an American President, there’s no doubt that Prime Minister Morrison was being kept fully briefed on what was occurring back home with regard to fires that were already burning when he left town. And, of course, nobody is expecting the Prime Minister to be out there fighting the fires himself just as nobody expects an American President to be on sight during the height of a hurricane or during the immediate aftermath. That is what the experts that leaders delegate authority to are for. Nonetheless, being a leader means being there during a time of crisis even if it’s just as a figurehead showing up at news conferences. This is such elementary politics that it’s a wonder to see politicians who make mistakes like this. You’d think they’d know better at this point.

In any case, as I noted this occurs in the middle of what is being described as the worst fire season Australia in recorded history, In addition to the destruction the fires are causing, and of course the lives and property damage, the fires are having a nationwide impact, with cities like Sydney dealing with dangerous levels of smoke, This map gives a good indication of the extent of the blazes:


Given the fact that the majority of Australia’s population lives along the coasts, the fact that this is where the fires are is obviously of deep concern. Why Morrison thought it was a good idea to take a public holiday during all of this is a mystery.

FILED UNDER: Natural Disasters, , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Mister Bluster says:

    Why Morrison thought it was a good idea to take a public holiday during all of this is a mystery.

    Sh!t for brains?

  2. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Mister Bluster:

    Yes and the fact that all the good vacations spots in Australia are burning.

    This rivals Bush’s fly over of New Orleans as bad imagery.

  3. Liberal Capitalist says:

    I have to admit, I am not sure if this is really that terrible or newsworthy.

    1) If you are a national leader, it is almost guaranteed that there will be a crisis somewhere, nearly on a daily basis.

    2) Creating a story where there is not really one (Obama golfing in Hawaii), can come back to bite those storytellers when reversed (Trump golfed 288 times so far at an estimated taxpayer cost of $114M… so, golfing every 4th day of his term, after having said he won’t have time to golf in his presidency.).

    3) So the question is: Are world leaders entitled to a vacation when they do their job? Should they not get a break at all?

    Yes, Australia fires are a tragedy. No question. But would his being there really make it any different?

    I guess my outrage meter is broken. Just tired out, must be.

  4. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Liberal Capitalist: There are always crises, never a good time for a vacay. BBBBuuuuuuutttttt… There are better times, like when your constituents aren’t watching their entire lives go up in a puff of smoke. I understand the urge to head for more temperate climes when the weather is at it’s worst (ever been to STL in July? You’d know why I head for the mountains then if you had) but I’m not a PM or President or Governor with voters losing everything they ever had and all they’d ever dreamed of in a hurricane/fire storm/tornado.

    Sucks to be elected.

  5. steve says:

    Rumor has it he was vacationing with Chris Christie, an expert on leadership time off.


  6. Sleeping Dog says:


    ever been to STL in July?

    Yup, lived there for 5 years and the only redeeming feature of July in StL is you can attend Shakespeare in the Park and then have an al fresco dinner at 11 pm very comfortably because it is still 80 something degrees.

  7. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Sleeping Dog: They do free evening concerts at Missouri Botanical Gardens during spring/summer/fall now too. I’m not in STL anymore so I’m not privy to the particulars but friends tell me they are really nice. If my bedtime wasn’t 8:30 I’d make the trip in for one or 2 every year.

  8. Sleeping Dog says:


    The Botanical Garden concerts may have been going on when I was there. But since I could walk to a half dozen music venues, it didn’t make much sense to drive over to Tower Grove Park.

  9. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Sleeping Dog: I lived in the 4600 block of Arsenal right across from Tower Grove for several years. It has ever since been my favorite STL city park. They hold the Festival of Nations there the last wkend of August every year and I always try to make it. Good people from all over the world, good food from all over the world, good music from all over the world, good times.

  10. Sleeping Dog says:

    Lived in Ames Place in U-City, between Wash U and the Delmar Loop.

    Tower Grove Park is wonderful, just about the right size and was developed when StL was among the richest cities in the country. The surrounding So. Grand area was coming back when we were there on the strength of the Balkan diaspora.

    Best pizza in StL at the Black Thorn at Grand and Wyoming(?).

  11. Mister Bluster says:

    Late 80’s or so my ex and I and another couple would make a weekend out of a
    Cubs-Skunks game at the Busch Stadium of the day and stay at the Forest Park Hotel in the Central West end that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Neat old building that had been renovated and had a Piano Bar and a Delicatessan on the ground floor near the lobby.
    Last time I visited the area the building was shuttered. WikiP states that it has been made into an apartment building.