Dear Scott Morrison – true leaders take responsibility

The Hon Scott Morrison MP
Prime Minister
Parliament House

Dear Scott Morrison

Today, Australia is in flames. Bush fires have gone beyond so-called ‘seasonal norms’. People have died. Those fighting and fleeing the fires are in grave danger. As the tragedy unfolds and the devastation continues, it seems Australia’s luck has run out, suffering instead from the flames, from the destruction— and a prime minister who has demonstrated a lack of empathy, situational understanding. 

From the sidelines, it appears you urgently need some lessons in leadership and I am writing to suggest actions, that, as a leader, it is best to avoid.

First, the matter of your holiday. Don’t leave the the country you lead during a major disaster. It is neither sensible nor appropriate. As a national leader your job is to put your country and the people of your country first. Yes, that is hard on your family and your personal life but that’s what you signed up for and why you get the big bucks. Being there, turning up – first part of the job.

Second, take responsibility. You’ve had an interesting and chequered past, with many roles in many places and in some instances there have been many questions asked about your conduct and interests – questions for the most part you appear to have been able to avoid. In your current role, you need to front up. Leaders – true leaders – take responsibility for their actions and don’t attempt to divert attention from their failure to be present. Your comments to Radio 2GB were both insulting and ridiculous. You said, and I quote:

“It’s not easy to get back, but I will as soon as I can. I know Australians will understand this, and they’ll be pleased I’m coming back… but they know that, you know, I don’t hold a hose, mate.”

No you don’t hold a hose – but you do hold the seat of power and have the ability to lessen the toll on the heroic volunteers who don’t go off on holiday and do sacrifice themselves in order to ‘hold a hose’ and defend their fellow Australians.

Third, the pressing matter of empathy. Your remarks around cricket – and again, I quote:

“It’s going to be a great summer of cricket, and for our firefighters and fire-impacted communities, I’m sure our boys will give them something to cheer for’. 

Important as sport is to the Australian psyche, when your home is in flames, your town is threatened, you’ve been fighting fires for hours on end with no rest or respite, in some cases with inadequate resources, or you frantically search for loved ones who have been missing for days, cricket really is the last thing on your mind. In a disaster like this the immediacy of danger, the pain of loss, the need for safety, basic supplies, food, water and shelter, clear and coherent communication are the main considerations.

I don’t know if you are going to ‘up your game’ in the coming weeks – I sincerely hope so as this catastrophe isn’t going to end any time soon given the expert opinions that have been expressed. Perhaps look to the leadership demonstrated by your fire service chief Shane Fitzsimmons, or the state premiers Gladys Berejiklian and Daniel Andrews. They’ve turned up, done their best and continue to address the terrible situation that has arisen in your country. While our hearts (and those ubiquitous thoughts and prayers) are extended to every person affected, the situation affects everyone around the world – not least because of the huge amount of CO2 been released into the atmosphere, fanning the flames of the climate crisis we are collectively experiencing.

I would urge you to get some professional communications guidance. George Bernard Shaw is famously quoted as saying: “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place”. I would urge you to keep this at the forefront of your mind and be under no illusion that the way in which you have attempted to communicate – or not – with the Australian public and all those involved in the disaster is inadequate at best, dangerous at worst. And you certainly need some help with your speech writing. 

My final suggestion is that you take some lessons in leadership from those who have demonstrated empathy and understanding during a crisis. You can’t slip empathy round your shoulders to disguise a lack of understanding. It must come from the heart, be genuine and be accompanied by appropriate action if it is to be worn, recognised and trusted – and right now, you are very short on trust.

My sincere hope is that the weather changes, the fires can be controlled and there is no further loss of life. I hope your government does everything possible to support the thousands displaced by the disaster and the internal migration that will follow this tragedy is dealt with more kindly and more humanely than external migrants who arrive in Australia through similar circumstances elsewhere. 

I also hope that your ability to lead improves, we see less of the hashtags #scottyfrommarketing and #scomomustgo and the brave people of Australia receive the help, support – and leadership – they deserve.

Yours sincerely


Catherine Arrow