Scott Morrison’s Virtual Reality, Amid The Flames



The difference between the response of volunteers, who are putting their lives on the line to try and save their communities, and that of our Prime Minister, who instead saw an opportunity to repair his trashed political brand, tell you everything you need to know about this man, and his government, writes Darren Lewin-Hill.

As our national bushfires emergency was continuing to unfold on Saturday night, Scott Morrison clearly thought the timing was right to release a political self-promotion about the response of his government.

Advertising expert Todd Sampson responded on Twitter that the ad was ‘like being sold to at a funeral’.

But it is even worse that that.

Amid the loss we had already seen, Morrison’s sales pitch came as so many more lives remained in the balance, including those of the men and women responding to the fires through our emergency services.

As the ad circulated, with its obscenely upbeat music and cheaply slick cascade of positive imagery and messages, Channel Seven was replaying footage of a Nelligen firefighter who had that day collapsed next to his truck, having lost seven houses and, bone tired and spent, was horrified and angry at the prospect of losing even one more.

He roundly condemned Morrison, his colleague calling for the prime minister to “stand down now”.

The contrast was at once heart-rending and nauseating. Here was the firefighters’ reality and the prime minister’s orchestrated virtual reality. The first showed those serving communities to the point of their own exhaustion; the second showed the prime minister serving his damaged political brand.

Here, too, was the real-time roll-out of fake news as so many of us watched it knowing just that. Not necessarily fake in the details of the response itself – the ultimate adequacy of which should be judged by those going through the fires – but deeply fake in the perception of the crisis the ad invites among those who view it.

It asks us to believe in Scott Morrison as the author of a response that should enjoy our confidence, just as the NSW fires were being likened to an atomic bomb.

In its fake positivity, it erased the threat many thousands of people were still then facing. That night, news footage also reached us detailing the fatalities on Kangaroo Island. It showed an incinerated car holding one body, a blue blanket drawn over another body on the charred road beside it.

Channel 9 coverage of two deaths on Kangaroo Island in South Australia, during the bushfire crisis.

These were the grim realities to which the ad’s music became the grotesque soundtrack.

Far from the necessary communication of government action for the public benefit, the ad belongs more with the slew of sickening bank commercials following the damning royal commission. Like Westpac’s repulsive ‘We can be heroes’ ad, here was Morrison – the man who deserted us on holiday in Hawaii – painted as the hero, using our defence personnel and people in fire-ravaged communities as props.

Following a social media backlash, he responded to criticism by posting that all videos released by government MPs are required to include an authorisation. In this he invited the absurd inference that it was the authorisation that led to the ad’s rejection as political, not the blatant propaganda it contained.

Its context is damning. The ad follows Morrison’s refusal to meet with former emergency services leaders, his desertion to Hawaii, the delayed and inadequate preparation and response to the fires themselves, and the visits to bushfire zones to force himself on victims for his own photo opportunities.

A firefighter refuses to shake Scott Morrison’s hand on the South Coast over the weekend. INSET: The Liberal Party touting for political donations, in the midst of the crisis.

That the ad linked to a page encouraging political donations to his party only compounds its disgrace.

All of this beneath a pall of climate denial that hangs over his government in clear contradiction to the science and with a continuing failure of most media to robustly challenge it.

Beyond that, we now have a prime minister unnervingly indifferent to this crisis who is prepared to disseminate fake news in plain sight of those who can see through it to those who can’t.

Here is Morrison selling Australians the product he thinks they’ll want to buy, even as they burn. He is no leader of this country, and it’s time for him to go.

Outside, the blessed rain falls. May it find the flames.

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Darren Lewin-Hill is a Melbourne writer with a strong interest in climate policy, and the communication of climate issues in the media. He is a progressive who has run twice for Parliament as an independent for the State seat of Northcote in Victoria. He is not aligned with any political party. He tweets @Northcoteer. This piece represents his personal views.