5 Jan 2020

Morrison slammed for running 'obscene' political ads during fire crisis

2:13 pm on 5 January 2020

Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been condemned for releasing videos on social media advertising his government's response to the country's current bushfire crisis.

Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison (C) visits a resident's property in an area devastated by bushfires in Sarsfield, Victoria state on January 3, 2020.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is being accused of helping to promote his political party during a time of national crisis. Photo: AFP

Yesterday Morrison announced a raft of assistance measures in response to Australia's deadly fire crisis, including the deployment of 3000 Australian Defence Force (ADF) reservists and Royal Australian Air Force and Navy craft for rescue efforts.

The Commonwealth has also set aside a further $A20 million ($NZ20.8m) to lease four additional firefighting aircraft, while ADF bases in Brisbane and Adelaide will be made available for emergency short-term accommodation.

Since September, 23 people have died in bushfires across the country, with two people on Kangaroo Island becoming the latest victims.

To date, the fires have burned more than six million hectares of land - a number greater than Brazil's 2019 Amazon fires and 2018's California wildfires combined.

Hours after the announcement, Morrison's office released a social media video outlining the arrangements.

The 50-second video, released on Twitter and Facebook, is set to electronic music as text of the additional assistance appears over vision of the disaster relief efforts, defence craft, and the prime minister's visits to affected communities.

"We're calling out up to 3000 Defence Force Reservists to help in fire-affected areas," the text reads.

"We've also deployed three Australian Navy ships ... that's on top of the $26 million already committed this year."

The video also summarised Australia's response to the fire crisis, which noted the use of 140 aerial firefighting aircraft; payments to volunteer firefighters; the availability of P2 face masks; and emergency payments to those who have lost homes or income as a result of the crisis.

After the video was released, the Liberal Party's Facebook and Twitter accounts released posts also detailing the additional ADF assistance linking through to an article on the party's website.

The opposition Australian Labor Party (ALP) have not released posts on Facebook or Twitter referencing the ADF assistance.

The video was slammed as "political advertising" on social media, with former ABC broadcaster Barrie Cassidy labelling it "absolutely obscene".

"They are advertising their responses to the fires - promoting themselves - at the height of the crisis," he said.

Todd Sampson, an advertising expert and panellist on ABC TV's Gruen, said the video was "not right".

"Advertising! There is something not right about running political advertising during a devastating National Crisis," he wrote.

"It's like being 'sold to' at a funeral."

Morrison's efforts also made waves overseas, with veteran British broadcaster Piers Morgan labelling the video on Twitter a "self-promotional commercial with cheesy elevator music".

"This is one of the most tone-deaf things I've ever seen a country's leader put out during a crisis. Shameless & shameful."

Morgan has not been the first overseas personality to criticise Morrison's decisions, with American actor and musician Bette Midler labelling the PM "rotten" on Twitter late yesterday.

"Pity the poor #Australians, their country ablaze, and their rotten @ScottMorrisonMP saying: 'This is not the time to talk about climate change. We have to grow our economy," she wrote.

"What an idiot. What good is an economy in an uninhabitable country? Lead, you f***wit!!"

However, numerous comments under the prime minister and Liberal Party's bushfire assistance posts from general users have shown there is significant support for the Morrison government's response.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison comforts 85-year-old resident Owen Whalan at an evacauation centre in Taree, 350km north of Sydney, as firefighters try to contain dozens of blazes.

Scott Morrison, seen here consoling Owen Whalan at an evacuation centre in Taree, 350km north of Sydney, has received some positive feedback to the measures announced to help with the bushfires emergency. Photo: AFP

Video a 'clear breach' of non-partisanship, says watchdog

The Australian Defence Association (ADA) - a public-interest watchdog of Australian defence matters - said on Twitter the video "milking ADF support to civil agencies fighting bushfires" was a "clear breach of the (reciprocal) non-partisanship convention applying to both the ADF & Ministers/MPs".

The ADA website notes that "politically expedient government announcements" featuring the ADF "is always wrong".

Presently, keeping the ADF free from political partisanship remains a convention that both politicians and defence personnel are obliged to adhere to.

ADA head Neil James told The Guardian Australia that the ad's purpose was "clearly [for] party political advantage".

"It's simple. You don't use the defence force for party political advantage," he said.

NSW's fire boss criticises Morrison

NSW's fire boss has criticised the Prime Minister, saying he was blindsided by yesterday's announcement 3000 army reservists would be sent to help recovery efforts.

Rural Fire Service (RFS) Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said Scott Morrison's office had not told him about the extra resources, which he found out about via media reports.

Fitzsimmons said while he was thankful for the support, logistics would be complicated.

"I was disappointed and frustrated in the middle of one of our worst days with massive dislocation and movement of people," he said.

"I had my conversations with the Prime Minister's office."


Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs