Did you see this blurry photo doing the rounds on social media today?
Yep, that’s our Prime Minister, Tony Abbott driving a fire truck…
Cue: Cyberspace erupting in a tirade of annoyance and outrage.
“The PM shouldn’t be putting himself at risk like that, remember Harold Holt?” asked one concerned online commenter. “He’s the Prime Minister not an action hero” an angry woman on Facebook remarked. “What a shameless publicity grab” chorused many of the left leaning political Twitterati.
One friend even told me privately “This isn’t the Middle Ages anymore. The King doesn’t need to rally and motivate his soldiers by leading the vanguard into battle. Winston Churchill did a pretty great job at winning WWII from a bunker in London. Tony can do a pretty great job at assisting the RFS from Canberra.”
And at first I chuckled along with him. (I’m a political progressive, so any chance to have a crack at Tony Abbott, right?)
But the more I think about it, the more I wonder if all this outrage is terribly, terribly misplaced.
We should never underestimate the power of symbolism. And when many parts of the country are literally on fire, there is something pretty inspiring about seeing our elected leader – the most influential person in the country – out there doing what he can to help.
By standing alongside emergency services crews – not distracting or disturbing them from their work – but actually being helpful and constructive, the Prime Minister is making a difference.
He’s fighting the fires, sure. But he’s also boosting the morale of fellow fire fighters and demonstrating a willingness to get his hands dirty and help the people he represents. And I think that’s commendable.
Remember, this is a domestic natural disaster. It’s not an international military incident.
There isn’t some special role the Prime Minister can particularly play in these circumstances. Abbott doesn’t have the option of negotiating a friendly settlement with the flames. Fire crews aren’t desperately saying they need immediate additional resources right at this moment; the conversation about compensation for victims is of course one that will come later.
The threat of bushfire is one that this country has always faced and sadly, when a fire hits there is not that much we can do beyond trust our emergency services to get the job done.
Everyone is out there doing their bit, donating clothes, making sandwiches, offering shelter to those who have lost homes; offering what they can in this incredibly scary and difficult time. Tony Abbott is simply doing the same.
This was no stunt.
The Prime Minister’s office did not issue the usual ‘picture alert’ to let media know there would be a photo opportunity of Abbott in his firefighter get up.
There was no press conference held that could have disrupted or interfered with the important work emergency crews were doing.
Also, we need to remember that the PM has form here. It’s not like he was making a cameo NSW Rural Fire Service appearance; Abbott has been a volunteer fire fighter for years.
There was a threat of fire in his local area and so he went to do what he could to help. For that he deserves our praise and not our derision.
To my lefty friends – you know that I’m no fan of our Prime Minister’s policies or his politics. I find much of what he stands for and argues for truly reprehensible.
But surely this is not a time for us on the progressive side of politics to be bitching and moaning. This is above politics.
There are families in the Blue Mountains and around NSW today who are fighting to protect their homes, their livelihoods, their pets and even their loved ones.
Our Prime Minister and thousands of other volunteers like him have decided to get out there and help them do so.
Those volunteers deserve nothing less than our heartfelt thanks. And that includes Tony Abbott.
Do you think the Prime Minister should be out fighting fires or in Canberra making the decisions only he can make? Was the Prime Minister donning NSW RFS gear, a stunt?