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Comforter-in-Chief Role for Australian Prime Minister

He tried to do the right thing.

by Eric Holdeman / January 4, 2020

When it comes to disasters, elected officials need to be very visible in several respects. They need to be seen as "being in charge" by providing the resources needed to respond to the emergency at hand, and perhaps setting the overall priorities if there are not enough resources to go around.

Another key role is that of being what we call here in the United States as "Comforter-in-Chief" by visiting disaster areas and survivors to show empathy for them and to understand their needs. These visits are supposed to be listening, learning and comforting moments. 

For the Prime Minister of Australia, one such visit was problematic, see Australia’s prime minister visited families devastated by the wildfires It did not go well.

I think a prime cause for his reception was the fact that the Prime Minister had snuck off for a Hawaii family vacation. See my earlier blog post on that issue, An Even Worse Disaster Sin by a Leader.

It should also be noted that the Prime Minister has been a vocal climate change denier. I've noted that many in Australia, which is a significant supplier of coal to the world, is starting to "take heat" for his positions on climate change. 

He is joining an elite club of senior officials, elected and business leaders who made terrible decisions about how they spend their time when a disaster is beginning or ongoing, see this one, BP CEO Tony Hayward criticised for yacht trip [this when the Gulf Oil Spill was gushing oil]. He infamously said, "I want my life back!" An, and duh, this is why you get paid the big bucks, since "the buck stops with you!" Tony Hayward eventually was forced to resign. He did get his life back.

Finally, there was the Hurricane Katrina lesson taught to President George Bush, President Bush's Response To Hurricane Katrina Shows The Importance Of Presidential Involvement During Natural Disasters.

The importance of the image of the president and what he is doing is critical to how his actions are perceived. The photo in the linked story above sent all the wrong messages. Now, to his credit, he could have landed in the disaster zone and toured the devastation. But, doing so would have disrupted all air operations, because when the President is in an area--nothing flies that could possibly be used as a weapon. Tough to be President!

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