On Sunday the sky over various parts of New Zealand emitted a strange orange glow. The light was infused with more than just the drifting smoke particles from the catastrophic fires from across the Tasman – it was symbolic of the apocalyptic glow that signifies the ever present danger of the warming of our planet and the abject and pathetic leadership of the Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison.

“Since the start of the 2019 fire season, a staggering 10 million hectares has been burned, with all states and territories impacted except the ACT. To put this into perspective, in NSW alone, almost 5 million hectares have been burned, which covers an area larger than the Netherlands.In total, the area burned is almost the size of England, which is 13 million hectares.” (Source: “How the 2019 Australian bushfire season compares to other fire disasters,” www.news.com.au). And that’s just the destruction in terms of scale – even more alarming is the loss of 25 human lives and close to a billion animal lives. This is a truly horrendous and alarming national event for Australia and has, and continues to demand leadership that signals resolve and empathy.

Australia’s prime minister could not have done a worse job of trying to deal with the events and the people affected if he had designed to to so from the outset. As reported in Stuff, “While visiting fire victims this week in Cobargo, just inland from the coast, conservative Prime Minister Scott Morrison faced an irate crowd. Some refused to shake his hand; others called for more resources to fight the flames. This angry reception came after he enjoyed an ill-timed vacation to Hawaii shortly before Christmas. It’s always risky to travel far from home during a crisis, but this jaunt was especially ham-handed: Morrison’s office initially denied he was away, all while photos of him wearing board shorts and throwing up a surfer sign circulated on social media. (Source: “Prime Minister Scott Morrison, your country is burning,”).

Our Australian cousins are not that different to Kiwis – we both value integrity, honesty, and a sense of doing the right thing. After the Christchurch Mosque attacks last year, our prime minister, Jacinda Ardern represented a nation with empathy, care and a commitment to change. In doing so she established an international reputation as a leader with emotional and intellectual integrity and the intelligence to deal with a monstrous terrorist act.

Leadership is not easy and not everyone has the capacity to lead – indeed many don’t want to. That’s one of the reasons that we have representational government. Our leaders are elected in our stead to represent us and to lead us. Obviously, not everyone in New Zealand will agree on the leaders we have in place, at any given time. We will also not all agree on measures put in place to govern us. The parameters of human nature ensure will will never truly agree on anything. But we do tend to value and seek particular types of leadership. Not always is that about results, or ‘strength’, or advancing particular notions of patriotism. It’s more about the nature of leadership – honesty, transparency, establishing self-responsibility and avoiding blame.

Scott Morrison has failed in adhering to any of those traits and the consequences are huge. While Australia burns and the worst effects of the bushfires are yet to come, the country appears adrift – missing the sort of people who could do their best to combat the worst that mother nature has to throw at us. As we have also seen in recent months – we too feel the effects of this  – despite being over 4,000km away. The smoke constantly billowing into the skies above Australia drifts here on prevailing winds and will do even greater damage to the planet.