Scott Morrison Linguistics Climate
(Image: AAP/Mick Tsikas)

The world is talking about us. A summer of unprecedented bushfires has given our little old antipodean politics and policies the kind of global media attention normally reserved for knifing sitting prime ministers.

Even then, coverage of our apparent love of political assassination tends to pass in a day or so. The fires — and the climate policy debate surrounding them — has kept Australia top of mind for weeks.

Here is what the global media and opinion makers have been saying.

A coal-loving leader

When Scott Morrison brought a lump of coal into parliament in 2017 to wave at the opposition benches, it was dismissed as a cheap question time stunt.

But, two years later, it’s been widely used by foreign outlets as evidence of the prime minister’s deep fealty to the coal industry and his failure to challenge the dangerous reality of climate change. The Washington Post, for example, led a recent article with the question time anecdote, calling Morrison a “coal-loving leader”. 

Morrison’s poor performance, including an ill-conceived Hawaiian holiday, has been the subject of scathing foreign coverage.

A Financial Times editorial labelled him a “cheerful volunteer in the divisive climate battles” and condemned his “regrettable lack of leadership”.

The Irish Times editors accused the prime minister of perpetuating “environmental fraud”, and attacked his “distinct form of climate science denial”.

Morrison’s approach to climate has also drawn unsavoury comparisons to other world leaders in the American media. The New Yorker called him a “Donald Trump-like figure”. New York Magazine suggested his denialism was akin to that of Trump or Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.

International reporting has also focussed on the relationship between the coal industry and conservative politics in Australia.

German broadcaster Deutsche Welle called Australia the canary building the coalmine, and claimed politicians are blinded by mining fortunes. Scientists, meanwhile, are “looking aghast at the politics of climate change in Australia”, BBC environmental analyst Roger Harrabin wrote. 

The role of the Murdoch press — in spreading climate disinformation and providing unflinching support for the Coalition — has also been the subject of detailed coverage in the The New York Times and Columbia Journalism Review. The Daily Beast meanwhile broke a story on rifts in the Murdoch clan over denialism.

The Coalition v the world

The attacks on Morrison continued from quarters that might once have been sympathetic. British TV host Piers Morgan, who is pro-Brexit and chummy with Donald Trump, attacked the Australian prime minister for his handling of the crisis, and later grilled rogue backbencher Craig Kelly on his morning show on the same topic. 

Even the Daily Mail, known for its right-wing editorial stance, turned against Morrison, declaring the prime minister’s handling of the crisis to be a “trainwreck”.

Meanwhile, in the House of Commons, politicians from both sides of the aisle, including several Tories, criticised the Coalition’s position, and urged the UK government to guide Australia towards greater action on climate. 

The Morrison government’s big opportunity to reclaim the narrative came at the World Economic Forum in Davos this week, where the bushfire crisis has put climate change centre stage.

But attendees were already using the forum as another opportunity to attack the government. On Tuesday, filmmaker Lynette Wallworth used a speech at the forum to call Morrison a “dinosaur ally” over his support for fossil fuels. 

Australia’s involvement at Davos, however, was meant to be minimal. According to Politico, which called Australia the world’s “the latest climate villain”, the WEF did not initially invite Finance Minister Mathias Cormann to its panel on the bushfires. 

Eventually, Cormann did get an invite, and tried to correct the record, arguing the idea Australia doesn’t pull its weight on climate change is “an assertion that suits the narrative of some commentators”. 

But after months of fierce media criticism, and with everything from Morrison’s deep commitment to coal to his Hawaiian holiday subject to international reporting, Cormann’s reassurances appeared too little too late.