Another senior Liberal MP said: “I think there is disbelief at how disconnected Morrison is. This has been a knee-jerk political response. The best thing he can do is keep quiet and keep out of the way.”
A ‘breakdown’ among defence personnel
Defence chiefs have been told to work more closely with state authorities after a political storm over the failure to consult on the unprecedented deployment of reservists.
Mr Morrison blamed “breakdown” among defence personnel for the confusion over the mammoth military intervention after state fire leaders revealed they had learnt of the move “informally” or through the media.
The Prime Minister vowed on Sunday to fix the problem and apologised to Mr Fitzsimmons, who aired his frustration at not being told of the defence force deployment until its sudden announcement.
Mr Morrison also declared he was open to holding a royal commission into the bushfire crisis and announced a new National Bushfire Recovery Agency to be led by former Australian Federal Police commissioner Andrew Colvin.
The new agency is expected to work for two years on the recovery, matching the agency set up to respond to the Queensland floods last year.
Federal cabinet will meet on Monday to discuss the cost of the intervention, with Mr Morrison ruling out a levy to raise funds for the task while signalling there would be more spending in the federal budget in May.
The tensions over consultation and co-ordination undermined the federal and state responses to the fires at a time when Mr Morrison was on the defensive over his decision to go on holiday before Christmas and his release of a social media video on Saturday night to promote his response to the fires.
Mr Morrison telephoned Ms Berejiklian and Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews on Saturday morning soon after a national security committee of federal cabinet had approved the defence deployment and the leasing of four large air tankers.
The federal government ad assumed the states would pass the information on to Mr Fitzsimmons and his Victorian counterpart, Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp, but this did not occur.
“All I can say is I wasn’t aware of it, I found out about it via the media reports,” Mr Fitzsimmons told Nine’s Today program.
“We then spent a fair bit of time with the military liaison and the Commonwealth liaison that are embedded here in our centre trying to understand what the details were.”
Mr Crisp said he had not been “formally notified” of the federal decision.
“There was a breakdown in communications at the defence liaison level with the headquarters yesterday,” Mr Morrison said, adding that this had been addressed with the ADF and in talks with the Premiers and fire chiefs.
‘Many views in hindsight’
A frustrated Defence Minister Linda Reynolds told ADF staff yesterday to fix the problem so that defence liaison officers posted with each fire authority passed on information more quickly.
Asked if his response to the crisis was too slow, Mr Morrison said there were “many views in hindsight” and there would be a review of this bushfire season, but his government was stepping up its response.
“The scale of the disaster is enormous and it is a reminder of the terrible threat that nature provides in this country,” the Prime Minister said.
“My answer to Australians is, yes, you can be confident that the government, the state government, the local governments and all agencies are putting everything they have into this.”
A senior NSW government source said that Ms Berejiklian found Mr Morrison’s actions an “irritation more than anything else”.
“I think it is pretty clear to everyone that he has been trying to regain momentum after the Hawaii trip,” the source said.
David Crowe is chief political correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
Chris Barrett is Sports Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald.
Alexandra Smith is the State Political Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald.