Australia’s new prime minister Tony Abbott quietly worked a 14-hour shift during the massive wildfire emergency in the New South Wales state over the weekend.
Abbott, who was elected in a landslide in September, had promised to continue his volunteer duties even if elected Australia’s government leader. Unlike many grandstanding politicians, his office apparently did not issue a press release or stage a photo op.
According to The Australian, the public only found out about it after random photos of Abbott — who is a triathlete, former boxer, and 13-year volunteer fireman — at the NSW fire scene made their way to Twitter, which also nonetheless prompted Abbott’s critics, including climate change proponents, to accuse him of grandstanding.
Reported The Australian: “For 14 long hours over the weekend, Tony Abbott was just one of 1392 anonymous, sooty-faced firefighters battling to keep the relentless NSW bushfires at bay. His favored white-shirt-blue-tie combo was swapped for yellow overalls as Australia’s 28th prime minister joined his Davidson RFS brigade on a back-burning operation in Bilpin, near the Blue Mountains, for a night shift that began at 6pm Saturday and finished at 8am [Sunday].”
Abbott previously announced that the government would pay half of the costs of rebuilding New South Wales after the mass fires, which apparently were brought on by above-average temperatures and below-average rainfall. He also praised the first responders in the emergency. “We’ve had hundreds of police. We’ve had hundreds of NSW fire brigade workers and we’ve had literally thousands of rural fire brigade volunteers and state emergency services volunteers out over the last 24 hours. These are ordinary people who, on an extraordinary day, come together to support their community and to protect their fellow Australians. We are incredibly lucky to have them.”
Abbott’s boss in the volunteer fire department, Capt. Trent Dowling, had this to say about Abbott and his fellow firefighters: “It is the whole thing the brigade and the service is built on. It doesn’t matter what you do outside, whether you are a plumber, a student, unemployed or, in this case, the Prime Minister. The rule that we have at our station is once you pull that uniform on, everyone is in the same boat. Anyone who bags him for pulling on the uniform and thinks it is a picture opportunity, I would suggest they do the course and join the brigade and come and see what we do.”
According to the Daily Telegraph of Australia, however, Abbott’s unit was never actually deployed into the fire zone.
Abbott is the leader of the conservative, right-of-center governing coalition which, to make things a bit confusing for Americans, in Australia is called the Liberal-National Party. He defeated the incumbent prime minister Kevin Rudd, the-then leader of the Labor Party, in the September general election.
In ongoing Labor Party infighting, Rudd had ousted fellow Laborite Julia Gillard as prime minister in June in what turned out to be a failed attempt to salvage the election and hold on to political power. Gillard herself had replaced Rudd (who was elected PM in 2007) in 2010 for similar reasons. In that election, the Liberals and Labor split the popular vote, and Abbott nearly became prime minister at that time. Because Australia has a parliamentary system (unlike the US president, the prime minister is not directly elected by the voters), however, a few so-called independent senators combined with Labor lawmakers to choose Gillard as the head of government. This time around, the Liberals (i.e., the conservatives) won enough parliamentary seats to put Abbott into the top job.
[photo credit: Twitter]