Liberal backbencher Craig Kelly would be well advised to follow the lead of Britain’s Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson. In the days before the British general election on December 12, Johnson was confronted by an ITV producer who wanted him to do a live cross to Good Morning Britain co-presenters Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid.
The exchange took place at the Modern Milkman business in Pudsey, Yorkshire. On hearing of the ITV demand, Johnson walked into a refrigerator containing milk bottles. He emerged carrying a milk bottle crate, which he subsequently delivered to a home nearby. There was no interview and Johnson went on to score a substantial victory on election night.
As a one-time journalist, Johnson understands that interviews with Morgan are all about Morgan. Last Monday (London time), Morgan was not interested in hearing Kelly’s views about climate change in general and the Australian bushfires in particular. Rather, Morgan wanted to tell Kelly he was wrong. It ended up a three-to-one pile-on, with Morgan, Reid and ITV meteorologist Laura Tobin all berating the Australian politician.
Despite being the invited guest, Kelly got just 52 per cent of airtime and Morgan concluded the interview telling Kelly to “wake up”. Kelly could have spent his time more fruitfully in, say, a commercial refrigerator.
Morgan is one of our time’s look-at-me journalists who delight in lecturing others. Given his strong opinions on oh so many matters, it might have been expected that he would put his hand up for election, attain office and attempt to implement his views with public support.
But, no. Morgan prefers telling others what to believe and do. On the one occasion when he embraced a “do-as-I-do” stance, it didn’t work out all that well.
Flash back to the Boxing Day Test match in 2013. At the time a presenter with CNN in the US, Morgan was present when England went three out of five down in the series and lost the Ashes. Then aged 48, Morgan declared that the English batsmen were soft and hopeless at facing the Australian fast bowling attack and offered to show his countrymen how it was done.
During a lunch break, Morgan put on the pads and a helmet and volunteered to face a six-ball over by former Australian Test fast bowler Brett Lee in the nets just outside the MCG. By late 2013, Lee had retired from Test and one-day cricket. But he was still in the Twenty20 game and could still bowl extraordinarily fast.
I was never a member of the Piers Morgan fan club (president Piers Morgan). But I recall watching Lee’s first ball with some concern. After all, very few cricketers of any age could face Lee in 2013. And Morgan was not a cricketer and was 48 years old.
As it turned out, there was a near disaster. Morgan did not see any of the six deliveries and was hit four times, including once on the head. He suffered a fractured wrist along with a broken rib. Former Test cricketers Shane Warne (Australia) and Michael Vaughan (England) found the incident amusing. However, one-time New Zealand fast bowler Richard Hadlee described the exchange as “dangerous and unnecessary”.
Quite so. However, Morgan was in the news. And, for a while at least, the 2013 Boxing Day Test was all about Morgan — bloodied and bruised to be sure, but also the centre of attention.
This week it was Kelly who emerged bloodied and bruised (in the figurative sense) from his encounter with Morgan.
Those who have watched the entire interview will know that Kelly’s performance was not as disastrous as has been presented in sections of the Australian and international media. Early on, Morgan put this question: “Do you accept the planet is heating up at a dangerous level — yes or no?” To which Kelly replied “yes”.
Even so, within minutes, Tobin entered the discussion by accusing Kelly of burying his “head in the sand”. She added: “You’re not a climate sceptic, you’re a climate denier.” This, despite the fact that Kelly had accepted Morgan’s proposition that the planet is heating at a dangerous level.
This would suggest that Tobin was more interested in stating her case than listening to what Kelly had to say. He had been invited on to Good Morning Britain as a perceived Australian climate change denier to be pilloried by Morgan and his team, and nothing was going to change this. Nor did it.
Morgan soon turned the attack onto Australia in general and Prime Minister Scott Morrison in particular. Morgan claimed that Morrison’s “response to these fires all over Australia was to go on holiday in Hawaii”. On ABC Radio National Breakfast on Thursday, presenter Tom Tilley made a similar allegation. In fact, the Prime Minister departed Australia on the evening of December 15 and announced on December 19 that he was returning after two firefighters were killed in an accident on a firefront. The worst of the fires commenced on New Year’s Eve.
Later on, in lecturing Kelly, Morgan claimed that “virtually your entire country is eviscerated with fires”.
Sure, the fires are terrible — perhaps as bad as, or worse than, the dreadful fire seasons of 1851, 1939, 1983 and 2009. But the whole of Australia is not eviscerated by fire. And since Australia is responsible for just over 1 per cent of total global emissions, it cannot do anything on its own to cut emissions in a way that will reduce global temperatures. But action can be taken to mitigate damage from bushfires.
State and local governments can reduce or abandon the laws that prevent owners from clearing fuel loads (trees, scrub, grasses) from close to their properties. And greater awareness can be drawn to the fact that many fires are started by arsonists or by accident and, consequently, are preventable.
On the other hand, nothing, in the short term at least, can be achieved by flying to a climate change conference in Paris or Madrid. Or by facing Morgan’s fast bowling on Good Morning Britain.
Gerard Henderson is executive director of the Sydney Institute