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Australia’s fire fighting Prime Minister, Tony Abbott is Ed Staite’s Communicator of the Week

24th October 2013

We are used to politicians appearing at disaster spots, shaking hands with volunteers and showing they care.

The floods which hit various parts of the UK in 2007 are a perfect example of the ultimate modern media storm. Nature does her stuff, destroying homes and livelihoods, 24 hour news rolls on with pictures of the destruction and then it is time for the Prime Minister to arrive, promise funds, shake hands, utter a sound bite and leave again. Job done.

This is what the then Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, did abiding by the crisis comms mantra of 'speed kills'. The fact that Brown cancelled his holiday to "take control" was an extra little news line which helped Labour to a substantial poll lead in the early months of Brown's time in Number 10.

With our click, refresh, live blogging, 24 hour news stream culture this sort of activity from a Prime Minister is expected, perhaps even demanded.

What though, if the Prime Minister was at the scene of a natural disaster not to meet the demands of the hungry media but to actually help save lives?

That is what has happened in Australia with new Prime Minister Tony Abbott putting his life on the line fighting bush fires.

This is no photo opportunity. His part in the fight against the worst Australian bush fires in a decade only became apparent when someone tweeted a photo of his soot covered face alongside other firefighters who had just completed a gruelling night shift.

Abbott has now been attacked for risking his life when some think he should be behind a desk shuffling paper. The truth is that politicians can do - and should do - very little in situations like this other than give the professionals all the backing they require.

So Abbott has been attacked, and his part in the drama only came about by accident, so why have I made Abbott my Communicator of the Week?

He has been a volunteer fireman since 2001 as well as undertaking surf lifeguard training. During the election he promised to continue to fulfil these volunteer roles when he became PM.

His predecessors as PM - Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd - were much more media focused in their approach to a crises. They ticked all the boxes but people didn't think they were genuine and the Australian Labor Party was soundly beaten in the recent election.

Abbott has never pretended to be something he is not. In his early days as leader of the Liberal Party this caused him considerable problems. Now though his genuine approach - being himself not a news focused walking photo opportunity - has chimed with voters.

Good on him that now he is Prime Minister he wants to follow through with his promise to continue as a volunteer firefighter. Sometimes actions speak louder than words and will be remembered far longer even in an age of 24 hour rolling news. That is why Tony Abbott is my Communicator of the Week.

Communicator of the Week is written by Edward Staite


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