Scott Morrison is picking up that Australia's devastating, prolonged fires are producing a soured, anti-government mood among many in the community.
It may not be entirely rational for people to turn on politicians in such situations. The actual fighting of the fires, driven primarily at state and local levels, appears to have been efficient.
But the government has invited anger in terms of the broad debate by being so inactive and partisan about climate change over the years.
Morrison is struggling to navigate his way through these fraught days before Christmas. He's stressing unity - "the country is working together ... to deal with the firefighting challenge". He's refusing to yield to calls for a national summit or a COAG meeting on the fire effort, but he's highlighting the federal government's co-ordinating activities.
He's placing the most positive spin he can on what Australia is doing on climate change, but all the time emphasising Australian emissions are only a tiny portion of the global total, "so any suggestion that the actions of any state or any nation with a contribution to global emissions of that order is directly linked to any weather event ... is just simply not true".
The fires are putting pressure on the government by elevating the climate issue and opening a new division among Liberals. Only this time - and importantly - the internal wedge is coming from the left rather than the right of the party. The PM is being pushed to do more, rather than being held back.
Morrison is no longer able to gloss over the climate debate. The big question for the next year or two is whether he will reposition the government.
As former Treasury secretary Ken Henry has argued, "today's catastrophic bushfires, and rapidly vanishing water security, again following years of drought, put the present government in a similar position" to when John Howard moved on climate change in 2006.
Morrison is the ultimate pragmatist and so, if he sees it in his interest, he may well be willing to readjust. Not radically, nor quickly. Just enough, as and when he judges it, to satisfy middle-ground voters.
He did a little of this before the election, when he topped up funding for "direct action" and advanced pumped hydro, although some read more into the shift than was there.
This week NSW's Liberal Environment Minister Matt Kean bluntly called out his federal colleagues' dancing around the climate-fires link.
"Let's not beat around the bush ... let's call it for what it is. These bushfires have been caused by extreme weather events, high temperatures, the worst drought in living memory - the exact type of events scientists have been warning us about for decades that would be caused by climate change," said Kean, who is the leader at the state level of the party's moderate faction.
"There has been a lot of talk since the federal election about ending the climate wars ... It's not time to end the climate wars. It's time to win the climate wars."
One federal Liberal says: "for a long time [Kean's line] is where the overwhelming majority of the party has stood [but] nobody was willing to say it. The community is so concerned it has given us the cover to come out and say it." The issue hits in Melbourne and Sydney Liberal heartland seats.
The federal government has repeatedly derided the Victorian and Queensland Labor governments for what it argues is their excessive ambition on renewables and emissions reduction. Kean has flagged NSW plans to strengthen its stand. The federal government is clearly exposed as the odd player out.
Yet it's the states' targets for renewables that are helping the national effort on emissions reduction, according to the latest figures from the Environment Department.
The projection is now for Australia to have renewables generating 48 per cent of its electricity by 2030 - close to the Labor policy of 50 per cent, of which the government was so critical.
Energy Minister Angus Taylor's speech at the United Nations COP25 conference in Spain this week showed how, as the inevitable transition to clean energy progresses, the government is conflicted. Regardless of years of scepticism about renewables from the federal Coalition, Taylor in Madrid lauded Australia's achievements in this area.
Reality is gradually proving stronger than ideology as the energy mix changes, but not entirely. The argument around whether there should be a new coal-fired power station in Queensland goes on, and the Nationals continue to push for action.
There was a certain irony in Anthony Albanese touring coal country in central Queensland this week, given the climate debate.
Visiting Emerald, Rockhampton and Gladstone, among other stops, Albanese was beginning his mission to reconcile the strands in Labor's climate messages, after Bill Shorten failed to do so, costing vital Queensland votes.
This week Albanese has been talking up the domestic transition to renewables, while providing reassurance to the coal areas by declaring the world will continue to want Australian coal for the foreseeable future.
He says the role of government in relation to new coal mines is to make the environmental judgments; if they pass that test, then such projects live or die on their ability to raise private finance. On Adani, he says it has its approval and he's urging it to get on with providing the jobs (the company says it is doing so).
As to a new coal-fired power station: he believes it would not get private finance.
Very aware Shorten was smashed for trying to walk in different shoes on climate and coal when he was in the inner city and in regional Queensland, Albanese is aiming for a story to which he can get a favourable reception all round the country.
That won't be easy. But then nothing is, for anyone, on the climate issue.
- Michelle Grattan is a press gallery journalist and former editor of The Canberra Times. She is a professorial fellow at the University of Canberra and writes for The Conversation, where this column appears.