As the fires that will bookmark this summer for years ahead still burn, one of the aspects that people will remember the most is the lack of political leadership early on. And let's just not blame the Prime Minister here. State leaders were also caught out.
But it was the Prime Minister many felt the most disappointed with. Initially absent whilst probably on a much-needed family holiday, he then used social media for his first nod to the unfolding crisis back home.
Worse was to come though, as when he did return he seemed to display few characteristics of what we expect out of a leader - the "ABCDs" of political leadership - just as areas of Australia came close to outright catastrophic disaster, or had every tangible feature identifying them as part of a first-world society disappear in flames.
With our heightened awareness of leaders around the world, including politicians like New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern (who in the last 12 months has endured a nation-defining massacre and an unprecedented volcano disaster) and global CEOs like Bill Gates (busy building a legacy outside the corporate world) we have come to expect our leaders to do more than just "their job". We expect them to get the basics of leadership right.
And if they don't, as happened early on in this bushfire crisis, we feel disappointed, frustrated, and failed that we don't have another leader as our own.
So what are the basics of political leadership - the ABCDs, so to speak? [Keeping in mind this is by no means a definitive list, as this article has a word limit.]
It is important to be seen, but less so to be heard. As Nelson Mandela once said, he was always the first to listen and the last to speak.
We expect leaders to be accessible, to have accountability, and, in the digital age, to have awareness of what is going on in a political, economic, social and cultural sense. Accessibility need not mean having a social media account - although that is important. It can be as simple as turning up somewhere unannounced, sitting down and listening. Being willing to listen to different ideas, even if later they are dismissed.
It is important to be seen, but less so to be heard. As Nelson Mandela once said, he was always the first to listen and the last to speak. Accessibility also helps underline accountability. You are not hiding anywhere and are willing to take criticism on the chin because, after all, you lead the government. You are it. Either you made the decision, or the absence of one makes you seem inaccessible and out of touch.
Which brings us to boldness - that is, taking that all-important first step when everyone has their eyes on you. And that was missing early on from the Prime Minister. How best to combat those who say you're still acting like you're in caretaker mode? Brand yourself by being bold enough to make the decisions only a PM can make.
In this case, that may best have been achieved by prioritising clarity that the government was doing something. Enacting a national disaster plan, talking to retailers about how best to manage dwindling food and fuel supplies, co-ordinating with local communities, authorities and state leaders on what they needed - and making that happen with the full power of the office of the Prime Minister behind you.
Doing these things would have also highlighted his decisiveness and direction, the basic things we expect from a government which helps provide stability and security when events like this occur.
Sure, there is political risk in some of these things. But these are special times, and we expect something special of our leaders.
Prhaps this highlights the need for our leaders, at all levels, to think about undergoing leadership training and mentoring (John Howard's present role with the current PM aside) in a more formal and transparent way. This would allow us all to see that when things start to go up in smoke, our leaders are equipped with much more than the ABCDs of leadership to fight them.
- Dr Andrew Hughes is a lecturer in marketing in the Research School of Management at the Australian National University.