Scott Morrison, Australia's terminally tin-eared prime minister, goes by an inspired sobriquet while his country burns. "Scotty from Marketing," they call him now, an acerbic reference to his former career in charge of the nation's tourism council, where he coined the slogan: "Where the bloody hell are ya?"
The question has proved neatly prophetic of the man himself, given that just before Christmas, with much of New South Wales ablaze amid devastating bushfires, he decided to go on holiday to Hawaii. While an area the size of Denmark was being razed to the ground, Morrison was pictured sipping sundowners near Waikiki beach.
This week, when taking a detour to the ruined community of Cobargo, Morrison received the welcome he deserved, with dispossessed residents hounding him out of town.
And yet still his catalogue of misjudgments rolls on. On New Year's Day, with Canberra, the seat of government, so choked with smoke that it ranked as the most polluted city on Earth, the premier saw fit to host a backyard cricket match at Kirribilli House, his official residence in Sydney. Even worse, he invoked the third test between Australia and New Zealand as an illustration of his compatriots' resilience.
"Australians will be gathering, whether at the Sydney Cricket Ground or around television sets all around the country, and they'll be inspired by the great feats of our cricketers from both sides of the Tasman," he declared, witlessly.
"They'll be encouraged by the spirit shown by Australians, and by the way people have gone about remembering the terrible things that other Australians are dealing with at the moment."
"Mind-numbingly banal" and "ludicrously inappropriate" are just a couple of the labels attached to his conflation of cricket with some of the worst infernos Australia has ever known. So glaring is the vacuum of leadership, even Nick Kyrgios, the man tennis loves to hate, has waded in, appealing for an exhibition match to raise money for fire victims and promising to donate more than A$200 for every ace he hits over the Australian summer. The tragedy of the bushfires has taken many improbable twists, but the notion of Kyrgios becoming his people's moral guardian might just trump them all.
While the politicians bungle and obfuscate, Australia's athletes have been far more eloquent in expressing the prevailing sense of horror. David Warner, not known for his sensitivity, posted a picture yesterday of a man and his dog sitting on the shore, gazing helplessly at the hellish flames beyond. "I'm still in shock," he wrote. "These fires are beyond words." It feels doubly perverse, then, that the sports stars should be the pawns in papering over their government's inadequacies.
Morrison, alas, is shameless: he has already had the gall to argue that Australia's test cricketers could give firefighters "something to cheer about". For similar reasons, he sanctioned a gargantuan New Year's Eve fireworks display in Sydney, a city suffocated for weeks by fetid air from the fires, ostensibly to highlight the country's resilience.
He prizes the superficial above the substantial, the easy photo op above the difficult choices on how much military assistance to divert to fire containment.
What Morrison also ignores is the unique vulnerability of cricket to the ecological disaster unfolding on his watch. It is a sport that draws from the elements for its essence, lives in fear of drought, looks to the tiniest change in humidity levels for a tipping of the contest between bat and ball.
Never mind holding up cricket as a glib metaphor for national unity. It offers its own vivid reflection of environmental carnage, with several Australian cricket matches this summer staged in a smoky haze more hazardous than Beijing's.
Morrison, predictably, waves away any talk of climate change. He equates it to a politicisation of tragedy, even when he is perfectly happy to compare the ruling Liberals' progress on the Paris Accords to that of previous Labor administrations.
Trouble is, Australians do not seem to be buying his crass rhetoric any longer. It is why the locals chased him out of Cobargo yesterday. It is also why he is trying to find refuge in test cricket, of all things, perceiving it as his safe space, the one place where he believes voters will put aside their heartbreaks out of common interest.
It represents a gross miscalculation. True, sport can be a blessed escape from the calamities of the world outside. But that is for the people to decide, not self-interested politicians looking to save their skin.
At a moment when the lungs of Australia have turned black, when vast clouds of smoke stretch all the way to New Zealand, when thousands of homes have been torched and an estimated half a billion animals killed, a normally sports-crazed country could barely give two hoots about events at the SCG.
One film producer, sharing images of the remnants out of his house, wrote: "I hope I can get the electricity back on so I can watch the cricket. If only I could find my TV."
He, like so many Australians who have lost everything in the fires, wonders how Morrison dares to show his face. But they wonder, too, how he dares to use sport as his go-to crutch at this time of catastrophe.