The iconic Midnight Oil song, intended to express the injustice done to the Aboriginal people, and to encourage white Australians to stand up and give back what is due. Applicable now in a different, more literal context. Australia’s beds are literally burning, yet what is actually being done about it? With fire-fighting unions calling for a Federal Royal Commission, the utter failure of any federal response to the Australian bushfire crisis, has become blaringly obvious. “There has been a complete failure federally to coordinate activity across various jurisdictions,” says Stewart Little, General Secretary of Public Service Association of NSW.
This failure, on the federal level spans from the simple release of information to the actual co-ordination of any assistance efforts between misaligned, state fire assistance forces. The lack of any congruent, consistent information compounds the issue and leaves many people in the dark. I personally, have had to rely on the independent media alone, to remain informed. But in such a bushfire crisis, shouldn’t the federal government be providing some support for its people? Simply some ‘official’ information on the status of the fires, assistance efforts being coordinated, and how people can lend a hand. It appears that this has all been left to the individual state fire services. Which, to be honest doesn’t seem like enough. The time has come to say fair’s fair, to pay the rent, to pay our share.
What is actually being done about the bushfires?
Our state based volunteer fire fighting services have done extraordinary work, in fighting the bushfires in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia. The NSW Fire Service and State Government coordinated the evacuation of the South Coast of NSW, but this effort was not well organised. This effort was chaos, officials were unsure if the roads were clear, and unsure if there was fuel available. The size and extent of the bushfires overwhelmed any fire response units. Australia is simply not equipped to deal with disasters on this level. The community has pulled together with little guidance from the federal government and it shows the solidarity in the Australian people, pulling together to help each other out in tough times; yet the federal government were nowhere to be seen.
The Morrison Government, have since launched an inquiry into whether the federal government should take a more active role in combating natural disasters. I think we know the answer to that one, and this inquiry comes at too late a date. With the Constitution giving the federal government immense powers during a state of emergency, I’m unsure why it hasn’t been more active throughout this national disaster. Has the whole Morrison government been on holiday while Australia burns? And it’s pretty clear they’ve not been listening to climate scientists, either.
A former chief executive of Victoria’s Country Fire Authority, Neil Bibby, said the federal government needs to co-ordinate the use of firefighting aircraft between the states better. “The role of emergency communications also has to be done federally,”he said.
“You can’t have one state issuing one warning while another is doing something else, particularly when people holiday all over the country now.”
“But the bigger picture is that bushfires are a symptom of a bigger problem and the disease is climate change, and when we’re looking at tackling the actual disease that’s a federal problem.”
The federal government’s low profile approach to the bushfires (and climate change) is disturbing to say the least. Scott Morrison has shunned calls for a national response agency to better co-ordinate communication and resources to tackle for national emergencies and disaster. But this is exactly what we need to be properly prepared for the next climate change induced national emergency.
“There’s no sign that there is any introspection from the federal government about their role in preventing and responding to these disasters,”Mr Beshara of the Wilderness Society said.
So, what’s actually causing the bushfires?
Anything from a lightning strike, to a dropped cigarette can cause a bushfire to start in the dry Australian bush. Other causes exist such as trees falling on powerlines, power tools, farm machinery, uncontrolled clearing fires and the list goes. These are some of the causes, but why are the fires in Australia so extreme?
The fuel behind the extremity of an Australian bushfire, is the eucalypt tree itself. The highly flammable oils within the foliage provide the perfect fuel for a voracious fire. This leads to extremely hot, high and strong flames that engulf any dry detritus and expand rapidly.
The fires in Australia have destroyed 8.4 million hectares of land, as opposed to 766 thousand hectares in the recent Californian fires. It begs the question, why aren’t we more prepared for these fires when they are a fairly regular occurrence? (although this mega fire is clearly exacerbated by the effects of global climate change).
Where are the proper warning systems so that people can be evacuated on time? Where is the coordination effort between all states, that should have been stitched together by the federal government? Further, where is the clean energy policy?
Instead, the federal government allows dirty corporations to continue to burn coal at the expense of the environment, and now, our lives. Hopefully something can be learned from these catastrophic fires, and the Morrison government now has the compulsion to implement changes to their inadequate climate change policies.
Where are the bushfires blazing at the moment?
Currently, the NSW Rural Fire Service, show the fires burning right across NSW and Victoria. With none in Queensland or South Australia. This is a great resource for people to know where the fires are burning, where to avoid driving, and whether to evacuate.
An inferno blazes toward our homes, meanwhile holiday makers still wander down the coast with their caravans as though nothing is happening. Why? Most likely because they are unaware of the sheer size and utter devastation caused by the fires. The public are unaware of the severe status of the fires, where they’re burning, and where is at risk of burning.
This again illustrates the lack of congruent, consistent, and easily accessible information available to the public. People need a strong, supportive government at a federal level to inform, communicate and lead in times of emergency. The public are unaware of the state of the national disaster, which exposes more people to risk. With 20 human lives lost, and billions of animals dead, this national disaster deserves more attention than it is getting from the federal government.
For now, all we can do is stand up and give back what we all can to rebuild; however, this disaster really has illustrated the inadequacies in federal government:
- disaster response policy; and
- climate change policy.
Isn’t it time for the federal government to say fair’s fair, time to pay the rent, to pay our share towards improving Australia’s climate impact?