It’s that time when we look back at what the year and the decade – though this year has felt like a decade – and contemplate where we stand and what has changed.
I’m not going to do that.
Australia is on fire – literally on fire, this is not a metaphor though it certainly makes a good one for the state of our politics generally – and apparently that’s normal now and we don’t need to do anything about it?
I have to say, it is very surreal sitting in Melbourne and reading about the fires and the fire danger, when we have so far been unaffected. Well, except for the day when the air smelled like smoke and we were told that this was smoke from the NSW bushfires, nearly a thousand kilometres away.
But apparently that’s normal too and we can’t talk about climate change, because now is not the time (I can’t help noting that this is straight from the NRA playbook after shootings in the US). And whatever we do, we shouldn’t listen to the former fire and emergency services chiefs who are calling for the declaration of a climate emergency.
There are volunteer firefighters who have been out there fighting fires for a hundred days straight now. Many of them are losing money by doing so, as most employers cannot afford to pay people to take this much time off. Most of them will be losing annual leave. (There was originally reporting that Centrelink recipients risked losing benefits if they were fighting fires and failed to meet their usual obligations, but it looks like this is now fixed. Though of course the question of actually getting through to Centrelink or having them not lose your letter is always an exciting one.)
But that’s OK, because they want to be there. They don’t need any help. How good are our volunteers?
(I really urge you to click through and read this account. You don’t need a Facebook account to do so, and it’s important )
The State Emergency Services just tweeted that everyone in East Gippsland must leave immediately because of the fire risk tomorrow. That’s an area of nearly 21,000 square kilometres.
Everyone in East Gippsland must leave the area today due to the fire danger forecast for tomorrow. Do not travel to this area. It is not possible to provide support and aid to all the visitors currently in the East Gippsland region.
— CFA Updates (@CFA_Updates) December 29, 2019
They don’t have enough water to put out the fires in New South Wales. Water supplies are running out in some towns, and even Sydney’s water supply is threatened. We are essentially in a situation where firefighters are trying to contain fires with backburning, but they will likely continue to burn until the rain comes. Hopefully the rain will come by February. Maybe it won’t come until March.
What an excellent time to give 12.5 billion litres of water per year to Adani to mine more coal!
Two volunteer firefighters lost their lives just before Christmas.
Their names were Geoffrey Keaton and Andrew O’Dwyer. May they rest in peace, and live long in the memories of their loved ones.
Edited to add: Volunteer firefighter Samuel McPaul became the third firefighter to lose his life to this season’s bushfires on December 30. Absolutely heartbreaking, and my thoughts go out to his family.
But the important thing to remember is that this is all the Greens’ fault. They won’t let anyone do backburning (here is their actual policy on backburning) and also they voted against Labor’s original Emissions Trading Scheme back in 2009 (though they did vote with Labor on Gillard’s improved scheme in 2011) and obviously nobody could do anything after that because the Greens somehow control every council and municipal region despite only holding a handful of seats across the entire country.
Also, apparently we shouldn’t be so mean about the PM and then the Emergency Services Minister going on holidays during this crisis. Everyone needs a holiday you know. I’m sure the volunteer firies would agree.
Look, I’m spitting mad and I’m not even directly affected by this. I live in a nice, urban area. My friends and relatives are safe. I don’t know anyone who has lost homes or – God forbid – family members in the fires. I do know people who have been forced to flee their towns, but these are people I know online and so it doesn’t have quite the same immediacy as when local friends of ours were flooded out in the Christmas storm a few years back, or when a colleague lost her home in the Black Friday bushfires.
I can’t begin to imagine how people in the fire zones feel. I’m guessing terrified and angry would be a starting point.
Of course I agree that volunteer firefighters are amazing (high five to my brother-in-law, who is an awesome CFA volunteer and who also makes me look like a political conservative, just in case anyone believed the rubbish about left wing greenies not fighting fires!). People who are willing to put their lives on the line out of a sense of duty and love for their community deserve our utmost respect and appreciation.
But they also deserve our support. Our bushfire seasons are getting longer and the fires themselves are getting worse. We can’t realistically expect this burden to be shouldered by volunteers as an ongoing solution. As first responders? Absolutely. But it’s not reasonable to expect people to drop their jobs for months at a time without compensation in order to keep Australia from burning down. After all, they have families to feed, rent or mortgages to pay, utilities to cover. And few shops or landlords or power companies will let you pay in respect and appreciation.
Morrison has finally – only today – said that the government will provide financial compensation to volunteer firefighters. Well, to some of them. Specifically, the ones who work in small or medium businesses, who have been fighting fires for more than ten days, and who are in New South Wales (because if you work in a state that voted Labor, apparently you can just get stuffed as far as Morrison is concerned) (OK, that’s not fair. But Morrison says he expects the other states to ask for support – why on earth not just provide it unasked? It’s not like he doesn’t know there are fires outside NSW). There is a maximum payout of $6,000 per person, which adds up to $60 per day for people who have been at this for 100 days. If you are retired or unemployed, you don’t even get that. (Morrison says he expects large businesses to pony up 4 extra weeks of leave for volunteer firefighters, which is what the public service provides, but I’m not sure there is any requirement for them to do so.)
And already, there are op eds saying that this is a dangerous precedent will undermine our volunteer culture. The op eds are in the Daily Telegraph, by Peta Credlin. I refuse to subscribe to the Daily Telegraph, so I haven’t been able to read the full thing, but here’s the fairly disgusting header:
Prime Minister Scott Morrison promised, when he was elected, that he would “burn for the Australian people every single day“.
We’re all burning now. Was this what he meant?
I almost feel bad about listing charities here, because it’s the government’s job to deal with this, damn it. But they aren’t doing their job. So here are some places that could use your support.
If you are in an area currently affected by bushfires, please stay alert to warnings and above all stay safe! I’ve created a page of links to bushfire maps, alert Apps and information lines by state. If you aren’t sure where to find information, that might be a good starting point.
- Red Cross Relief and Recovery Appeal
- Vinnies Bushfire Appeal
- Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal
- There is a special collection through the NSW RFS for the families of the three firefighters who have lost their lives.
- Foodbank Australia accepts donations of both money and non-perishable foods
- Buy a T shirt to support the NSW Regional Fire Services! (But whatever you do, don’t share the image on Social Media. Morrison would hate that.) (Apparently, this T shirt has raised $50,000 already, nice work)
Australian Capital Territory & New South Wales
- NSW Regional Fire Services
- If you want to help out at an evacuation centre, they are listed here.
- Port Macquarie Koala Hospital
- Wildlife Rescue
- Rural Fire Brigades Association Queensland
- Donate to fire affected communities in Queensland through GivIt
- Emergency Volunteering Queensland
- Wildlife Rescue Sunshine Coast
- Tasmania State Emergency Service
- Tasmania Volunteer Firefighter Brigades Association Bereavement Fund
- Country Fire Authority (Victoria) (note that they are taking a long time to get receipts out at present, probably because they are a little bit busy!)
- Gippsland Emergency Relief Fund
- Warriors for Wildlife (shelter and medical aid for injured wildlife)