Burn for you

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?

Map from Geoscience Australia at 10:48pm on December 29, 2019

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.

But Australia has always had bushfires and it always will.  We can’t afford to give up coal now. Even Albo says so. In fact, we should dig more coal mines!

They don’t have enough water to put out the fires in New South WalesWater 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.

General

Australian Capital Territory &  New South Wales

Queensland

South Australia

Tasmania

Victoria

Western Australia

7 thoughts on “Burn for you

  1. Hi Cate. I shared your post. I think you have once again distilled the events down to the nitty gritty truth.
    I’m disappointed that the picture of Australia on Fire was not what showed on the share, but rather the screen shot of Peta Credlin’s piece. That’s not the visual impact I was hoping for. Although most of my friends would be surprised that I was reading Peta Credlin!
    All the best for the coming year and wishing you everything you need to be able to continue to distill the facts for the general public. Thank you.

  2. Thank you, Cate. Two thoughts in support of your essay here:
    1) “Now is not the time to discuss how we ignored decades of warnings that this would happen.”
    https://www.betootaadvocate.com/breaking-news/now-is-not-the-time-to-discuss-how-we-ignored-decades-of-warnings-that-this-would-happen/
    2) “Every tonne of coal or gas mined in Australia adds approximately 2.5 tonnes of heat trapping gas to the atmosphere, making bushfires more frequent and more intense. It’s time they made a contribution to paying for the climate disasters they are fuelling.
    [Australia Institute modelling shows that the levy, set initially at $1 per tonne of embodied emissions, would raise $1.5 billion per year for the National Climate Disaster Fund.]
    https://www.tai.org.au/content/costs-soar-national-bushfire-crisis-call-levy-fossil-fuel-production
    Cheers,
    John

    • Excellent articles, thank you. I also wanted to go a bit more into the whole ‘now is not the time’ narrative and the comparison with the NRA stuff, and I might do so at some later date, but in the end, I felt like there were so many appalling things to talk about that I wanted to show the cumulative effect (since it was certainly having a cumulative effect on me, thinking about all of those things together rather than separately).

      • I needed the Betoota Advocate article for satirical relief. And it was right on the “bull’s eye”.

        I thought the levy for disasters was a good way to advocate for the re-introduction of a formal price on carbon.

        • Yes, and if giving it a different name means that the LNP can save face and actually do something about carbon emissions, all the better. I mean, I’m not optimistic, but one can hope…

  3. Pingback: State of Emergency | Cate Speaks

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