3 January 2020

If this massive disaster is not the time for a national response, when would be?

| Genevieve Jacobs
Join the conversation
Prime Minister Scott Morrison

Prime Minister Scott Morrison says governments should not get in each other’s way during a crisis. Photo: File.

The Prime Minister has appealed for calm during the fire crisis and says the Federal Government is doing all it can.

“What you cannot have in these situations is governments stepping over the top of each other in responding to a natural disaster like this,” he said this week.

The Federal Government has been consistent (and indeed, insistent) in saying that bushfire emergencies are a state government responsibility. In “normal” emergencies – if such a thing still exists – the Government is correct to a significant degree.

States must request assistance. The Federal Government cannot ride roughshod over them.

But let’s reiterate the grim facts. Areas of land as large as European countries have been burned. There is no rain forecast. Communities have been razed and this weekend is likely to be as dangerous as New Year’s Eve, or worse. Seven people, likely more, have died.

There are estimates that perhaps four million animals may have died in the infernos. Surviving farm livestock and native animals alike risk thirst and starvation.

Our emergency responders are stretched beyond their limits. There will be a profound toll on their mental health and wellbeing.

This is well beyond an emergency. This is a natural disaster of unprecedented scale on the Australian continent as far as we are aware, stretching across state boundaries and with no end in sight.

NSW is the most populous and prosperous state and its resources are at breaking point. Imagine if a disaster on this scale were to happen in Tasmania? Or, God forbid, here in the ACT. Would it still be up to the state governments to respond?

But we’ve had not so much as a COAG meeting.

If it’s not the business of the Federal Government to lead a response now, then when would it be?

We have heard from Defence Minister Linda Reynolds about the ADF’s role in logistical support. She described “significant behind the scenes support” for frontline firefighters. And from Emergency Services Minister David Littleproud, also warning against “kneejerk reactions”.

Malcolm Turnbull and Peter Dutton

Then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Minister for Home Affairs/Immigration Peter Dutton. Photo: Wikicommons.

But there’s been a notable, almost hushed, silence from one other major Government figure: Peter Dutton.

The Home Affairs mega ministry was set up by Malcolm Turnbull in 2017 under Minister Dutton’s leadership and is seen as a key portfolio for a very powerful politician.

Described by Mr Turnbull as “the most significant reform of Australia’s national intelligence and domestic security arrangements” in more than 40 years, the super department combined the Immigration and Border Protection Department with parts of the Attorney-General’s, Infrastructure and Social Services departments.

Those parts include responsibility for Emergency Management. To quote from the Departmental website: “We lead the Australian Government disaster and emergency management response. We work to build a disaster-resilient Australia that prevents, prepares, responds and recovers from disasters and emergencies.”

It is difficult to see how and where this has happened during the unfolding crisis, and even harder to discern Mr Dutton’s role in this major national emergency.

Home Affairs could initiate a Crisis Coordination Centre, bringing together public and private infrastructure into a co-ordinated national emergency response across multiple sectors including telecommunications, energy supplies, transport, banking and retail, and many other areas where a strategic national approach could help alleviate the carnage.

Perhaps this is already happening. Perhaps not. We’ve certainly heard nothing to indicate that it is. And this emergency has been building inexorably for months now: nobody’s been caught on the hop without adequate time to respond.

So if now is not the time, when?

This is an awkward crisis for a government that does not want to discuss climate change because, they say, our focus should be on the disaster – as though we can’t all walk and chew gum at the same time.

It’s an awkward crisis because there’s no barnstorming piece of legislation that can “fix” the problem and work well in sound bites.

There’s no easy solution for this one.

But when we went to the polls in 2019, we elected a government for all Australians, for all of the time. That is what we asked Scott Morrison and his ministry to do for us. It’s time to see that leadership in action.

If not now, when?

Join the conversation

All Comments
  • All Comments
  • Website Comments

Interesting article from an ecological criminologist and sustainability scientist at Monash University estimating that 87% of fires are deliberately or accidentally lit.
The fires will be more intense if hazard reduction burning has not been carried out because of government imposed regulations and failure to maintain fire trails reducing access to remote areas.

Without wishing to be too critical of this previous study by a criminologist (and i assume it applies to all fires (including bushfires?) most of the current bushfires were apparently not lit by arsonists. Also when you state that “hazard reduction burning has not been carried out because of government imposed regulations…” do you know which government you are talking about here? And would you have any evidence to back up the claim? Because the Vic and NSW governments have both been carrying out hazard reduction burns. I know that it is important to you that there be no link to this national disaster and climate change but both sides of politics, Labor and Liberal, claims that it is. So do the RFS.

Any ‘science’ that cannot deal with alternative theories, views and facts is not a true science but more a faith based religion requiring unquestioning adherence from its followers.

rationalobserver10:34 pm 07 Jan 20

http://www.oism.org/pproject/ …Global warming Petition Project – 31,000 scientists who oppose, in whole or in part, IPCC findings and conclusions

Capital Retro7:13 am 08 Jan 20

I am waiting for a response from the warmists on this. While it’s easy to call an uneducated, unqualified person like me a vandal climate denier, it will be difficult for the same treatment to be applied to 31,000 scientists.

Capital Retro10:47 am 08 Jan 20

Since when does a scientist have to be an expert in climatolgy to have an opinion in this debate? The foremost “climatologist” in Australia is Tim Flannery and his discipline is mammalogy (whatever that means).

Huffpost (whoever they are) can’t even get thenumbers right (30,000 as against 31,000).

Yep, too many of these lists are dodgy and basically meaningless propaganda.

The same occurred in November with the 11000 scientists calling for a climate emergency to be declared, when any look at the list of names showed not only clearly fake people (Mickey Mouse from the Mickey Mouse institute for the Blind) but students and people with no background in climate science.

They are meaningless appeals to authority trying to convince people using straight logical fallacies.

rationalobserver9:43 pm 03 Jan 20

EX fire chiefs, some of whom are only experienced in urban fires, part of a group lead by Tim Flannery and funded by get up. Not quite as credible as being made out, eh?

You’re hilarious…:) 🙂 Keep up the funny one-liners; we all need cheering up at the moment. PS Don’t forget the World Bank and the UN – they’re in on it too…:)

Why not test your conspiracy theory that climate change is a hoax? Organise a rally so the “silent majority” can voice the view, shared with you, that climate change is a fabrication of the looney left greenies. I’m sure that paragon of social conscience, Alan Jones, and his right at night colleagues on Sky would give you wide ranging free publicity. So come on, rationalobserver, rally the troops and take on these charlatans who are brain washing our youth. Take to the streets and get the real truth out there.

rationalobserver11:28 pm 04 Jan 20

Just stating facts…

Capital Retro10:14 am 05 Jan 20

Warmist narrative can’t deal with facts. It’s easier to call us vandal climate deniers.

Actually, no, you’re not stating any facts, you’re stating your opinion…but as your opinion is so hilarious I guess we could excuse your confusion on this occasion.

Im sorry and the point is what exactly? That funding from Getup, leadership from Tim Flannery and support from fire subject matter experts somehow discredits their warning of the “summer from hell”?

I’m with grumpy mark. All of you deniers need to stop hiding bedind troll monikers and show your unifiction in the streets just like the hundreds of thousands who go together specifically to protest against your ignorance to science.

Yeah right, The Australian, Conspiracy Theory Central. I rest my case. You’re obviously a subscriber. Your faith in conspiracy theories is stilly funny (that’s an opinion BTW, not a fact.)

Capital Retro8:59 am 06 Jan 20

Actually, the only press I subscibe to is the Canberra Times (for the last 30 years) which since the recent takeover has become even more left that I thought was possible.
I rarely read the Australian but I watch Sky News more often than ABC TV. I like to get news from all sides so I can form my own opinions.

You are paranoid if you suggest that there are conspiracy theories coming out of the article that we are discussing.

Capital, you do realise that the link you posted isn’t able to be read don’t you? It’s locked and you have to be a subscriber to read.

HiddenDragon9:31 pm 03 Jan 20

When this current disaster is over, there will be a lot of work in rebuilding.

Beyond that priority work, there would be much to be said for an increased Roads to Recovery Program to do all that can reasonably be done to ensure much better and safer (in all senses of that word) roads for the sorts of communities which have been shown to be very exposed by these fires.

There should also be specific and substantial ongoing funding to maintain these roads – not just the road surfaces, but keeping them prudently clear of potentially dangerous trees and other hazards.

There could also be federal funding for other important maintenance work – most particularly for fuel load management by means other than burning (given the risks and limitations on that).

Aside from the safety and preparedness benefits, these measures would help with the high rates of unemployment and underemployment in affected areas – which is probably a factor in some of the anger on display over recent days.

Dot The Possum9:04 pm 03 Jan 20

Wow, this is still going, as are the like comments on social media. Always blaming the most senior politician. I really think that, as a nation, we have daddy problems.

rationalobserver9:26 am 04 Jan 20

No, we have an honesty problem. People are allowing their political persuasions to influence their objectivity. People are using weather to push a climate change agenda.
Heaven forbid that the greens were in power, a different paradigm would be seen.

Angry_of_Devonport5:57 pm 03 Jan 20

The federal government should not be waiting for the states to ask for help, equipment etc. They should be saying to the states “What do want, what do you need” and be ready to mobilise these as soon as possible.

rationalobserver1:22 pm 04 Jan 20

Or maybe holding them account as to how they prioritised their GST funding perhaps?

Why no mention of the arsonists lighting these fires?
People, not climate change are responsible for the fires.
Only rain will put out the fires, not politicians, not journalists and not opportunistic greenies.

HI Acton, when you say “why no mention of the arsonists” you are incorrect. There have been news reports where this occurs. However the RFS has also said most of these fires haven’t been started by arsonists. They have been caused by unprecedented dry and hot conditions. I’m afraid that it is climate change. I know this must be upsetting for you as you obviously have been convinced that, somehow, climate change is “left wing” when it isn’t any “wing” at all. It’s science unfortunately, and now we’re all being impacted by it. Perhaps ask yourself why certain people wanted to convince you that science is “left wing”. Hope you don’t think vaccination is “left wing” too.

rationalobserver10:08 pm 03 Jan 20

No, its weather, not climate change. Different things.

OK BOOMBER… You are obviously remarkably uninformed on the topic, and I would wager that you haven’t spent a day of your life receiving any recognisable qualifications on the complexities of fire. Nonetheless, news corp successfully exploited your arrogance to make you believe you somehow deserve an opinion on a matter of science. Correct no?

However you are right on one thing, people are indeed responsible for the fires. Specifically, the fools who turn scienctific advice into a stagnated debate about the price of managing the most severe risks that we will only increasingly face as the planet continues to cook, and loose its sequestration sinks/ natural air conditioners (i.e. forests).

No, the extreme drought which has caused unprecedented fires is climate change. Even the Liberals admit that one so you’re on a hiding to nothing claiming that this is just “weather”.

Capital Retro8:53 am 05 Jan 20

“They have been caused by unprecedented dry and hot conditions.”

For a start the hot and dry conditions are not unprecedented. Secondly, fires will not start just because it is “hot and dry”; they need ignition and most of the current fires have been been ignited by lightning. If you attribute what you have said as coming from the RFS we have no hope.

No mention of arsonists – in this article. About 87% of bushfires are started deliberately or accidentally:

You may have misinterpreted what I said. Most of the fires have been ignited by lightning strikes. However the extremely prolonged dry and hot conditions have caused a situation where bushfires are unprecedented in their scale and severity. Hence the response from all levels of government. Other than that, it is unclear what point you are trying to make.

Yesterday (Saturday’s) maximum temperature was certainly unprecedented.

The time of season to get these kind of conditions is also unprecedented. And the start to the tropical monsoon is getting later each year (first cyclone to impact Australia only starting now) which in turn drives the early season high temps and lack of rain over hear is also unprecedented.

So nah don’t buy for one moment your dismissing of the unprecedented nature of the current climate.

There is no evidence to support your belief that ‘most of the fires have been ignited by lightening strikes’. Why are alternative theories so hard to accept?

The arrogance exists within those who dismiss any alternative explanations inconsistent with their own faith based belief system and limited experiences. When a science cannot handle scrutiny it shows itself to be more a religion, attacking unbelievers as heretics with the same zealotry as priests defending their divine authority.

There isn’t any arrogance about accepting science of evolution, climate change or vaccination. These aren’t religious beliefs, they’re established by scientific method. It’s the same scientific method you use in your everyday life.

He’s so much part of the problem, people are getting PTSD just seeing his mug on TV. By all means be inclined to head to India. Disappear.

Ive spoken to a few south coast residents who have just been through the fires.

The main issue they identify is lack of hazard reduction burning over the last 10 years. As such, there was a huge amount of fuel, so the fire just became a monster.

We need to pressure councils to actually take proper steps to appropriately manage the local area. Small hazard reduction burns allow animals to escape, where as monster slike we have seen kill everything in its path.

Hi Steve, everyone I know down the coast has said that the only change to the hazard reduction burn programme has been when climate change impacts caused the safe period to conduct the burns to become narrower. This is as a result of the extreme dryness and warmer conditions. Hazard reduction burning can only take place when it is safe to do so as i am sure you would agree.

Capital Retro4:11 pm 05 Jan 20

So what you are confirming is that Scott Morrison had absolutely nothing to do with the events that followed.

Also, a well-respected academic recently suggested that soon “climate change” will be blamed for everything that doesn’t has a good outcome.

Yea right, a “well-respected academic”, You will by now be aware that Scott Morrison has finally commenced a national response to the unprecedented national disaster we are currently encountering. So, I guess that negates all the pious bleating about ‘what can the PM do?” If you do live in the national capital – enjoy smoking the air.

Capital Retro9:44 am 06 Jan 20

No smoke in Tuggers this morning and stop banging on about “unprecedented” disasters. Read some Australian history books for goodness sake.

Hi Capital, I’m well across Australian history. “No smoke in Tuggers this morning” gosh everything is fine then! According to measurements Canberra is still in the hazardous zone for air quality. It’s pretty futile to keep pretending we are not in unchartered and unprecedented territory now. I get that you’re trying your hardest to stick to a script that was provided to you on climate science denial. Time to face up to reality though don’t you think?

Danielle Smith1:04 pm 03 Jan 20

Bit left field and forgive my ignorance (been a long time since school); but are we not part of the monarch? What are the royals doing to help??
And how about our allies the USA? Have they sent funding, supplies or boots to help us?

Dot The Possum10:29 am 03 Jan 20

Personally I think it’s all Donald Trump’s fault. Not sure why, but it’s gotta be.

Well, not ‘all’, Dot, however any major countries that aren’t implementing science-based responses to climate change at this point in time are betraying their citizens and unprecedented droughts and extreme bushfires are a result. (You probably didn’t think your post would be so accurate).

Capital Retro5:07 pm 05 Jan 20

“science-based responses” = “spin”

Science was never your strong suit was it? Perhaps a simple example to explain it to you is the science-based response to polio via the development of a vaccine. If you’re old enough to remember polio epidemics and the science-based response to it, this may put the term “science-based responses” into an understandable context. I can assure you that the eradication of polio does not equal “spin”.

This will come as a shock to nanny stateists, but the government can’t make it rain. Don’t blame others for a natural event that was going to happen no matter what.

The problem with this rhetoric is that the federal government is doing exactly what they should be and providing all of the required support as asked for and as required.

What exact actions do you want and what exact difference do you think it would make?

The State department’s responsible for the areas are doing their jobs, the fires however are extremely large and very difficult to control.

It seems some people wouldn’t be happy unless the federal government makes it rain.

The ridiculous and illogical partisan political arguments being presented about this disaster sickens me. And I’ve never voted for the LNP in my life.

It’s pretty clear that at this point in time they need to develop a comprehensive climate change plan. The problem is PM Smoco stubbornly refuses to admit he is wrong, accept the advice of all the experts, including fire chiefs, and provide national leadership.

rationalobserver9:55 pm 03 Jan 20

No, what the PM needs to do is to shine a light on state spending priorities which see big holes in the ground where perfectly good stadiums used to be, in preference to better resources for fire fighting. He needs to shine a light on the states incompetent management of national parks which rather than being nature preserves are inaccessible, weed choked, unmanaged tinder boxes leading to the widespread decimation of the very biosphere they are charged with protecting.

unfortunately none of those things will do anything to address the cause of where we are now; which is an unprecedented drought causing a dried out country which is currently on fire like it has never been before ….due to climate change. Blaming states for building sporting facilities isn’t rational.

Its pretty clear that even if our emissions were zero, it would not have made one iota of difference to the fires.

As I said, the political barrow pushing off the back of this ongoing tragedy is disgraceful.

Yeah our troop contribution to WW2 wouldn’t have made a difference to the outcome of the war either…..would it? So why bother? My tax contribution won’t make a difference to the Australian economy either so why should I pay tax? Sorry chewy14 but that’s a well worn denialist argument that’s been debunked so many times that one wonders why you would even bother putting it forward. Some people never learn.

Can’t see where ive suggested we shouldn’t do anything about climate change but the linkage to these fires as if it’s a major contributor is extraordinarily tenuous at best.

It’s pure political barrow pushing to say that action on climate change is the primary thing that would have lessened the impacts of these fires.

And as above, that kind of behaviour sickens me. One wonders how people can look at themselves in the mirror whilst using bushfire victims in this way.

By referring to “political barrow-pushing” you’re showing a lack of understanding of what is happening here. Climate change s science, not politics. Unfortunately there’s been a concerted effort by certain sectors to convince gullible people that climate change is “political”. The lack of preparedness for the bushfires now occurring when a meeting by fire officials with the PM was requested almost nine months ago. He refused and the consequences of a lack of preparedness are now visible to all.

No, you’re being completely disingenuous about what you’re attempting to do.

Nowhere have I disagreed with the science on climate change and it isn’t actually at issue.

The politics comes in when you are trying to use a tragedy to push a political message to get a policy shift that is basically unrelated to the main cause of the fires.

And the fact that the PM declined to meet with activists pushing a political message 9 months ago is irrelevant. Their main message and desired policy shift wouldn’t have made one iota of difference to these fires.

20/20 hindsight is great, using a tragedy to push a political agenda as you’re doing is disgraceful. Give it up.

At least you’re agreeing with the science regarding climate change. Beyond that, claiming that if the PM had met the fire chiefs nine months ago as requested, would not have made a difference is disingenuous. Obviously if we were better prepared we can at least have a plan in place to deal with the obvious effects of climate change that are now unfolding. Both sides of politics agree that these unprecedented bushfires are linked to the effects of climate change. The Australian Government has just announced a $2bn package to respond to the disaster. So I suggest you perhaps keep up with the rapidly changing environment that surrounds you and try not to claim anything that you disagree with is “politicising” Responding to climate change is science, not politics. Try to learn the difference.

“Beyond that, claiming that if the PM had met the fire chiefs nine months ago as requested, would not have made a difference is disingenuous.”

Their group is called “Emergency Leaders For Climate Action” and that’s what they wanted to meet about, it is clearly their main issue.

To think they weren’t politicising the potential risk of fires to push their preferred version of policy action on climate change is beyond naiive.

Even if you take their claims of wanting more resources for firefighting at face value, since when does any lobbyist ever ask for less money?

And if they got additional resources, what tangible difference would it have made? Some fires may have been controlled earlier and perhaps a few houses saved. Do you honestly believe a few additonal water bombers would have made an appreciable difference considering the scale of fires? No one ever plans and resources for the worst possible disaster because the expense could never be justified.

This isn’t in any way related to science, it’s about politics and money.

You clearly need to learn the difference.

The first incorrect point you made is claiming that they are “lobbyists”. They are quite clearly not lobbyists and, frankly, people who have lost their homes in these bushfires might find that claim very offensive. Are you suggesting that we should provide a lesser response to the current emergency? You state that: “Some fires may ave been controlled earlier and perhaps a few houses saved”. If the house saved was yours, what then? If it was your family member’s life saved because of the earlier response to the emergency what then? To state that climate change isn’t science is showing that you’re, sadly, in a complete state of denial. We’re all responding to, and reacting to, the unprecedented scaled of this disaster in a range of ways, however just denying it is patently ridiculous.

You don’t know what a lobbyist is, do you?

The leader of the group is Greg Mullins who sits on the Climate Council and I find it offensive that people can be so gullible and easily led about what his agenda and the group he represents is.

I also said even if you take their claims at face value, since when does a lobbyist ever ask for less money? You can’t simply ignore the fact that their main issue is with climate change action, not controlling bushfires and the fact that we don’t have unlimited budgets to provide additional funds for everyone that asks, means that after every disaster people will always be able to claim they asked for more and the government should have provided it.

Having perfect 20/20 hindsight happens after every natural disaster and the fact that people think we should have put more resources towards firefighting after the event is absolutely meaningless from a planning or risk management perspective before the event.



By the logic used in your last post, no amount of funding would ever be enough because we could always do more to stop any fire or any problem or any disaster.

We would also take extreme actions like banning cars because in your words “ what if it was your family member’s life that could be saved?” Where exactly would you draw the line?

Unfortunately, that’s not how budgeting or risks are assessed and its not how government’s are run (mostly).

And for the last time, stop attempting (and failing) to put words in my mouth. I know you want to try and label me a “denier” because you think that somehow makes your points more valid but it simply isn’t even remotely true.

Nowhere have I opposed the science on climate change, nor anywhere have I claimed that climate change is politics but your response to climate change can and most certainly is often political in nature.

Politics is politics and using climate change as a vehicle for your politics and to promote your preferred political policy direction IS by definition politics. I really don’t know how you can’t understand something so simple.

Daily Digest

Want the best Canberra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riotact stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.