‘Leadership vacuum’: pollies in the firing line for weak response to climate-fire emergency

Dominic Giannini 19 December 2019 14

Former ACT ESA Commissioner Peter Dunn: “Unless we stop burning fossil fuels to reduce the risk of climate change then every year we are going to see the same thing again and again and again, getting bigger and bigger.” Photo: Jarrah Knowles.

Former Commissioners and Chief Fire Officers are continuing to apply the blowtorch to the nation’s political leaders, accusing them of failing to take action as an unprecedented bushfire season ravages Australia.

These leaders, who form the Emergency Leaders for Climate Action (ELCA), have decided to push ahead with their own emergency climate summit after repeatedly being ignored by the Federal Government. They accuse politicians of being asleep at the wheel and failing to adequately address the fire crisis engulfing the nation.

Former ACT Emergency Services Agency (ESA) commissioner Peter Dunn, who is a part of this contingent, says the inaction is frustrating.

“The government has not taken any action. We asked the government to convene a national summit and they have gone missing in action. They are not doing anything about it so we need to get this organised ourselves,” Mr Dunn told Region Media.

“Things are different. The game has changed completely, and climate change is driving that. We want to have a national discussion about how the game has changed and what we need to do about it and how we can drive down our use of fossil fuels to limit climate change.

“The current emergency services are doing a fantastic job but they need more support, and that is not just financial support.

“This is ‘thinking support’ where we all get in a room and say what have we learnt? What do we need to change? How do we go about it? How do we all work together much more closely?”

Emergency resources are being stretched thin up and down the eastern seaboard, Mr Dunn says one of the main topics the summit needs to discuss is having enough aerial capability to adequately respond to the larger fires burning out of control.

“This is the frustrating thing. There are many things that can be done. The increase in aerial fire support is one,” he told Region Media. “The Boeing 737 that NSW purchased has been operating over in WA already, you can work it out yourself, we have been ignoring those sorts of aircraft just for starters.

“How do we improve Defence input? We get Defence input on an ad hoc basis. They wait until they are desperate and they call; that should be planned in advance we would suggest.

“We need to have a national conversation.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison recently announced an $11 million boost in funding for aerial firefighting resources, and while Mr Dunn says this will help greatly, it does nothing to address the root causes of the climate emergency.

“We are grateful for that but we need a lot more, it is a one-off payment,” he said. “They said ‘there is some money, get on with it once this summer’, but what happens next summer because these conditions are going to get worse and worse?

“Unless we stop burning fossil fuels to reduce the risk of climate change then every year we are going to see the same thing again and again and again, getting bigger and bigger.

“The situation at the moment is that we have fires burning up and down the east coast, we have the worst drought in living memory, with 99 per cent of NSW in declared drought, and we have this heatwave coming through, which is precisely what the scientists have predicted.

“There are solutions to this, there are things that we can do and we want to get people in a room to start doing them.”

However, the government needs to stand up and act decisively, he says, as reports emerged this week of Scott Morrison taking a pre-planned holiday overseas, leading to a swift backlash on social media with #wherethebloodyhellareyou and #firemorrison trending across Twitter.

“We are not quite sure what he is doing. Everyone needs a break. Firefighters out on the fire front right up and down the eastern seaboard and across Western Australia are not going to get a break, and that is what concerns us,” Mr Dunn says.

“There is a leadership vacuum and we need to get that filled. If the government were any more calm about it they would be on life support. What leaders have to do is remain calm while they are dealing with the emergency, not remain so calm that you create a vacuum.

“If you want to talk to the reactions of children, go and talk to children in or around the fire front, go and talk to the kids in the towns, they are very anxious and they want to see leaders lead.”

And with Australia wanting to take a decisive leadership role on the international stage, our credibility needs to be complemented with action on climate change, he says.

“We want to be a serious voice in world affairs, we helped establish APEC in our region, we go off and fight in conflicts that advance our national interests, we want to be listened to on a number of economic fronts at the G20, why is it we do not want to stand up and take the high ground and have the moral authority to put the pressure on big emitters to reduce?

“We want to be a middle power with influence in all other fields but we are backing off on climate change, why is that?”


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14 Responses to ‘Leadership vacuum’: pollies in the firing line for weak response to climate-fire emergency
HiddenDragon HiddenDragon 8:49 pm 20 Dec 19

“We want to be a middle power with influence in all other fields but we are backing off on climate change, why is that?”

So when was the last time the major powers followed Australia’s lead to do something challenging and seriously consequential that they weren’t otherwise inclined to do?

Capital Retro Capital Retro 5:19 pm 20 Dec 19

“There is a leadership vacuum and we need to get that filled”

Let me guess, Peter Dunn and his colleauges from ELCA are going to offer themselves as a political alternative with Tim Flannery as their leader?

Wayne Lutter Wayne Lutter 2:37 pm 20 Dec 19

What State government, which by the way is the authority does he mean? Federal government has no jurisdiction when it comes to state responsibility

Karen De Karen De 10:11 pm 19 Dec 19

The PM says the firies 'want to be there' while he is on holiday in Hawaii- where he wants to be!

Deplorable leader.😈

    Mark Chapman Mark Chapman 4:46 pm 23 Dec 19

    and thinks that compensating them isn't a priority.

Ursula Gamal Ursula Gamal 9:04 pm 19 Dec 19

We should shame this Government and revolt against their incapacity to deal with this emergency😡

Shirley Hadfield Shirley Hadfield 8:39 pm 19 Dec 19

Our Prime Minister is more interested in religious freedom than the country being on fire!

Darryl Holland Darryl Holland 8:06 pm 19 Dec 19

That's rubbish Peter!

    Harold Brown Harold Brown 8:46 pm 19 Dec 19

    Darryl Holland we would all like to hear about your fire fighting experience. Just a couple dot point will do!

    Hans Dimpel Hans Dimpel 6:55 am 20 Dec 19

    how do you know more than an emergency services agency commissioner? By listening to Alan Jones?

Michael Babb Michael Babb 7:38 pm 19 Dec 19

Australia got exactly what it voted for.

    Debbie Hope Debbie Hope 9:11 am 20 Dec 19

    Michael Babb well said

    Angela Hunter Angela Hunter 9:08 am 22 Dec 19

    Michael Babb except I didn't vote for it but I'm suffering because of those who did. I will NEVER forgive anyone who voted LNP

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