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?”
Since last Monday RFS and ADF Helicopters have been deployed 34 times and have rescued 18 people from fire affected areas. Please don’t leave your decision to leave until it’s too late #nswfires
— Rob Rogers (@robrfs) December 6, 2019
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.”
Dangerous conditions have resulted in a significant loss of property. Danger is still present for many communities, with conditions set to deteriorate Thu & Sat. So far this season over 760 homes have been destroyed, & more than 12,900 buildings have been saved. #nswrfs #nswfires pic.twitter.com/oFZvvPmmK1
— NSW RFS (@NSWRFS) December 18, 2019
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?”