13 February 2020

Greens say summer of smoke signals need for air quality strategy

| Michael Weaver
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Parliament House

Smoke blankets Parliament House in January. Photo: Region Media.

Following months of hazardous bushfire pollution in Canberra, the ACT Government has become the first Australian parliament to commit to a whole-of-government strategy on bushfire smoke and air quality.

The ACT Greens tabled a motion in the ACT Legislative Assembly today that calls on the ACT Government to develop a comprehensive strategy to manage the impacts of smoke and poor air quality.

The strategy has received strong tri-partisan support, with ACT Greens leader Shane Rattenbury pushing for the strategy to be completed and released before the beginning of the next fire season.

“Australia suffered a record-breaking summer in 2018-19, and many people called it Australia’s ‘angry summer’. Well, this year’s summer of smoke has been apoplectic,” Mr Rattenbury said today.

“For months we’ve all watched the fires, willing them to go out, not knowing if they might reach our homes in Canberra, and hoping that people, properties, animals, and the precious natural environment would be spared.

“Here in Canberra, on several occasions, we experienced the worst air quality in the entire world. No-one expected this to happen. Sadly, with climate change a reality, we can’t assume these ‘smoke waves’ will be a one-off.”

Offices, government agencies and national institutions were shut down. Dozens of sporting and community events were cancelled, and hundreds of Canberrans sought medical treatment as a result of smoke and poor air quality.

Mr Rattenbury described watching Canberrans walk and ride around town in air pollution masks as looking like something out of a horror film.

“There’s no question that the smoke has impacted every member of our Canberra community, in every part of our lives,” Mr Rattenbury said.

“It’s been a calamitous time for the Territory. For weeks, our city choked on the smoke of the worst air quality in the world. We saw in the New Year through a haze of thick, orange smoke.

“Many individuals and families left our city or stayed away during the height of the smoke crisis.

“We’ve had hundreds of Canberrans visit hospitals, walk-in centres and GPs to deal with the health impacts of the smoke,” he said.

The Green’s motion urges the Government to implement a number of measures, including:

  • Indoor and outdoor air quality monitoring
  • Distribution of face masks
  • Measures to protect vulnerable people from smoke
  • Developing air quality standards for workers (especially outdoor workers) and events, including sporting events, and
  • Mental health and wellbeing support during extended smoke events.
Face masks at Summernats

Attendees at Summernats with P2 masks in the first week of January. Photo: Region Media.

“Sadly, with climate change a reality, these events may not be a one-off,” Mr Rattenbury said. “Fire seasons are worsening. As part of adapting, and to ensure Canberrans are protected in the future, we need a comprehensive plan in place to make sure we can respond to smoke and air quality problems.

“We must act now to ensure that we are as prepared as we can be for any similar events in future – events that are potentially more likely to occur as a result of climate change.

“The bushfire emergency is a climate emergency. The Greens are committed to putting people and planet first, and taking action to mitigate climate change and prepare Canberra for the realities of a warming planet,” Mr Rattenbury said.

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Capital Retro6:20 pm 13 Feb 20

How about also addressing the 24/7 air pollution problems at MLRMC, Canberra’s largest and dirtiest industrial site. The recent bushfire smoke was luxury compared to what constantly emits from MLRMC.

Greens in government. Air quality worst in world.

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