Morrison and Berejiklian can't see the forest for the burning trees

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Both NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Prime Minister Scott Morrison have avoided any discussion of climate change as a contributing factor in the catastrophic bushfires currently burning in NSW and Queensland.

The NSW Premier dismissed journalists’ questions with protestations of

“Not today. Honestly, not today!”

However, not only have the two leading Liberals stymied any mention of climate change when questioned, both the NSW Premier and PM have recently taken and/or failed to take action that can reasonably be expected to have serious negative consequences for firefighters, communities and individuals threatened by bushfires — both currently and into the future.

On June 21 2019, the Fire Brigade Employees Union reported on its website that the Berejiklian Government had cut the capital budget of Fire and Rescue NSW by a whopping 35.4 per cent.

The report went on to warn that:

The demand on us as workers and our services, such as fire, rescue, hazardous materials, urban search and rescue increases as the population grows and as our towns and cities develop. There are many growing communities, particularly in regional NSW, who do not have enough professional firefighters. There are some towns with no professional firefighters.


We have fewer firefighters now than we did eight years ago. Our trucks are old. We need more specialist equipment, not less. Some of our existing stations desperately need updating. We need safe protective uniforms and safe equipment. We need training. We need support after traumatic events. There is no fat to cut.


We have asked to meet with the Minister three times since the State Election — he ignored us until the day before the Budget came down. We don’t need to wonder why… We are meeting with the Minster [sic] next week and we look forward to him explaining to us where he expects these cuts to come from.


What does the Budget mean for us? We are already stretched thin. These Budget cuts will be bad for us as workers and bad for our communities.

NSW is now experiencing unprecedented fire conditions with three people dead, five unaccounted for and more than one 150 properties destroyed to date. Conditions are expected to worsen in the next few days.

On Tuesday 12 November, after a campaign by the NSW Minerals Council, the NSW Parliament will debate legislation introduced by the Berejiklian Government that will remove the power of planning authorities to rule out coal mine projects based on the climate change impact of emissions from the coal, once it has been burned.

The NSW Government has not consulted with the public on this proposed change — only with the mining industry. The introduction of the Bill follows the NSW Land and Environment Court’s February rejection of the proposed Rocky Hill coal mine, citing the impact the mine would have on climate change through the burning of coal. The court also rejected a proposed development in the Bylong valley, citing similar concerns.

In other words, the Berejiklian Government is acting entirely in the interest of the mining industry, by attempting to legislate to remove the Land and Environment Court’s authority to block proposed mines on climate change grounds.

Nature Conservation Council chief executive Chris Gambian said:

“The Government is effectively banning planning bodies from considering the biggest environmental challenge of our age.”

If Berejiklian believes that this is “not the time” to bring climate change into the discourse, she cannot permit the proposed Bill to be debated as planned on Tuesday. Environment advocates are calling on the Premier to postpone the debate.

And then there’s this. As we head into bushfire season, more than 170 paid positions at the NSW RFS are still vacant following a restructure. A fire service facing unheard-of challenges must do so minus 170 paid staff — thanks again to the Berejiklian Government. Is this a cost-cutting venture?

Meanwhile, back in the Canberra bubble, 23 eminent former emergency chiefs, including former NSW Fire Chief Greg Mullins, wrote to Prime Minister Morrison in April and September 2019, requesting that he meet with them to discuss plans to deal with the possibility of unprecedented bushfire disasters. They received no reply to either request. That possibility is today a reality.

Mr Mullins had this to say about Morrison's refusal to acknowledge the 23 former emergency chiefs’ concerns:

We were fobbed off to Minister [Angus] Taylor, who is not the right minister to speak to. 


We wanted to speak to the Natural Disasters Minister and the PM. We asked for help with that, we never got a reply. You had 23 experts willing to sit down with a PM and come up with solutions, but he's just fobbed us off.


What does it take to wake these people up in Canberra? I don't know.

Clearly, the Prime Minister had no interest in discussions with experts on how to plan for and minimise the bushfire catastrophe we are currently experiencing. Incredibly, Morrison posted a tweet sending 'thoughts and prayers' to those suffering the consequences of fires he showed zero interest in preparing for — that’s zero interest from Morrison in planning for the protection of citizens, their property and their lives.  

Morrison is condemning Australians to a future of increasingly catastrophic fires with his refusal to take advice from those who are highly experienced and his egotistical determination to act alone, despite his overwhelming ignorance. He has also signalled that Australia will not require any international assistance as we struggle to combat the fires because we are so well prepared, we do not need help.

When Morrison refused the possibility of international assistance did he first consult with the experts who’ve been desperately trying to discuss the lack of preparation with him or consult with firefighters on the ground? Or, in his arrogance, did he just decide to say no? This is pure Trump.

Despite this monstrous bragging from Morrison, we are in fact accepting assistance from overseas, with firefighters flying in from New Zealand over the next few days.

It is difficult to understand how Berejiklian and Morrison can look those devastated by the loss of loved ones, property and homes in the eye. Both are culpable. Both ought to be thrown out of office. Both could have done so much more to try to ameliorate this catastrophe and the destruction it brings. That the country is so ill-prepared for situations such as this is entirely down to politicians who place self-interest before citizens’ welfare and lack the capacity to act wisely. Their astounding inadequacy has cost lives and unimaginable loss — and worse is predicted this week.

It should be considered that Morrison’s Pentecostal religious beliefs might not permit him to acknowledge the role of climate change in the current bushfire crisis. If so, he should be kicked out of office. His allegiance is to a cult, not to Australia and its people.

The last word goes to a real leader, Mayor of Glen Innes Severn Carol Sparks, whose community is devastated by the loss of two people:

"We are so impacted by drought and the lack of rain. It's climate change, there's no doubt about it. The whole of the country is going to be affected. We need to take a serious look at our future. Climate change is not political. It is a scientific fact.” 

You can follow Dr Jennifer Wilson on her blog No Place for Sheep or on Twitter @NoPlaceForSheep.

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