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Volunteers are keeping Australians safe, not the Government

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Ordinary, everyday people have been heroically becoming volunteer firefighters and doing more than our government to help (Screenshot via YouTube)

The outpouring of assistance from both domestic and overseas volunteers in fighting our bushfires has shown more spirit than our nation's leaders, writes Noely Neate.

WHEN THERE IS A GUN MASSACRE in the U.S., we all look on in shock and wait for the inevitable and thoroughly useless “thoughts and prayers” to be intoned by world leaders — again. We have discussions as to how it is astonishing that Americans refuse to do anything about their gun problem, held to ransom by politicians who refuse to release NRA funding from their greedy, grasping paws and are ready to let people die for the cynical “right to bear arms”, which everyone knows is the right to make a quid out of the arms industry.

The whole concept defies common sense or duty of care to a nation. As Australians, it really does flummox us. Sadly, now the shoe is on the other foot.

Chatting to those overseas nowadays, we are the ones receiving the useless “thoughts and prayers” for our bushfires, the lives lost, habitat destroyed, homes and livelihoods gone and worse, it is not close to over yet. These people overseas can’t understand why our government, which was warned, did nothing to mitigate this disaster.

What really gets them, though, is when they find out that so many fighting these fires, trying to save people and property, are volunteers by the thousands.

They are seriously astonished when they find out the likes of the Gospers Mountain fire had been going since the end of October and mostly fought by volunteers. You then get the inevitable, “it is winter here, why didn’t the Australian Government ask to use our fleet of...?”

I won’t even start on the nations who have offered us assistance but, for some reason, our government has said we have it under control. Who knocks back extra help? How many of these fires could have been put out earlier with more resources tossed at them?

When they find out those donations for all the firefighting acronyms are not going to them, but instead to equipment and resources to actually enable them to fight those fires – for free – well, I have had more than one overseas person think I was lying to them.

They ask why we rely on volunteers and why are they not supplied with resources by the Government. It is difficult to answer and normally easier to say, “many of us in Australia would like to know why, too”. Though, of course, we do know why — politics.

Liberal National governments at State and Federal levels can’t admit there is a problem, as then they would have to admit they have not addressed that problem.

Not only are we talking climate change, but funding cuts to fire services and national parks management, ignoring reportsmultiple reports over multiple years – warning of disastrous bushfire conditions on the horizon and pretty much having no plan to address.

We are left relying on the goodwill of volunteers to “keep Australians safe”.

How many times have you heard that phrase, normally accompanied by a ten flag press conference to announce another few billion dollars to combat terrorism to “keep Australians safe”. It's questionable as to whether those new Mk18s at selected airports for $107 million are keeping us safe.

Yet we can’t apply the same importance, money and resources into firefighting services that actually are keeping Australians safe. Safe from a real and present danger, not some “maybe” whispered by spooks, but a danger that is getting worse every single year that has already killed too many.

We get ludicrous comments like Prime Minister Scott Morrison saying they want to be there and statements about “volunteer ethos”. This meme is so ingrained that no one realises just how exploited these volunteers are.

Rural fire services were set up in more remote areas to help each other out, as that is what rural communities do. Just like SES and other volunteer organisations, these services are only supposed to be used on rare occasions.

Instead, increasingly, so far this year it's been a prime example of how governments have taken what these people do for granted.

Some have been fighting fires for over two months. Not all these volunteers can afford that time away from home. Some are retired, some are semi-retired, many are not. Not only are these people brave to fight some of the worst fires imaginable, but their sense of duty is of heroic proportions.

Unlike politicians MIA on holidays, most volunteer firefighters can’t just sit by knowing they could be helping. Even if it is not their backyard, if it is in another state, they know they have the skills to mitigate this disaster and feel compelled to assist.

This can’t continue.

We can’t continue to rely on these volunteers giving up their time, giving up their income, putting their families through stress, putting themselves in danger to keep Australians safe. It is just not tenable — in fact, it is totally unacceptable to be exploiting the nature and goodwill of these volunteers like this.

It also makes no sense in a climate where bushfires are getting worse.

We need full-time, paid, national firefighting services. Like the AFP, a service that is well resourced and staffed that attends to danger anywhere in the nation where it is needed.

We should not be donating to services that keep Australians safe. We don’t donate to the AFP or army. We don’t hear of a terror plot in the CBD and put a call out to any retired police to maybe race into town and give us a hand stopping people dying.

Essential services should always be the role of government. Funding those essential services should always be the role of government, particularly in a first-world nation.

We need to take a good hard look at ourselves and start demanding our governments at all levels take their duty of care seriously and stop outsourcing essential public services to volunteers or charities. This is an unaccountable cop-out and putting us in danger.

Think about this. More importantly, I would like the Federal Government, in particular, to think about this.

Scott Morrison said:

“But I think to suggest that at just 1.3 per cent of emissions, that Australia doing something more or less would change the fire outcome this season — I don’t think that stands up to any credible scientific evidence at all.”

The vibe is one of “why bother?” Imagine if the rest of the nation did that?

“I won’t bother paying my tax as I am 0.00001 per cent of the tax pool so they won’t notice if I keep it myself.”

Or, “I can only afford a $20 donation to bushfire relief so only a drop in the ocean, not really worth bothering with donating, won’t make a difference.”

Or, “well, I am only one volunteer firefighter, I can’t really make a difference in the face of such unprecedented raging fires, so I will just sit at home with the family.”

How deeper in trouble would we currently be if thousands of volunteer firefighters had acted like our government? Think about it.

Demand our governments grow up and start acting like responsible adults, remember they have a duty of care to Australians and stop exploiting the goodwill of people who honestly do care about keeping us safe and putting themselves in danger to do it.

Enough is enough.

Read more from Noely Neate on her blog YaThink?, or follow her on Twitter @YaThinkN.

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