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Wren's Week: Quiet Australians are watching their nation burn

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Scott Morrison and Gladys Berejiklian toured the NSW fire zones, but more action from both is needed (Screenshot via YouTube)

Australia is on fire and our government is offering not much more than thoughts and prayers, writes John Wren.

FIRES, FIRES and more fires. The bushfires in NSW and Queensland have dominated the news this week. It’s very early in the season for fires of this magnitude in Australia. The world’s climate scientists have been warning for decades that these extreme fire events would manifest more often due climate change. We have also seen similar firestorms in California and elsewhere. Some are defining this new epoch as the Pyrocene era — the age of fires.

The fires have exposed the Liberal and National Parties to a level of scrutiny I’ve not seen since 2013. These two parties, coalition partners in the Australian Government, have generally taken an almost exclusively pro-fossil fuel and climate change-denying stance to their policy development (such as it is). Tony Abbott started it with his removal of Julia Gillard’s ETS (the so-called carbon tax). This was the single most wilfully destructive political move possibly in Australian history. Prior to its removal, it was doing its job reducing emissions. Since its removal, Australian emissions have increased year on year.

Many voters remained ambivalent to the Government’s inaction on climate change until this week. To them, climate change was an abstract thing that didn’t affect them greatly. All of a sudden, the full ferocity of bushfires fuelled by it has confronted them with a catastrophic inferno that could one day engulf them. Many are finding their voices and are now speaking out against the inaction of their representatives. About time. Many of these people are the unengaged “quiet Australians” that Prime Minister Scott Morrison claims to represent. Clearly, remaining quiet is no longer an option if they want to save their homes and businesses.

The most damning issues to arise from the fires has been the news that Morrison refused to meet with former fire chiefs who had tried to meet with him to discuss the lack of preparedness by the Government for catastrophic bushfires brought about by climate change. This was only a few months ago. They tried to warn Morrison, yet he fobbed them off.

Why would he do this? It’s simple. Firstly, had he met with them, he would have had to acknowledge that climate change was real and that his refusal to act was negligent (possibly criminally negligent now that we know people have been killed). Secondly, Morrison’s belief system means he thinks fires and climate are the work of his God and to interfere would thus be interfering in God’s work. Regardless, the people now know that Morrison once again refused to act. To add fuel to the fire being applied to Morrison’s feet was his first response, offering “thought and prayers” to those affected. Australians were rightly horrified by this American evangelical response.

Thought and prayers are meaningless. They are a substitute for real action used by religious nutters who feel that praying is indeed doing something. It’s not. They make the utterer feel better, cost nothing and deliver no respite to victims. The gun lobby in the USA utters the same meaningless platitudes every time there is a mass shooting. It’s a shameful thing that the Australian PM would use an NRA tactic to deal with detractors of his inaction on climate change. Action on climate change for Australian conservatives is as problematic as action on gun control for American conservatives.

The NSW State Liberal Government was also badly exposed as having cut over $30 million in funding to their rural fire service. NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has been avoiding the subject at every press conference. At a joint conference with Morrison, whenever a journalist asked her about the cuts or Morrison about his inaction on climate change they were abruptly told “now is not the right time” (or a version thereof). This again is a time-honoured American NRA tactic. After every mass shooting, when a journalist asks about gun control the politician du jour says the same. When is the right time, Gladys? When is the right time, Morrison?

People are literally dying (four at last count) in part, because of the Government’s inaction on climate change. Now would seem like exactly the right time to me.

To add insult to injury and literally while the fires were raging (and still are at the time this is being written), newly-minted Queensland LNP Senator Gerard Rennick was on TV stating utterly ridiculous conspiracy theories regarding the Bureau of Meteorology changing records to suit their alleged “climate change agenda”. Where does the Coalition find these fools? It was a big week for Rennick, who later in the week described superannuation as a cancer. This is what you elected, Queensland. We now have an even bigger fool in Parliament than your crowning-glory, One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts.

Among many progressives, it has seemed that our once-great ABC has been lurching further to the Right each month. Journalists Laura Tingle and Laura Francis penned an article about Morrison’s quiet Australians. It was little more than a Liberal Party propaganda piece complete with a fake “quiet Australian” played by Newscorp journalist Janita Singh. It is tragic how far from their charter the ABC has shifted. I’m also very disappointed with Laura Tingle, a journalist I once respected.

But who are these quiet Australians that Morrison refers to, these quiet sheep being led to the slaughter?

They are any one or more of the following:

  1. Those too ignorant or misinformed by the Murdoch and Stokes media to understand how the Government is undermining their wellbeing.
  2. Those without the courage to speak out because they are worried about their jobs, friends and mortgages.
  3. Those who are doing okay, but are simply too selfish to care about anyone else who may be doing it tough under the current regime.
  4. Those too complacent to care about what happens to them or anyone else.
  5. Fellow fascist travellers of the Liberal Party.

It is these people we progressives need to wake up. They are ultimately responsible for the ongoing fiscal, social and environmental catastrophe unfolding in Australia. They are the ones who elect the monsters — the Morrisons, Duttons, Joyces and Rennicks. The time for silence is over.

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