The Prime Minister has been fond of telling people not to panic lately. Don’t panic about the economy being as stagnant as the water in the Darling River (where NSW is preparing for “fish Armageddon”). Don’t panic that most of the east coast of Australia is either engulfed in bushfires or choking on smoke.
According to the Prime Minister, there’s no need to be anxious about the bushfires. “These highly trained officers run towards dangerous incidents, not away from them,” he said. “It is vital they have every resource necessary to help them do their job and protect the community.” Unfortunately, his comments weren’t about firefighters, but part of a $107 million security boost for Australia’s airports, which will see police visibly wielding assault rifles at capital city airports across the country. Of course, there’s nothing more reassuring than the sight of assault rifles in the airport. “That’s the last time I run for the gate,” commented a colleague.
But it isn’t terrorism on people’s minds when they arrive at Sydney airport these days.
“At 39,000 ft, we could smell Australia long before we saw it. Perhaps 300 miles out. And it smelt of bushfires. Then as we came in to land, it looked more like the End of Days,” tweeted actor Sam Neill as he arrived in Sydney.
When it comes to threats to our security from terrorism, no expense is spared, and the Morrison government will “take no chances” when it comes to “keeping the community safe”.
But when it comes to security threats from climate change – like the health hazards from bushfire smoke or ash in the water supply – Morrison has decided to act like there is nothing unprecedented about this year’s bushfires, instead telling Australians it is important to “have a sense of calm”. To acknowledge that this bushfire season is unprecedented might imply the need for a “take-no-chances” approach to reducing Australia’s emissions, something the Coalition government has proved itself incapable of even talking about, let alone doing.
eople are anxious and angry because the government has seemed more concerned with religious freedom and airport security than the bushfires, which represent a far more immediate and highly visible threat to not only Australia’s largest city, but dozens of regional towns.
On Thursday, the Prime Minister announced an additional $11 million for aerial firefighting resources – I guess his initial response that volunteer firefighters “wanted to be there” did not test well in focus groups.
Yet the speed and scale of the Morrison government’s response to the bushfires does not seem to match the scale of the problem or reflect the intensity of the community’s concerns. There are reports of rural fire service brigades crowdfunding for face masks and other supplies. Even more disturbing is the report in The Guardian that NSW RFS brigades have been warned about crowdfunding for protective masks “without the appropriate authority”.