Tony Abbott

Twirling towards freedom

A Break in the Storm

Early this week, as Queensland residents were faced with the city’s second major flood in as many years in the wake of ex-tropical cyclone Oswald, Federal Liberal MP Andrew Laming embarrassed himself on Twitter again. On Monday afternoon he tweeted: "Tony Abbott at a Brisbane SES depot today. Where's the PM?" The Prime Minister, as Laming discovered all too quickly, was visiting bushfire-affected regions in Victoria, while Wayne Swan toured flooded suburbs in Brisbane and Ipswich. “Innocent question,” Laming later meekly tweeted in response to his online attackers. “PM to be commended for attending VIC bushfire areas.”

The day before Tony Abbott filled sandbags and sympathised with flood victims, cameras rolling all the while, he posed his own innocent question at an ill timed “federal campaign rally” in Sydney. The opposition leader announced to the titters of the assembled party faithful, “Just think of how much hotter it might have been the other day but for the carbon tax!”

Another politician who thinks a pithy quip is the most appropriate response to climate change is NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell. When asked about the recent flooding at a media event on Tuesday night, O’Farrell responded sharply. "Let's not turn this near disaster… into some politically correct debate about climate change,” he said. “Give me a break."

Those people up and down the east coast who have spent the summer worrying about whether their homes will either go under water or catch on fire would no doubt welcome a break. Not only from the extreme weather events, but from the extreme hypocrisy of all too many politicians’ responses to these disasters. Somebody, somewhere, is labouring under the impression that the public expects our political leaders to helicopter into disaster stricken areas, pat out a fire, fill a sandbag, listen sympathetically, and make a speech about how together, we will overcome this.

No doubt fire and flood victims appreciate solemn handshakes, but a solemn commitment to mitigate the effects of such disasters ­­– after the cameras have stopped rolling – would be more meaningful. Brisbane’s famous flood of 1974 affected 4000 houses. The 2011 flood peaked at a lower level, but inundated 14,000 homes. Whether this says more about a frightening weather trend or a frightening lack of planning is debatable. But while Queensland Premier Campbell Newman’s Liberal colleagues mock climate change, he was in the unenviable position of having to plead with Brisbane residents to conserve the city’s remaining drinking water. His state’s cataclysmic weather events stubbornly refuse to stay on message.

So far, the most appropriate political response to the floods has come from the outskirts of Brisbane. Ipswich Cr, Andrew Antoniolli has been quietly toiling for days, and when asked to pose for a photo with sandbags reportedly refused and said only, “No, no staged crap.” Somebody, at least, is giving us a break.

Michaela McGuire

Michaela McGuire is a journalist and the author of Last Bets: A True Story of Gambling, Morality and the Law and the Penguin Special A Story of Grief. Visit her blog, Twirling Towards Freedom.

@michaelamcguire

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