Twirling towards freedom

Fighting Fire

At the tail end of last summer, Tony Abbott was ridiculed for announcing on Twitter that he was on his way to assist his volunteer fire brigade. His detractors decried him as using a natural disaster as a nice backdrop for a photoshoot, his supporters praised him for getting on with the job, and the Daily Telegraph cut and pasted a photo of Abbott in firefighting regalia in front of a bigger, more impressive fire than the one he had been fighting.

This weekend, as the worst NSW bushfires in 45 years continued to devastate the Blue Mountains, there was no tweet, no press release, no press conference, and, as The Australian was quick to point out, “If not for a couple of photos circulating on Twitter, it’s a fair chance that Mr Abbott’s weekend exploits would have gone unnoticed.”

The couple of photos show Abbott giving the thumbs up from the front seat of a fire truck and posing for photos with fellow volunteers after spending Saturday night backburning with the Davidson Rural Fire Brigade. As have it, the Prime Minister’s efforts did go largely unnoticed, until one volunteer firefighter said to herself, “That guy could be Tony Abbott’s brother. Oh wait, hang on. It’s him.”

Media release or not, the Prime Minister was never going to go unnoticed wearing high vis overalls, behind riding in a fire truck, posing for photos, all the while being flanked by his Australian Federal Police security detail. It’s admirable that Abbott is continuing his 12-year role as a volunteer firefighter, but now that he’s been elected to the highest office in the country, voters might be forgiven for expecting that he do a little more to combat the bushfires that are razing the country. We have thousands of volunteer firefighters, but only one man who could possibly put into place the appropriate legislation that recognises and seeks to combat the threat of climate change. Helping prevent one fire doesn’t make up for abolishing the Climate Commission as a government body, or trying to reverse action on climate change, no matter how many photos opportunities it provides. 

Greens Senator Adam Bandt was criticised last week for reminding us that, “Global warming poses the biggest ever threat to Australians and the Australian way of life, but he [Abbott] is siding with the enemy. This week he has put us on a fast-track to become the first ever country to introduce a price on pollution, and then repeal it.” Bandt’s timing was opportunistic, said Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt. “No one anywhere should seek to politicise any human tragedy, let alone a bushfire on this scale.”

Climate change, more than anything, was politicised by the Coalition during this year’s election campaign, but the shoe is comfortably on the other foot now that they’re safely in government. Bandt received fierce criticism for posting a photo of the cloud of ash that has been hanging menacingly in Sydney’s sky for the past week and linking it to Abbott’s policy. “He will continue to prosecute this culture war as long as he sees the political benefits,” said Bandt.

Dr Peter Smith, who led NSW’s climate change science group until earlier this year, yesterday made his first media comments since leaving the role. Dr. Smith reported that his team of 10 had been cut to just 3 members. “When you really see governments are going to take climate change seriously is when you see them spending money on adaptation,'' Dr Smith said.

Tomorrow is forecast to provide the worst bushfire weather this season. It’s probably hoping too much that the causes will be taken seriously.











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.


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