Thursday, February 7, 2019

Today by Paddy Manning

Black Saturday, black century
Australia is not facing up to the danger of climate change

AAP Image / Joe Castro

If the tenth anniversary of the Black Saturday fires isn’t traumatic enough, there are also the climate alarm bells going off like crazy. Neither Prime Minister Scott Morrison nor Opposition leader Bill Shorten will mention climate change, and it is easy to understand why. But the Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission itself concluded that “with populations at the rural–urban interface growing and the impact of climate change, the risks associated with bushfire are likely to increase”. As we reflect on the causes of one of Australia’s worst natural disasters, we are being deluged with warnings about the likelihood of more tragedies in the future.

In the past 24 hours, the Climate Council released its tally of the cost of extreme weather events last year – $1.2 billion in Australia alone, and a staggering US$215 billion globally. Meanwhile, the United Kingdom’s Met Office has calculated that there is a 10 per cent likelihood that the world will temporarily exceed 1.5 degrees of warming before 2023. It’s not that we’ve crashed through our Paris targets 80 years early, it just feels like it.

Bushfires royal commissioner Bernard Teague has been doing media today. On ABC Melbourne this morning, Teague told Jon Faine that recommendations on undergrounding electrical infrastructure, and on backburning, had not been taken up, and warned about complacency. But he has said nothing about climate change. In the immediate wake of the royal commission, I asked CSIRO scientist Kevin Hennessy why the final report said so little about increased bushfire risk due to future climate change. He would not speculate, but said, “It was included in my evidence and I tried to emphasise that while the damage associated with the Black Saturday fires was extreme, we can expect more of this in the future.”

In The Conversation, renewable energy expert Scott Hamilton, a former senior Victorian environment official, tackles it head on, writing that climate change is poised to deliver more Black Saturdays in coming decades, and citing a 2017 Climate Council report that Victoria is the state most affected by bushfires, and is on the front line of increasing bushfire risk. Also in The Conversation, climate adaptation expert Professor Rod Keenan writes that, a decade after Black Saturday, 2030 climate forecasts made in 2009 have come true in half the time. “With record floods in Queensland, severe bushfires in Tasmania and Victoria, widespread heatwaves and drought, and a crisis in the Murray-Darling Basin, it is timely to reflect on the state of adaptation policy and practice in Australia.” His conclusion: authorities are struggling to cope.

Ten years later, it seems that many of us are unready to connect the terrible Victorian tragedy with the terrible outlook for all of us. Yet firefighters tell us they’re linked, as The Sydney Morning Herald reported this week, in an interview with decorated Australian firefighter Greg Mullins, a former NSW Fire and Rescue Commissioner, who said climate change is contributing to bushfires so horrendous that homes and lives cannot be protected, and that the federal government will not acknowledge the link because it has failed on emissions reduction policy. Tasmania’s wildfires are linked, as author Richard Flanagan wrote in a powerful piece for The Guardian this week that has been shared more than 88,000 times, headed: “Tasmania is burning. The climate disaster future has arrived while those in power laugh at us”. In Crikey today [$], Bee Spencer asks whether his Victorian hometown of Cockatoo – wiped out on Ash Wednesday – was doomed to burn. The kids get it, announcing today [$] that the school Strike 4 Climate will have a second global walkout on March 15.

Meanwhile, Murdoch columnists Janet Albrechtsen and Andrew Bolt are looking for string-pullers behind a wave of independents challenging Liberals over climate change, and pointing the finger at former PM Malcolm Turnbull. Anything but face up to the issue.


“Like the Turnbull government, this government has a tendency to half-smart political tactics: ideas that sound great when cooked up inside the febrile environment of Parliament House but that, out in the real world, beyond Canberra and the political obsessives of the press gallery and commentariat, end up misfiring.” CRIKEY [$]

Crikey’s Bernard Keane on the government’s penchant for getting itself in hot water.


“I would have been 28 or so. A newly minted General Secretary of the Labor Party in NSW. He had just booked out an entire restaurant to have dinner with me. I was vain. Arrogant. Thought I was special.”THE DAILY TELEGRAPH [$]

Former Labor senator Sam Dastyari, in The Daily Telegraph, on how he was wooed by Chinese billionaire Huang Xiangmo, now stranded in Hong Kong after being stripped of Australian residency.

The Number

The proportion of “losers” among aged-care services, which has almost tripled since late 2015 when the Coalition made $2 billion in cuts to the sector, according to FOI documents obtained by The Australian. Services classified as “winners” halved to 47 per cent. READ ON [$]

The Policy

“Each of us expects to be supported and treated fairly and compassionately by governments in times of need, and to have our contribution to Australia’s economic prosperity, including through unpaid care work, valued. The Federal Government’s ParentsNext program, which is underpinned by a punitive compliance framework and targets mothers with young children and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in particular, undermines these basic expectations.” JOINT SUBMISSION TO SENATE INQUIRY INTO PARENTSNEXT

The list

“The debate about MUP’s decision to shift its focus towards scholarly publishing has been remarkable for its intellectual poverty. Any unsuspecting soul who entered the Twittersphere and observed the journalists and politicians falling over one another to lament MUP’s change of direction might imagine that under its long-standing director, Louise Adler, MUP had been the one bright beacon of intelligent debate in Australia’s cultural Badlands.” The monthly


“As a medical student, this dark magic seemed impossible. I remember wishing in those days for the time medical records would be stored online. But now, 15 years on, I find myself a surgeon with serious reservations about such a system – not only as a clinician but also as a patient.” The SATURDAY PAPER


“Each day brought forth more evidence of rorting, rip-offs and incompetence. AMP and the Commonwealth Bank vied for leadership in the business of charging fees for services never provided. CBA took the practice a step further and charged dead people for financial planning advice. The commission heard of brazen crimes and sneaky little trickeries that netted millions.” The monthly

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is also the author of three books, including a recently updated unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?


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