The climate and wildfire debate is happening on the ground… try putting it out
It is passing strange for the political and media class to be debating whether it’s an appropriate time to discuss the link between catastrophic bushfire conditions and climate change when the very communities that are bearing the brunt of the fires – and the emergency services personnel who are putting their lives at risk – are already talking about it themselves. From the firefighter who spoke up on Q&A to the man who today dumped a bucket of ash – the remnants of his burnt house – outside NSW parliament, the subject is coming up, whether politicians or the media think it’s the right time or not. It would take an act of censorship to somehow take climate off the agenda. And yet, according to Guardian Australia today, that’s what the NSW government is attempting to do, in an Orwellian decision to gag public servants attending a conference on adaptation to climate change from making any link between climate and bushfires.
Set aside for the moment any intemperate language from the Nationals or the Greens. The most sensible position, as both Katharine Murphy in Guardian Australia and Phillip Coorey [$] in The Australian Financial Review have argued, is that it’s quite possible to do both things at once – respond to the operational emergency and discuss the underlying causes of it. But perhaps those – from the prime minister down – who are arguing that now is not the time to talk about climate change could let us know when it would be appropriate? Is it when the emergency has passed? With bushfire danger set to steadily worsen over summer, that may not be for months. Perhaps Labor or the crossbenchers could agree to not talk about climate change now, but insist that the government set a date for a full climate-emergency debate in parliament – a debate that the government was refusing to allow only weeks ago. (That was also an inappropriate time, apparently.) We could all then look forward to the full-throated, vigorous participation of those politicians and journalists who have argued “not today”.
In the meantime, forget about Canberra, let’s take it from the locals. Like 18-year old Nymboida student Shiann Broderick, whose home has burned down and who wrote in Nine Media today: “I’m heartbroken at what’s happened but I’m also angry. I’m angry that the government is not adequately addressing the climate crisis. We thank you for your thoughts and prayers, Prime Minister, but we need action.” Or former ABC journalist and Newcastle City councillor for Labor, Carol Duncan, who tweeted on Monday: “This is my father’s home being destroyed by #NSWfires a few weeks ago – just one of 64 in this fire alone. Two of his friends were killed. My brother and his wife have today had to evacuate their home. I think now is a very good time to talk about #climatechange.”
One of the loudest voices has been Glen Innes Severn mayor Carol Sparks, whose Wytaliba house was evacuated on the weekend and whose neighbours included George Nole and Vivian Chaplain, who died tragically in the fire. Sparks wrote a powerful op-ed in Guardian Australia this week, explaining why her council declared a climate emergency.
Sparks is a Glen Innes local of 40 years, who succeeded in her first tilt at council in 2016 by taking her wheelbarrow and shovel around the streets on a trek to fill in the potholes. She became the first Greens member on the council (party affiliation is usually undeclared, but most lean Nationals or Liberal), coming third in first-preference votes. In an upset she was then elected as deputy mayor by a majority of her six fellow councillors. After serving as deputy for two years, campaigning on the rural doctor shortage, fixing potholes, local tree preservation and renewable energy, Sparks won the mayoralty at the end of last year – the first woman to take the role.
Sparks works with all comers. “I had a call from Barnaby Joyce this morning,” she says. “He said he didn’t say what he did say, about the green voters, which was completely insensitive.” Sparks is prepared for any criticism that might come her way from taking a strong stand on climate, saying “it’s like water off a duck’s back”.
“I’m not a mad loony green in the city,” says Sparks. “I’m a firefighter – a volunteer firefighter for 20 years. I work really hard out in the bush. When I became a councillor I actually took an oath to look after my community, and I’ve put that first above everything else.” Should she pipe down about climate, to suit the sensibilities of some nervous politicians and journalists in Canberra? Just try and make her. “Everybody’s talking about it,” she says. “Local government is supposed to be representing the community, and that’s my job and that’s what I’m doing. I’m representing all of the community … because everybody needs help. We need doctors, we need nurses, we need financial aid – particularly at the moment, with this drought and these fires around us. We are in uncharted waters.”
“The first forest blockade in the Western world was in 1979 when the community stood up to protect the Terania Creek basin from logging. The outcome was the 1982 Rainforest Decision when the Wran state government protected 120,000 hectares of rainforests across north-east NSW … We thought we had protected these living relics from the distant past for all time, though we had not counted on climate change. This week the rainforests of the Terania Creek basin burned.”
Janet Albechtsen shares her opinion about last week’s panellists on the ABC’s Q&A.
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“In this application, Justice Edelman and I order that the application for special leave to appeal to this Court from the judgment and orders of the Court of Appeal of the Supreme Court of Victoria given and made on 21 August 2019 be referred to a Full Court of this Court for argument as on an appeal.”
“Police and the other institutions of NT justice will need to work hard to avoid and refute expectations – already widely anticipated – that the investigation into Kumanjayi Walker’s death will be a ‘whitewash’ … There are reasons for concern: legislative, courtroom and police failures have meant that no police officer has ever been held responsible for any violent and unnecessary death of an Aboriginal person in his or her custody.”
“A new study has found that racism is a systemic issue in the Australian media – with more than half of race-related opinion pieces in the mainstream press deemed negative in their treatment of race. Of the 281 media pieces sampled during a 12-month period, 57 per cent were found to be ‘negative’ when discussing race.”
“The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse ushered in a cultural revolution in the way we view sexual abuse of children … This new sensibility, however, is now being undermined by the steady chorus of opinion from former prime ministers and conservative commentators – normally respecters of institutions such as the jury system – casting doubt on the conviction of Cardinal George Pell.”
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?
It is passing strange for the political and media class to be debating whether it’s an appropriate time to discuss the link between catastrophic bushfire conditions and climate change when the very communities that are bearing the brunt of the fires – and the emergency services personnel who are putting their lives at risk – are already talking about it themselves. From the firefighter who spoke up on Q&A to the man who today dumped a bucket of ash – the remnants of his burnt house – outside NSW parliament,...