News National Where there’s smoke, there are lies: Bushfires a sign of a catastrophic political reckoning

Where there’s smoke, there are lies: Bushfires a sign of a catastrophic political reckoning

nsw bushfire
Scott Morrison and Gladys Berejiklian were briefed on the bushfires during a visit to northern NSW. Photo: AAP
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A state of emergency and an unprecedented warning of catastrophic fires threatening the entire Sydney basin and pretty well the rest of NSW spells the end of politicians denying reality.

No more can a prime minister credibly deny – as Tony Abbott did – that the lethal bushfires of Victoria’s 2009 Black Saturday disaster, or the Canberra conflagration of 2003, had anything to do with human enhanced climate change.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison knows it, though at the weekend he tried to fob off any discussion of the link between emissions and unseasonal incendiary devastation.

Now is not the time, was the response to a journalist asking for a couple who had lost their home in the fires and who wanted to know what Mr Morrison was doing “long term” about climate change.

Vivian Chaplain (inset) was one of three people to die in the NSW fires, which have also destroyed homes (main). Photo: AAP

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian gave a similar answer, but that deflection no longer convinces. Politicians have been running it for at least the past 16 years, much like the gun lobby in America immediately after, or during, the latest gun massacre.

It leaves fire victims like Glenn Innes Severn Council Mayor Carol Sparks cold.

Ms Sparks says “it’s climate change, there’s no doubt about it”. She had to flee her home ahead of the weekend fires.

But if the Prime Minister who once wielded a lump of coal in parliament now realises time has run out for Abbott-style militant denialism, his Deputy PM, Michael McCormack, hasn’t quite got it.

Scott Morrison and Barnaby Joyce play with a lump of coal in parliament.
Scott Morrison with a lump of coal in parliament in 2017. Photo: AAP 

In a Radio National interview, Mr McCormack bristled at the Greens for daring to raise the issue while the unprecedented savagery of the fires was claiming lives and property.

People don’t need “the ravings of some pure enlightened and woke capital city greenies at this time when they are trying to save their homes”, Mr McCormack said, adding they were “lunatics”.

Claire Pontin, the deputy mayor of MidCoast Council, based at fire-threatened Taree, said Mr McCormack’s remarks made her “cranky.”

It’s always time to talk about climate change, she told ABC radio, adding Mr McCormack was “just saying silly things.”

Greens MP Adam Bandt was unapologetic. He said Mr Morrison and Mr McCormack travel to the regions to comfort the victims and then come back to Canberra and increase the risk of bushfires.

He said they have increased pollution every year since they came to office.

Mr Bandt said Australia needs to get serious in cutting its own emissions so that it can credibly go to other countries and ask them to do the same.

A global threat demands a global response.

The fossil fuel lobby is a potent international player. In Australia, it donates heavily to the Liberals and Nationals but will need to think of new tactics to “put lipstick on the pig” its cause has become.

The Nationals deputy leader, Bridget McKenzie, sounded like she had jumped ship in the senate.

The senator said the government knew that “climate change is causing heat waves, fire weather and drought… to become more frequent and intense. We know that”.

Ms McKenzie claimed the government was taking climate change and getting emissions down “seriously” – a claim not supported by the facts.

Sadly, Australia is not alone in pretending that its Paris Climate Conference undertakings will achieve a global target of net zero emissions by 2050.

In the US, Donald Trump has formally withdrawn from the Paris agreement and has taken to blaming the governor of fire-ravaged California for failing to manage his state’s forests better.

That’s a charge Mr McCormack came close to laying at the feet of the Berejiklian government in NSW when he said what was needed was to clean up the “fuel load” in forests and state parks.

No doubt winter burn-offs may help when it is safe to do them, but Mr Trump and Mr McCormack are ignoring the lethal combination of sustained drought, unseasonal high temperatures, near zero humidity and gale-force winds.

This is the new normal. But scientists are warning that without real action to reduce emissions, substantially even greater catastrophes lie ahead.

Deluded alarmism did not lead to the declaration of a state of emergency in NSW.

The Morrison government will face its day of reckoning with voters unless it realises the old politics of this issue has gone up in acrid smoke.

Paul Bongiorno AM is a veteran of the Canberra Press Gallery, with 40 years’ experience covering Australian politics

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