There has been general praise for the Australian Governments (at all levels) and their management of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the politicians signed off on the decisions, they listened to and generally acted on the advice of the state and federal Chief Medical Officers. In comparison to a lot of other first world countries, Australians have suffered far less loss of life and illness to date.
The reality is while the Premiers and Chief Ministers wielded the power, as suggested by The Saturday Paper (paywalled) Prime Minister Morrison
went along, enthusiastically serving as chief marketer for their collective decision. At no point did he cavil on the basis that jobs might be lost. Instead, he followed the advice of the experts and did what had to be done in order to avoid a greater catastrophe.
Sadly Australia has lost 103 people to the COVID-19 pandemic at the time this was written. Australian Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy is on the record as saying Australia’s quick and decisive action potentially saved the lives of somewhere around 14,000 Australians. We have also succeeded in ‘flattening the curve’ to the extent that if you do succumb to COVID-19, there will be an ICU bed, ventilator, staffing, medical equipment and medicine to give you the best chance of regaining your health should you need it. Given the facts (and a comparison with the ravages COVID-19 has reaped in other countries), it demonstrates that if you listen to and act on the advice of the experts, the outcome is frequently better than expected.
If only politicians always took the advice of experts.
The Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements, better known as the Bushfire Royal Commission commenced hearings at the end of May. As discussed on their website
the Commission will examine coordination, preparedness for, response to and recovery from disasters as well as improving resilience and adapting to changing climatic conditions and mitigating the impact of natural disasters. The inquiry will also consider the legal framework for Commonwealth involvement in responding to national emergencies.
In the first week of hearings,
The Bureau of Meteorology’s head of climate monitoring, Karl Braganza, gave a PowerPoint presentation filled with alarming graphs and maps, showing the extent to which carbon pollution had altered Australia’s climate, and how much worse things will get in the absence of action.
Already, he told the commission, the fire season is starting three months earlier in much of south-eastern Australia. Fire danger index readings that would typically have occurred at the start of summer in the 1950s are now recorded at the start of spring.
Dr Helen Cleugh, a senior principal research scientist with the CSIRO, said that the frequency of extreme El Niño, La Niña and Indian Ocean dipole events under global heating meant Australia would experience more extreme weather events in future, and that those events would not be able to be mitigated, or their severity predicted, by looking at what had occurred in the past.
“Climate change means that the past is no longer a guide to future climate-related impacts and risks,” she said.
Cleugh said modelling conducted by the CSIRO in 1992 was “very consistent” with the changes in climate that had occurred in the 28 years since.
“The key point I want to make here is that these climate projections are credible and salient, and most importantly they are still current in 2020,” she said.
But probably most telling
The fires . . . caused 33 deaths, destroyed more than 3,000 homes, and burned more than 10m hectares of bushland
And from the same report
The commission heard modelling done by health researchers found 80 per cent of Australians were affected by bushfire smoke at some point over the 2019/2020 season.
Associate Professor Fay Johnston, from the Menzies Institute for Medical Research at the University of Tasmania, said her team estimated around 445 people died as a result of the smoke, over 3,000 people were admitted to hospital for respiratory problems and 1,700 people presented for asthma.
“We were able to work out a yearly cost of bushfire smoke for each summer season and … our estimates for the last season were $2 billion in health costs,”
The experts were giving the evidence-based impartial advice before the ‘black summer’ of 2019/2020 but the Abbott/Turnbull/Morrison Government certainly hasn’t been listening. Like the COVID-19 health experts, there has been disagreement on the depth of the problem — but not the realisation that we have a problem. Rather than taking advice from the experts in climate science, we have Energy Minister Angus Taylor being awarded the RMIT University/ABC ‘FactCheck’ 2019 ‘Golden Zombie’ (given for an incorrect assertion that refuses to die) for the apparently often repeated claim that the Coalition inherited a 755 million tonne greenhouse gas emissions deficit when it gained power in 2013. The lack of effective action on climate change is not a new Coalition policy either. Remember the claims of the $100 lamb roast and ‘wipeout’ of industrial cities such as Whyalla that will happen because of the ALP’s ‘carbon tax’ (that years later were described as just ‘brutal retail politics’ by then Opposition Leader Abbott’s Chief of Staff)?
What was Morrison doing last Christmas while every state and territory in Australia was burning, lives were being lost and untold damage was being done to property, livelihoods and the economy? Was he acting as ‘chief marketing officer’ for the collective governments of Australia, explaining the ongoing and catastrophic risk of doing nothing? Was he implementing measures to reduce the effects of climate change on Australia’s lifestyle and economy now and into the future? Well not exactly.
As reported everywhere including the satirical The Chaser (after his office tried to hide the fact out of either shame or guilt) — Morrison was in Hawaii on holiday.
What do you think?
This article was originally published on The Political Sword
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