This may seem like a strange question but can we afford the cost of fighting the bushfires over the coming months?
I’m just asking it because no interviewer is asking anyone this question. They’re not even asking Labor what they’d be spending on fighting fires if they were in government. Nobody is pointing to all the lost productivity from volunteers taking time off work and asking if we can afford it.
We have fires. They threaten parts of Australia, so we fight them. Nobody says we can’t afford it, because everyone understands that it would cost more not to fight them.
Compare this to climate change. Labor is not allowed to argue, as Bill Shorten tried: “People don’t stop me and ask what is the cost of acting on climate change, people ask what is the cost of not acting on climate change.”
Just imagine if Tony Bourke’s interview on the ABC the other day was about bushfires rather than climate change. The interview would have gone something like this:
ABC: What is Labor’s policy at the moment on bushfires?
BURKE: Our policy has always been that we should act on bushfires. Always.
ABC:Specifically how much are you proposing to spend on prevention and firefighting equipment? Because Bill Shoren took a policy to the election and you lost, so is there a change in policy?
BURKE: Our next chance to implement Labor policy is in 2.5 years’ time. We can’t wait for that. There is a Government that won the election and they need to act on bushfires now. People are breathing in the impacts of these bushfires.
ABC: Can you put a figure on that then, Mr Burke? What specifically – when it comes to bushfires, are there specific targets in terms of the number you would like the government to commit to fighting?
BURKE: First of all, we’d like Scott Morrison to commit to putting them all out.
ABC: But put a figure on it. What would Labor be prepared to spend to do that?
BURKE: I’m not really in a position to put a figure on it.
ABC: Well, the PM has said the Government’s plan is to meet and beat all the bushfires without upping taxes, losing productivity, spending on equipment and without pulling the rug out from the building industry that will get an enormous boost from all the rebuilding. Can Labor also commit to doing the impossible? And if so, how much would it cost?
Yeah, you’re right. It makes no sense. Of course, nobody disputes that the fires are actually happening and tries to suggest that they’re part of some conspiracy of scientists to get more funding for bushfire science. Nobody argues that we’ve always had fires so there’s nothing we can do about it. (Ok, some people talk of “droughts and flooding rains” and try to suggest that it’s part of the landscape, but nobody suggests that we should do nothing.)
There’s a consensus that the fires are real, they are an actual threat and from there the only arguments are about how best to tackle the ones that are already burning and what to do about reducing future risk. Climate change, on the other hand, is a little bit more complicated. Leaving the deniers to one side – which is probably the best place for them – we still have the problem of the lip-service politician. Just like John Howard of 2007 who “intuitively” didn’t believe the scientists, but knew that telling the public what he really thought was politically dangerous, we have a large number of MPs who tell us that they accept the science when talking generally, but want to ignore it when it comes to talking about specific action. While nobody would say, “I saw you fall off the ladder and I’ve already written a letter asking for an ambulance to be sent as soon as it’s convenient, so you just lie there and medical help should arrive some time in the next week or so!”, we have politicians tell us that they’re fully committed to taking action on climate change, as long as it doesn’t affect anything or anybody.
Of course bushfires are immediate and urgent. Unlike climate change which sneaks up slowly, it’s impossible to argue that now is not the time to talk about them or to suggest that we won’t start fighting them until other countries do something about their own fires.
And, if one tries to mention any possible link between droughts and fires and climate change, why that’s just an attempt to politicise the disaster, which is quite shameful at a time when so many are suffering and the community is all pulling together, and we have ads telling us what a good job the Federal government is doing.
Besides, the Morrison government has all that climate stuff under control. We’re going to “meet and beat” our targets. Yep, we’ll beat our targets… Interestingly, no journalist ever asks, “By how much?”
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