Naturally enough in the wake of the catastrophic bushfires that have affected most states since last October, there has been a national discussion on theories that, according to their proponents, would have reduced the risk of bushfires starting or would allow us to more effectively attack the raging bushfires if implemented.
Some of the theories have been simply crazy. The ‘greenies’ are claimed to have a policy that prohibits hazard reduction burns. No one has ever produced a copy of this policy, in all likelihood because it doesn’t exist. Even if the mythical policy did exist, the Greens don’t have enough representation at any level of government to make the policy into legislation without the assistance of at least one of the two major political parties — or to enforce it.
Sadly, another myth is Morrison’s claimed financial assistance to volunteers that have been called into action over the summer. While the ‘headline’ sounded good, the ‘headline’ is a fallacy.
While an incredibly small minority of the fires were caused through malicious activity a lot of them were caused by lightning and other natural causes. That’s where climate change comes in. The ferocity of the blazes and the speed that they travel, burning vegetation and man-made objects that have dried out due to a lack of customary rain is a direct result of climate change. Spring 2019 was the driest on record. The 6 hottest Australian days on record were all in December 2019.
While hazard reduction burns are a successful tool in the reduction of the severity of bushfires, the problem is that changing environmental factors significantly reduce the timeframes available for safely completing those burns.
Professor David Bowman, director of the Fire Centre Research Hub at the University of Tasmania, said it was becoming harder to carry out preventive burns.
Professor Bowman said there were risks to preventive burning and fire agencies were limited by things like weather.
“The weather windows are shrinking and if you burn in the wrong conditions you can also smoke out cities and create ill health,”
So it’s probably not a surprise that the planned hazard reduction burns in a number of Australian states fell short of the plan last year — they just ran out of resources and time. Regardless of how ‘nicely’ we talk to the climate you can probably bet that it won’t change anything, so the only other option is to determine a way to complete the burns on a shorter timeframe — which inevitably involves more resources, and money to pay for the resources. Experts are saying we need a five-fold increase in funding for hazard reduction burns. They’re probably right, experts usually are.
Money is the problem here. Governments of all persuasions have offered carrots of tax cuts to various groups of people for years with the hidden stick of a reduction in services that is hoped won’t be noticed. We have the absurdity of the federal government up until very recently vowing and declaring that a surplus budget is more important that just about anything else (maybe with the exception of family holidays to Hawaii) while refusing to spend money on all sorts of worthwhile projects.
While it’s easy to tell the ‘gummit’ to fix it, we all have to share the blame. State and local governments in particular get their revenue from taxes and charges, and until we have a federal government that understands Modern Monetary Theory, so does the federal government. History tells us we vote for a potential government that will give us all a tax cut (that probably won’t give us the money to buy an extra coffee or chocolate bar each week — but that’s irrelevant apparently) rather than the potential government that is planning to improve services to the public. We also complain about the extra 10 cents per trip on public transport, or the extra $50 on our rates or registration bills, all of which is used to maintain or improve the government services we all use on a daily basis. We are the problem — political parties wouldn’t offer tax cuts rather than services if the electors didn’t lap it up.
Funding hazard reduction burning is primarily a state responsibility. But the $16 million reduction in funding for ABC radio news doesn’t reflect the importance of broadcasting local and relevant information across the regions affected by bushfires this summer despite damage to their own equipment. This isn’t a one off. The ABC has done this in most, if not all, natural disasters that have occurred in Australia in the past 50 years or more. Funding for the ABC is a federal government issue.
We also have a universal medical insurance system called Medicare that didn’t receive an increase in the benefits payable for years — causing some who can’t afford the ‘gap’ payment to postpone or even cancel plans to receive health care in an appropriate timeframe. It is also a concern when this description of the public-school system and facilities in parts of the USA is demonstrably better than public and private schools can do here. Schools are a combined state and federal funding responsibility.
The current federal government is solely responsible for the Centrelink ‘robo-debt’ debacle, through outsourcing and casualisation within the federal public service. They are also responsible for not employing enough people to fix the issue. The loss of corporate memory within the federal public service will come back to haunt us — just as ‘under the table’ cuts to the provision for firefighting equipment and hazard reduction burns has done in the past few months.
It may be the 21st Century, but getting something for nothing is still an illusion if you think about it. So next time a politician promises that ‘everything is awesome’ and we can afford tax cuts for all, maybe we should be collectively asking what funding are you removing from services we all rely on to ‘magic’ the money for the tax cut out of seemingly thin air?
What do you think?
This article was originally published on The Political Sword.
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