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Tag Archives: Bushfires

Suffer in Ya Jocks! Turnbull Scoffs at Disaster Funding

A natural disaster has hit Rockhampton every two years since 2008. When a Prime Minister thinks natural disasters are not a national issue, he needs to go. 

The Prime Minister has made another attempt to divide Australians and pit state against state. Frustratingly, he has turned his back on Queensland by refusing to assist with Disaster Funding. Explicitly, the Prime Minister does not see disaster mitigation as a national issue. In other words, Turnbull believes that if bushfires rage through NSW, that is a problem for NSW. Similarly, if floods and cyclones hit Queensland, therefore, it is a problem for Queensland.

Clearly, Turnbull’s leadership on this issue is pathetic. The People’s Prime Minister he is not!

Disaster Mitigation

Fires, Cyclones and Floods happen in Rockhampton, Central QLD. They aren’t just words on a screen. In essence, they are terrifying and destructive natural disasters that can leave families stranded, with no shelter, food, power and water. The frail and elderly in dire need of help. For some, it is complete devastation as they lose everything. Also, businesses close or are on the brink of closure.

I think everyone agrees that preventing death, destruction and massive blows to the local economy are all in the national interest.

Turnbull seems to believe that the free market will just always sort things out. However, Turnbull’s free market doesn’t help in in a disaster. Turnbull’s free market’s role is for you, the pensioner, the unemployed, the worker, the small business owner to dig deep into your own pocket and donate after every disaster.

In short, Turnbull doesn’t want to do a thing to prevent natural disasters.

Do we want a Prime Minister who will step up and help prevent the death of innocent people, the frail and elderly stranded in their homes without power, businesses copping massive losses as they shut their doors in times of disaster or one who does nothing and then cries into the camera in the face of the aftermath and then tells you to pull out your wallet?

Regional Towns in Central Queensland need urgent assistance to mitigate the impact of future natural disasters.  Rockhampton has faced fires, cyclones and floods, every two years for the last ten years. It feels as if we just get over one disaster and another is knocking on our door.

Mitigation saves lives. Queensland needs this funding now.

Category D Funding Application

The Palaszczuk Government submitted an application for joint funding with the Commonwealth to fund infrastructure and mitigation projects in regional Queensland.

The proposed funding includes:

  • $135 million Recovery to Resilience – Local Council Package to help the hardest hit local government areas undertake key infrastructure projects that will generate employment, boost the local economy, drive community recovery and build resilience.
  • $60m Recovery to Resilience – infrastructure package (Betterment) to enable important infrastructure that has been damaged by STC Debbie to be rebuilt to a stronger more disaster resilient state.
  • $15m Recovery to Resilience – environmental package to ensure the recovery of impacted environmental areas, recognising the important contribution our unique environment makes to the Queensland and Australian tourism industry.
  • $10m Recovery to Resilience – economic package, to support the recovery of industry and businesses in and around impacted areas that experienced significant disruption and damage.

Queensland Short Changed

The Palaszczuk proposed the package of $220 million. With the Federal Government proposed to meet half the funding of $110 million. On the 14th July, the Turnbull Government announced it will only fund $29 million.

That is a shortfall of $81 million dollars. I propose the Prime Minister stops dissing mathematics because that is a very large shortfall.

Christensen Vs. Landry

landry christensen

Turnbull, backed by Capricornia LNP MP Michelle Landry has refused to assist the QLD Government with category D funding, post cyclone Debbie.

Controversial LNP MP George Christensen, who recently crossed the party room floor on penalty rates, has voiced his disappointment with Turnbull’s decision and will fly his regional Mayors to Canberra to insist on more funding. 

Federal Member for Dawson George Christensen, whose own government signed off on the funding, was also “gutted” at the size of the kitty.

 

 

Michelle Landry, MP, has turned her back on her community. Landry, who holds her seat by 1,111 votes appears more concerned with gauging what locals think of the flood levee. The community has had a divided opinion regarding the flood levee for a variety of reasons.

Landry has bled every last political drop in every natural disaster since she was a candidate in the 2013 election. This includes blaming councils for fraudulent disaster funding claims and constantly blaming the State Labor Government.

Peak Flood Level? Peak Level Stupidity!

Landry’s argument is that Category D Funding is not for new infrastructure.  Landry’s rationale is that if Rockhampton already had a flood levee, then money could be used to fix it. However, Landry is opposed to money building a new levee to prevent the extensive damage flooding causes in the first place.  

“The State Government know very well that under Category D that there’s no new infrastructure built. If we had an existing levee and it was damaged, the money would fix it up.  (Michelle Landry Daily Mercury 13/05/17)

Landry might want to ask George Christensen where she can find some leadership and insist on this funding to keep people safe and businesses open. The temporary flood levee in Rockhampton recently saved many homes, which would have previously been inundated.

In 2015, Tony Abbott provided a meagre amount of funding under category D post cyclone Marcia. The basic idea which underpins category D for funding such as the QLD Betterment fund is:

The intent of betterment is to increase the resilience of Australian communities to natural disasters, while at the same time reducing future expenditure on asset restoration, reducing incidents, injuries and fatalities during and after natural disasters, and improving asset utility during and after natural disasters.

To insist that councils can only use this funding to rebuild an asset that has been destroyed and not build modern infrastructure to prevent further assets being destroyed by the next disaster; is most certainly a hair’s breadth away from reaching the level of peak stupidity.

Barnaby says Yes – Turnbull says No!

Barnaby Joyce backed the Rockhampton flood levee. However, Turnbull said No! Clearly, Turnbull simply does not understand regional Queensland. Why didn’t Michelle Landry say no to the disaster funding during this media opportunity?

Suffer in Ya Jocks

The Abbott-Turnbull Liberal Government have fought against helping regional Queenslanders post disaster in every disaster. They have cut assistance to individuals and families by removing Labor’s clauses for assistance criteria.

Sure Landry, O’Dowd, Barnaby, Canavan and Turnbull like to strut around town post disaster, like the lacklustre five. Their cowboy hats on and their concerned game face on point. However, that is where their hands stay – on their hats. Indeed, they find it too difficult to reach into their pockets to provide funding to actually help. Their postured concerned frowns and faux empathy we can do without.

In short, Rockhampton has experienced a natural disaster ever two years since 2008. If the Liberal National Government does not understand we need this funding because the recovery time between disasters is short lived, and we barely get back on our feet before the next one, then clearly they are completely out of touch with Queensland.

I imagine Turnbull lazing around in his Sydney mansion, pouring expensive champagne, raising his glass to the chandelier and with a smirk he says – “Queensland – Suffer in ya jocks!”

To Turnbull and Landry, I say

Rockhampton Flood Disaster

A Look Back at the Natural Disasters in Rockhampton
since 2008

2008 Floods Rockhampton


2009 Rockhampton Bushfires

2010-11 Floods Rockhampton

2013 Floods – Rockhampton

2015 Cyclone Marcia

2017 – Floods post Cyclone Debbie

Fire: what have we learned from the devastation?

Some of the lessons learned from decades of studying major fires have been learned, and then forgotten, in a drive to simplify the message to the public, writes Graham Parton.

Every major Australian bushfire is inevitably followed by an enquiry into what went wrong and an attempt to find out how future disasters could be avoided.

Among the most notable bushfires of the last fifty years has been the Tasmanian “Black Tuesday” fire of February 1967, which at the time was the single most significant loss of life and property ever experienced in post settlement Australia.

The official Government enquiry into the disaster closely examined the causes of death, and noted that in about half of the cases where people died close to their home, their homes did not catch fire. The Chambers and Brettingham-Moore report concluded that “In a few cases it may be said that if they had stayed inside they would have had a reasonable chance of survival’.

Alan McArther and Phil Cheney from the CSIRO’s Forest Research Institute also reported on the Tasmanian fire and noted the large number of people who were unable to either get away from the fire, or to defend themselves when it arrived. Their report was among the first to explicitly suggest that staying and defending property could be preferable to a last minute evacuation and it was their research that planted the seeds for the subsequent policy of “prepare, stay and defend or leave early”, sometimes abbreviated to the “stay or go” policy.

This approach gains some support from more research that followed the Tasmanian fire. Katharine Haynes, Amalia Tibbits and Thomas Lowe, writing in the insurance industries Quarterly Newsletter examined what people where doing immediately before their deaths in the Tasmanian fire and confirmed the official findings that both defending property from outside and late evacuations were the main cases of death. As an aside they also found that the people killed defending were almost exclusively male, and the people killed in late evacuations were almost exclusively female.

fire2

Nearly fifty years later that policy is now starting to shift, with the main message downplaying the “prepare, stay and defend” parts and almost exclusively emphasising the “leave early” part. Victorian Emergency Management Commissioner Craig Lapsley notes on the CFA web site:

“We are urging all Victorians to plan and prepare now. Don’t wait and see or hold off until the weather warms up or when a fire starts and it’s too late. The key is to be prepared – know your trigger for leaving early, what you will do in the event of an emergency and where you can find more information.”

 

The main message, reinforced in social media and on television is the same; if in doubt – leave early.

Television images of smoke on the distant horizon while families consider whether or not it is serious enough to evacuate are now routine and lead the viewer to the conclusion that early evacuation is the only sensible option.

The CFA web site contains some details about how to defend your property but the banner headline over this advice is “Defending your home is risky – you could be seriously injured, suffer psychological trauma or die. The safest option is to be well away from the threat.” Further down the same page is the message “Defending your home is extremely hard work and requires significant resources. It may take hours and sometimes days of extreme effort”. Once again the steering towards the early evacuation option is less than subtle.

However Justin Leonard of the CSIRO’s Bushfire Urban Design team noted that “once you can see smoke it’s already too late, unless you have an exit route worked out and a whole lot of other information about what the fire is doing.”

Added to this are the additional problems caused by too many people leaving at once and the risk of traffic jams and accidents, any of which could make the act of evacuating more dangerous.

In many cases the safest option would be actively patrolling your own house, ideally from indoors, and tending to stay in rooms with multiple exits. Many people take shelter and die in their baths, but bathrooms are particularly dangerous mainly because they usually only have one exit and are difficult places to monitor the fire from. Justin Leonard notes that “Houses aren’t always dangerous places, they are a reliable temporary measure.”

Professor Drew Dawson has conducted research into human behaviour and planning around fires notes that planning to leave early doesn’t mean you don’t also need a plan to stay and defend. “Leaving early is ok, but not once you’ve seen smoke. Simplistic solutions very attractive to policy makers but they are not the best solutions.” He noted that homeowners need a set of plans for different scenarios. He reinforced the conclusion reached by the recent Victorian Royal Commission into the 2009 “Black Saturday” fires that there is no “one size fits all” model for evacuations.

David Bruce, a spokesman for the Bushfire CRC, said, research with communities after major fires suggests that “people can panic and fail to execute their plans as intended, or the plan does not cover all of the possibilities. We need to ensure people have a plan B, C and D as well.”

The problem is that fires are complicated, planning for them is complicated, and the Government doesn’t want complicated emergency messages.

The complications come from the number of variables that impact on fire behaviour and the general ignorance across the community about what these are. Basic precautions like removing fuel from near houses and having adequate sprinkler systems, fire pumps and protective clothing is usually sufficient for low level and local fires – exactly the ones that most fire brigades can be expected to respond to.

However conditions like those that preceded all of our major fires (high temperatures for many days before the fires, high fuel loads, strong winds, low humidity) can cause large fast moving fires that make an otherwise defendable house a much greater risk.

Homeowners planning on defending their homes need to understand this, plus the more specific details about their own property and how factors like fuel types, slope, vegetation, or prevailing winds are going to affect their own fire.

It’s hardly surprising that emergency services prefer the much simpler option of just leaving.

Another essential ingredient in fire protection is community involvement. The overwhelming message from the fire authorities is that planning should not only be focused on how early to leave, but that it be done at a family / household level, rather than a street or neighbourhood level.

The result is hundreds of uncoordinated plans about how to respond to a fire. When Mum and Dad pack the children and pets into the car and head off, they are not expected to consider what the family next door is doing, and while one family might not feel safe enough to defend their house, three families might be much better able to defend three houses by pooling their resources.

Fire ecologist Nick Gellie assists communities to prepare for fires but he is disappointed with both the level of community awareness and the government response. He sees the fundamental problem as being that:

“People don’t know the fire environment or fire behaviour. They don’t know the scenarios they might encounter, where the fire might come from, how it will behave. They often don’t even know the rudimentary stuff like where the nearest safer place is.

It’s like military intelligence; you need to know your enemy.“

From his experience working in Victorian rural communities Nic Gellie believes that years ago landowners had a much greater knowledge about their properties. While much of this knowledge is lost, an opportunity to replace it with knowledge shared on social networks is not being pursued and it is a dangerous gap. Nic Gellie believes that social networks are the key to communities being better organised and prepared.

Victorian fire expert Kevin Tolhurst notes that “We’re pretty good at putting red trucks out on the road and doing the water and suppression thing and we’re good at the planning and we’re good at providing information but what we haven’t been so good at is really getting that social interaction going.”

The Victorian CFA supports the “community fireguard” program but Nic Gellie is concerned that compared to other firefighting activities this is underfunded. Local fire brigades tend not to have much to do with community fireguard programs and there is no real attempt to educate communities about fire behaviour.

Drew Dawson agrees and notes that the emergency services model needs to be updated. The community needs to see its self as part of the fire fighting effort, not the “we are going to be rescued” model. Local brigades need to be more involved in preparations.

During and after a fire communities are sometimes quite vocal about the quality and quantity of information being supplied to them from the fire authorities, but Kevin Tolhurst cautions against expecting too much on the day. “We spent 18 months working out what happened in the Black Saturday fire. Even firefighters don’t always have good information.”

Some technical solutions are complex too. When asked about the practice of sending text messages to people in fire affected areas he noted that the information is not always accurate, and if people get too many false alarms they may start ignoring the messages.

It’s also not simply a matter of the community learning from fire experts – sometimes the knowledge exchange is a two way street.

Tom Griffiths of the Centre for Environmental History at the Australian National University, Canberra in his essay “The Language of Catastrophe” also notes a significant gap between local knowledge and professional opinion:

People who live in Victoria’s ash ranges have developed special words and phrases for the extreme fire behaviour they have witnessed. But many fire scholars and professionals forgot the force of fire in tall, wet forests and began to doubt what people said they saw in 1851 or 1926 or 1939 or 1983. According to this view the unrehearsed narratives of survivors were actually exaggerated fictions or ‘myths’ that needed to be dispelled by calm professional education, fire science and ‘the laws of physics’.

As recently as 2008 thoughtful fire officers – drawing on the science of grassfires! – argued that there were no such phenomena as ‘exploding houses’ or ‘firestorms’ or ‘fireballs’, and that these were just the delirious words of people unfamiliar with fire. And they suggested that such untutored and emotive words also falsely implied that ‘bushfire is something beyond human control’. Nothing shows the psychological blinkers of the Stay or Go policy more powerfully than this professional disparagement of eyewitness accounts of fire in a distinctive forest. Dugouts and ‘fireballs’ were material and verbal evidence of local cultural adaptation, and yet both were abandoned and disparaged by authorities seeking universal solutions and national policies.

Now more than ever before we face an increasing risk caused by longer hotter summers, an increasing population in rural areas and urban fringes, and an ageing volunteer cohort joining fire brigades. At the same time we have a new network of social connections and an increasing number of people connected to social media that could increase our awareness of how to respond as communities to fires.

Graham Parton is a freelance environmental journalist who has worked in environmental management, public sector policy and as a sustainable house builder. He can be contacted on g.parton@icloud.com

Why the Adelaide Hills weren’t as relaxing as I’d planned!

Ok, the people I was staying with had only moved into the area in the past few months, so not all the names that were being listed as in danger from the fire were familiar, but the smoke was ominous and they were implementing their fire plan, so I decided to spend Saturday night down by the coast.

Of course, times like this bring out the best in people. On the radio, offers of help were pouring in, including offers of accommodation, and I couldn’t help but think how strange the human psyche is. In a disaster, most of us help the less fortunate, but when that “disaster” is something that happens in the normal course of things, most of the community turns its back. If someone loses their home because of a fire, we help, but if they’re homeless because of economic reasons, we tend to think of it as their own fault. If someone was trapped in a natural disaster, we wouldn’t weigh up the costs of sending in a rescue helicopter, yet we’re frequently told that the government doesn’t have the money to “save” some groups of people.

Someone commented that we hadn’t heard from Tony Abbott about the bushfires in the Adelaide Hills. The next day the reason became clear: He was in Iraq, telling the troops how valuable they are, even if the pay rise was only 1.5%. Not only that, but he was giving the Iraqi Government five million dollars – who says he’s not a generous man?

And this also explains why he hasn’t visited South Australia or Victoria in his fireman uniform because we know how much that boosts everyone’s morale.

So will Tony Abbott feel it’s necessary to visit when he gets back, or will Queensland be his first port of call given the potential disaster there, once Newman calls the election.

PS: The PM has just announced that he doesn’t rule out committing more troops to Iraq even though he said he had no intention of committing ground troops just a couple of months ago. But he underestimated the strength of the surge in support for the Labor Party.

Crap, Hogwash, Wikipedia and Other Strong Evidence

Abbott

“I mean in the end this whole thing is a question of fact, not faith, or it should be a question of fact not faith and we can discover whether the planet is warming or not by measurement. And it seems that notwithstanding the dramatic increases in man made CO2 emissions over the last decade, the world’s warming has stopped. Now admittedly we are still pretty warm by recent historical standards but there doesn’t appear to have been any appreciable warming since the late 1990s.”

Tony Abbott: A REALIST’S APPROACH TO CLIMATE CHANGE Speech – July, 2009

From Abbott’s Interview with Andrew Bolt:

Bolt: (Volunteering to fight) the fires. Was there an element of running away from the office?

PM: Ha! Mate, I got up to the station at 4pm Saturday and I got back to the station at 10 Sunday morning. So there’s no question of running away from the office, because the office is closed then. The office is closed.

AB: I’ve been struck by the insanity of the reaction in the media and outside, particularly linking the fires to global warming and blaming you for making them worse potentially by scrapping the carbon tax.

PM: I suppose, you might say, that they are desperate to find anything that they think might pass as ammunition for their cause, but this idea that every time we have a fire or a flood it proves that climate change is real is bizarre, ’cause since the earliest days of European settlement in Australia, we’ve had fires and floods, and we’ve had worse fires and worse floods in the past than the ones we are currently experiencing. And the thing is that at some point in the future, every record will be broken, but that doesn’t prove anything about climate change. It just proves that the longer the period of time, the more possibility of extreme events … The one in 500 year flood is always a bigger flood than the one in 100 year flood.

Bolt: The ABC, though, has run on almost every current affairs show an almost constant barrage of stuff linking climate change to these fires.

Abbott: That is complete hogwash.

Bolt: It is time to really question the bias of the ABC?

Abbott: But people are always questioning the “bias” of the ABC.

Later in the same interview:

PM: I would say that there tends to be an ABC view of the world, and it’s not a view of the world that I find myself in total sympathy with. But, others would say that there’s a News Limited view of the world.

     From “The most depressing Discovery about the Brain, Ever”

“In other words, say goodnight to the dream that education, journalism, scientific evidence, media literacy or reason can provide the tools and information that people need in order to make good decisions.  It turns out that in the public realm, a lack of information isn’t the real problem.  The hurdle is how our minds work, no matter how smart we think we are.  We want to believe we’re rational, but reason turns out to be the ex post facto way we rationalize what our emotions already want to believe.

For years my go-to source for downer studies of how our hard-wiring makes democracy hopeless has been Brendan Nyhan, an assistant professor of government at Dartmouth.

Nyan and his collaborators have been running experiments trying to answer this terrifying question about American voters: Do facts matter?

The answer, basically,  is no.  When people are misinformed, giving them facts to correct those errors only makes them cling to their beliefs more tenaciously.”

And just in case you missed it at the time:

“I am, as you know, hugely unconvinced by the so-called settled science on climate change.” (Tony Abbott, quoted on the “ABC 7.30 Report” (27 July 2009).

People are entitled to their own point of view. We all accept that. It’s a free country, after all. I’m sure that Andrew Bolt would agree that we’re all entitled to express a point of view. Even if it’s demonstrably wrong. For goodness sake, if Bolt had to rely on facts for his point of view, he wouldn’t have a column.

The trouble with the exchange of opinions is that it very rarely goes beyond, “You’re wrong and  I’m right, therefore nothing you have to say could change my mind.”

And so I find our beloved leader’s comments – the ones I highlighted – in the Bolt interview disturbing. Tony Abbott seems to be saying that extreme events aren’t evidence of anything, and it doesn’t matter how many we have, that’s just the nature of things. Records are made to be broken, after all.

This is fairly consistent with the way in which climate deniers view things. One extreme weather event is just the exception. Two is just coincidence. Three, well, that’s the norm – we have weather like this all the time.

Now, I think that there is a discussion to be had about how much of a link can be drawn between climate change and the current bushfires. And I have some sympathy for the view that maybe Adam Bandt could have timed his comments a little more sensitively. I can accept that we’ve always had large bushfires and that, in the distant past, some of them even occured in October.

However, I think that we need to actually look very closely at the evidence – even if it means hours on the computer looking up Wikipedia. To say, as one person wrote in response to the Climate Council’s Bushfires and Climate Change in Australia – The Facts (which suggested that bushfires in the last thirty years had been more frequent),  that we had large bushfires in the past too. The person then went on to talk of three over the space of sixty years prior to 1983.

It’s difficult to argue about climate change when people like Bolt and Abbott seem to suggest that every event can be taken in isolation and therefore nothing is part of any pattern. Bolt may be right. There may be no significant warming. But he is no more of less qualified to assert his position than the bloke down at the pub who tells me that Greater Western Sydney will make next year’s Grand Final. He is not an expert and lacks formal training in the area – something that he is quick to point out about those he disagrees with. After arguing for years that the climate is actually cooling, Bolt jumped on the IPCC report which suggested the planet wasn’t WARMING as fast as they predicted, completely ignoring the fact that this went against his contention.

So, records are always being broken, according to the Prime Minister. Linking the fires to climate change is “complete hogwash”. We don’t need a Climate Commission to look at evidence. We know these things. Who needs a Science Minister? It’s either part of trade, or something you do at school. Science, itself, what’s that?

As for the Audit Commission, who thinks that they may recommend delaying or scaling back the Liberal’s Direct Action initiatives?

 

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