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The Morrison Government’s failure to act on a predicted disaster is damning

It’s only fitting that the nation’s capital should be drenched in thick smoke while the country burns. Canberra; home to the Parliament of Australia, the city where politicians stamp their mark and influence, and where law is passed. Canberra, where policy comes to life; policy which may spell the difference between suffocating never-ending seasons of smoke-hazed skies, homes razed to the ground, lives lost, wildlife, ecosystems and communities destroyed, or alternatively, strategised long term coordination, preparation, prevention, and management, and a national, unified approach to disaster.

When the catastrophic fires first burned through forests and bushland in the early days of Spring 2019, Prime Minister Scott Morrison was quick to push back on the states. Fighting fires was a state responsibility, he maintained, and thus nothing to do with the Commonwealth. He, along with senior members of Cabinet and other Coalition politicians, continued their approach of implicitly endorsing anti-climate change rhetoric, twisting the facts on what Australia was doing to address climate change, demonising  protestors, and positioning environmental activists alongside groups and ideologies which threatened national security such as neo-Nazi terrorism and a pro-terrorist Islamists.

On a practical level, before the bushfires raged, the Federal Government had already rejected the National Aerial Firefighting Centres call in May 2016 to expand the fleet in preparation for hotter and more extended bushfire seasons. It had already dismissed warnings from ex-emergency chiefs in April 2019 that a catastrophic fire season was on the way and ignored requests to discuss the escalating climate change risks. This was despite there being 18 warnings that the impacts of climate change were leading to increased bushfire risks since the Coalition was first elected in 2013.

The 18 warnings were in addition to the 2008 Garnaut Climate Change Review’s final report which predicted a horror bushfire season in 2020; a report commissioned and supported by state and federal politicians, and which examined the long term impacts of climate change on the Australian economy. The Government had steadfastly ignored warnings and predictions from over 40 years, that the impacts of climate change would increase the risk of catastrophic bushfires.

Over the months that catastrophic fires burned through 10 million hectares, taking nearly 30 lives and killing more than a billion animals, the National Disaster Risk Reduction Framework lay buried in Canberra; a crucial report prepared under former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, and ready to publish just weeks before he was ousted by current Prime Minister Scott Morrison in August 2018. The Framework, ready, but sitting unactioned for over 18 months by Minister for Home Affairs, Peter Dutton, warned that the changing climate was exposing the country to natural disasters on ‘‘unimagined scales, in unprecedented combinations and in unexpected locations’’.

While the Federal politicians passed law after law with the promise to keep Australians safe and protect them from hypothetical national security risks, while the Home Affairs Department warned the Government again in May 2019 of unprecedented “disasters” exacerbated by climate change, and called for national action in a now public briefing, while Morrison chided climate protesters for imposing ‘needless anxiety’ on children over the impact of climate change on their future, the National Disaster Risk Reduction Framework sat idly in a metaphorical Canberra drawer.

It’s only fitting that the city drowning in smoke is home to the most damning of evidence that the Morrison Government willfully endangered Australia and its people for ideological and political purposes.

It is now indisputable that the lack of national coordination, prevention strategies and preparation for the predicted bushfire disaster is not because of departmental policy failures, or the absence of experts to advise, or the unwillingness of bureaucrats to recommend tangible action to the Prime Minister and his Government.

It’s painfully clear that the gaping hole that is national leadership is because the Prime Minister either does not appreciate the Commonwealth Government’s responsibility to mitigate the devastating impacts of a changing climate, or he simply does not care.

Morrison’s sloth-like response to the emergency crisis, the reactive, hastily drafted, shoddily communicated recovery and support policies, and the extraordinary Liberal Party ad spruiking Morrison’s belated actions, demonstrate that Morrison was not prepared at all for the disaster which presented over Christmas and New Years 2019/2020. The absence of collective preparation, preventative action, and long term national management strategy wasn’t for lack of internal knowledge or expert information being available, it was because Morrison chose to ignore it.

The scientific evidence demonstrates that “as the world warms due to human induced climate change, we experience an increase in the frequency and severity of extreme weather events.” The science has shown this for over 40 years. And yet as soon as the Coalition Government was first elected in 2013, it set about repealing the key legislation aimed at reducing carbon emissions. And in the years that followed it has persisted in obfuscating on scientific fact, slashing funding to bodies tasked with researching climate related issues, and dismissing international criticism of its policies.

The Coalition Government’s failures are twofold;

  • globally, by failing to take appropriate action on climate change, ranking 57 out of 57 countries on climate change policy, yet still defending Australia’s policies as acceptable, and
  • nationally, by failing to provide and implement national, long-term strategies for prevention, preparation, management and recovery for the growing incidence and severity of natural disasters linked to climate change.

The Coalition Government has obstinately refused to take the threat of climate change seriously, even as bushfires burned simultaneously across every state of Australia and Canberra was drenched in smoke. The deliberate public policy vacuum, Morrison’s fierce defence when called on the Government’s insufficient action, and the refusal to implement long term, national risk reduction strategies, despite evidence the Government knew about the increasing risk and the predictions of a disastrous bushfire season, is unacceptable.

The Government’s own reports, briefings and reports demonstrate it knew about the risks posed by lack of appropriate action to mitigate the consequences of climate change, and yet it did nothing tangible at all. The Morrison Government’s multiple failures, which have arguably contributed to the loss of life, homes, communities, wildlife and over 10 million hectares, must be seen as a gross act of negligence.

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  1. Sean Crawley

    It doesn’t matter what the LNP throw up now as compensation for their complete lack of empathy and foresight, we see it as a pathetic response only enacted in a desperate attempt to hold onto power.

  2. JudithW

    “The absence of collective preparation, preventative action, and long term national management strategy wasn’t for lack of internal knowledge or expert information being available, it was because Morrison chose to ignore it.”

    If Willful Ignorance is not alr day a crime in this country then it should be.

  3. Harry Lime

    Whole heartedly agree,Eva.Is there any chance of a class action against the government,or any chance of successful prosecution?

  4. Win Jeavons

    If we insist on serious compensation for all who lose badly in these catastrphic fires, now and in future, the cost to government ( the great economic managers ?) will become so great, that to maintain a semblance of competence they will need to take action far more seriously than is now the case. The losses in many cases are life changing, not usually in a good way , the knowledge that more action, an earlier response to the warnings of experts was ignored must make for much anger and distress which needs more than a bit of counselling and small handouts with massive strings attached.

  5. Eumundi Grandmother

    That last sentence says it all !!! The sadness I have felt these past weeks is almost overwhelming (because it was predicted). Thank you for this article. Perhaps there is a light at the end of the tunnel after all.

  6. Turts

    “Canberra where policy comes to life”
    Sorry, you’ve got it arse about:
    Canberra is where policy goes to die; be buried; and be cremated

  7. James

    There uncomfortable truth is that in May of last year, Morrison’s weird version of Christianity, his limited intellect, and the coalition’s almost compete absence of policy ideas was well known. Yet they were re-elected. There is a degree of collective responsibility for the awful condition the country is now in. The sad truth is that we are stuck with him for the next 2.5 years, or he is replaced by yet another right wing nut case.

  8. DrakeN

    James, the appropriate term for the collectively responsible is “sheeple”.

    Not recognising that they are being fleeced while at the same time being led to the slaughter.

  9. Pauline Westwood

    While I agree with your analysis overall, it is stupid to gloat anout the blanket of smoke over Canberra.
    Only a tiny number of federal politicians live in Canberra. It is the ordinary people who are suffering.
    The people of Canberra vote for a Labor Greens coalition, which has a progressive climate policy.
    We do not deserve your spiteful glaoating.

  10. Ange McAdam

    While I agree with your assessment of the negligence of the Morrison and previous LNP governments on climate change and the predicted catastrophic fires, I don’t think average Canberrans should be suffering from the horrible smoke pollution.

    The politicians – in particular the Liberal and National Party troglodytes – should be in the suffocating smoke, but none of them are in Canberra. They’ve all been gone since early December when Parliament stopped sitting.

    Please don’t blame Canberrans. Most of us hate the current Federal Government. We’ve wanted action on climate change for decades. We have a Labour Government in the ACT that aims to provide all energy from totally renewable sources in this decade – well ahead of all other jurisdictions. We are far more progressive than the troglodytes that sit in Federal Parliament. And unfortunately we are the ones suffering from the most polluted air on the planet.

  11. Eva Cripps

    I’m not sure how you’ve interpreted anything that I’ve written as being ‘gloating’ of any kind, let alone ‘spiteful’? And the article in no way blames Canberran residents. The article is clearly aimed at the Coalition Government and its climate change denying politicians. No where at all have I said or implied that Canberran residents have any part to play in the current disaster or the smoke covering the city. The Parliament of Australia is physically located in Canberra, and the references to Canberra and the smoke cloud are clearly in the context of the inaction of the Federal Government on climate change.

  12. Roswell

    Ange, it is a shame that you and so many Canberrans are suffering, but I really don’t think Eva is blaming you and the other citizens of your city.

  13. Patricia

    For Morrison to have any credibility going forward he needs to front the Australian people and honestly and sincerely and meaningfully say

    ” I am sorry, I got it wrong, I chose not to believe the science and the experts and what this government will now do is to move forward with legislation that fully addresses both climate change and how we, the states and federal governments are going to fund and resource a permanent paid and expert disaster response team, a team that can be trained and mobilised at an hours notice when a disaster hits our country, whether it be fire, flood, cyclone or other.”

    I am a logical, pragmatic, idealist and even I know that this will never happen. But wouldn’t it be nice if we had a prime minister who could honestly stand before the people whom he represents and tell them that he believes what most of us know to be the truth.

  14. Stephengb

    I lived and worked in Canberra – I have a couple of extremely good friends and I came to know some extremely nice people.

    However in my experience there are many many Canberians who’s only preoccupation is what rank you hold in the Public Service.

    Eva, certainly DID NOT accuse the general population of Canberra but I can assure you some of them actually deserve criticism for the shallow nature of their preoccupation.

  15. Matters Not


    the National Disaster Risk Reduction Framework sat idly in a metaphorical Canberra drawer.

    Indeed it did. But who should wear that responsibility – Dutton (the notorious non-reader) or Pezzullo (the strategic genius who has an appalling track record when it comes to seeing the future)? Pezzullo could nevertheless claim a technical ‘out’ because Morrison’s been adamant that the Public Service is NOT there to ‘advise’ – just to ‘implement’ government policy. So who in government might be held responsible for government policy? Perhaps the Minister at the nominal head of that area of government? So take a bow Peter Dutton.

    Of course Dutton has any number of dead cats he can throw on the table. That’s his speciality. And besides he’s the back seat driver of this particular political bus.

    But the whole situation does highlight the arrogant naivety of Morrison’s understanding (or lack of same) as to how good government works. Expect that sometime in the future the MSM will catch up on this and his many other misunderstandings. But maybe not.

  16. Michael Taylor

    MN, the buck certainly does stop with Dutton, but he’ll ensure that many heads will roll before his does, or indeed, that many heads will roll to ensure that his doesn’t.

    My money’s on the latter.

    This LNP govt will be remembered for the ease in which its ministers saved their heads.

  17. Kaye Lee

    There was also a report for the government from the CSIRO “Interactions between climate change, fire regimes and boidiversity in Australia”. It is from 2009 – they were warned specifically about fire danger in 2020 even back then and unless we start taking this very seriously, by 2050 the fire danger will be much much worse.

  18. Max Gross

    Bring out the tumbrils

  19. Matters Not

    MT, Labor ought to be both tactical and strategic with Dutton and Morrison providing opportunities aplenty. The strategy should be the promotion of division within the broad LNP coalition while the tactical starting point should be the two mentioned above. Anyone paying even cursory attention would know that Morrison and Dutton are loyal to a fault. Both ever faithful, trustworthy, devoted and the like to each other, the wider party and the cause of good government. Until, of course, they’re not. Then, they become the exact opposite of all the aforementioned. It all depends on the opportune moment. It rests on seeing the main chance to turn the other into political road kill.

    Labor should engineer that chance and this climate catastrophe seems like the ideal time. But who is it that will do the heavy lifting? Whose responsibility will it be to fill and pour the political sludge buckets. Beazley had Crean. Who has Albo got to do that work? Who is prepared to make that sacrifice? To make a name as an attack dog?

    Anyone asked Dutton’s office where he is holidaying? When he started? Etc. If not, then why not? Asleep at the wheel?

  20. Michael Taylor

    MN, once upon a time I would have turned to Albo to be the attack dog. Maybe Tanya?

    Hmmm. Perhaps not.

  21. Matters Not

    There’s any number that could do it (Terri Butler is but one example) but it can be career destroying, or at least, somewhat ‘limiting’. Then there’s the different approaches. John Philip Faulkner was brilliant at Senate Estimates. Crean could be persistent on the Floor and afterwards. Cameron could be cutting – as Cash will attest.

    There’s an opportunity for someone and probably a male because they can be bigger and better bastards. (Lol). But Labor needs someone. And quickly.

  22. wam

    Canberra is a town that should have been very aware of the bushfire danger.
    My darling’s bridesmaid lost her home in jan 2003.with 4 killed and 500 injured, 500 houses damaged.

    kaye the only positive memory of pig-iron bob, was his support for the CSIRO He would have trusted the scientists. Ironically the religion that was missing from menzies government kept him in power. he first catholic to lead the libs was nelson in 2007.
    He got booted and climate change went bi-partisan but the catholics killed that.

  23. Aortic

    Time for Mark Dreyfus to stand up and pick his team.

  24. Matters Not

    Aortic, lots of time for Drefus. Indeed, in many ways he’s my ideal type of politician but in a far better world. Can be very effective in Question Time provided he can ask all the questions (build the case, logically – covering all the bases etc) but he’s not going to get there. At this stage of his political career, he should’ve had more political scalps if he was for higher honours. Sorry, not for the rough and tumble of politics today. Lacks the necessary mongrel. (Sad but true.)

    Nevertheless would make a very good AG.

  25. paul walter

    Just dawned on me that this was up, while I was surmising elsewhere what the heck the disaster and the government’s response has been about.

    Yet I will remain baffled till the day I do as to some of the reasons for the lala land psychosis passed off as thinking and insane policy making.

    The government needs to be consigned to a long term psychiatric institution and a goodly chunk of msm with it. And then sent to jail to serve a long term for corruption and arguably, manslaughter or culpable homicide.

  26. Zathras

    The purpose of neo-conservative governments like ours is simply to deregulate and remove any obstacles to allow free-market capitalism to own and control all aspects of society in order to please their masters and financial sponsors. Beyond that they are simply incapable of long-term vision, planning or true nation-building.

    History has shown that when it comes to matters of social progress or fairness it’s just not in their DNA.

    When it comes to moral obligations such as the care of refugees and matters concerning welfare, these are outsourced to private companies as if it that automatically shifts responsibility away from the government.

    I’ll be interested to see what contracts are issued for the rebuilding of infrastructure and the distribution of essential services in the months ahead.

    As for Canberra it’s probably the only major city in Australia where trucks arrive full but leave empty.

  27. Keith

    You do not need to read much of the report gathering dust under Dutton’s watch. The report is highly damaging for the LNP.

    Quote: “ Many natural hazards are becoming more frequent and more intense, driven by Australia’s changing climate.
    The Bureau of Meteorology/CSIRO’s 2018 State of the Climate report describes the effect of Australia’s changing climate, including warming temperatures, rising sea level, more severe fire weather, and increased rainfall in Australia’s north and decreases in the south. It is predicted that these changes will continue, while new natural hazard threats will emerge. There is growing potential for cumulative or concurrent, large-scale natural hazards to occur.”

    Instead of acting on climate, we have a government recklessly fanning climate change, completely the opposite to what the report suggested should occur.

  28. Topenda

    (Reposted: pasting my text in resulted in weird formatting that was hard to read. Hopefully this attempt is okay…)

    I realise this is a little off-topic, but the following has occurred to me (as it must have to others, though as yet I’ve not seen anything substantial written about anything past the second point below):

    We all know this government is crap. We don’t want Morrison in charge. We fear the consequences for the whole country of waiting until the next election for a possible change of government.

    We also don’t want Morrison to go and Dutton to get in.

    While there is a slim majority that may or may not be impacted by supposedly upcoming s42 matters, given the determination of the government to keep its claws firmly embedded in the driver’s seat, and the corruption of the checks and balances and any tendency to act with decency, it seems unlikely that anyone will fall on a sword or be made to step aside unless the issue is forced. This means the balance is unlikely to shift.

    Therefore, I wonder if our energies ought to be directed toward persuading likely sitting politicians to shift, with the aim of changing the balance of power.

    Which brings me to: who would those most likely politicians be?

    Just thinking. Pros? Cons? Unexpected consequences? Am I just barking up the wrong tree? I know the next government will not have a magic wand, but it seems far more likely they will at least have some drive to act and thoughtful policies to work with to start getting us back on track.

    If any of our informed authors can shed any light on it I’d love to hear it.

  29. Roswell

    I see that Pauline Hanson backs a RC into the bushfires but she wants nothing about climate change mentioned in it. Climate change is “BS” that some people are making money out of.

    She’s not normal.

  30. johno

    Pauline has nut job Malcolm Roberts bending her ear on how good CO2 is for just about everything.

  31. Harry Lime

    Roswell,she’s got plenty of mates in Banana Land.Of course,any RC set up by Bullshit Boy would be designed to blame some one else,and end up lining the pockets of lawyers (LNP supporters) and end up wasting time and more money for no result.I note that Andrews has announced an inquiry in Victoria,no doubt realising that anything set up by Smirko would be useless.Where is Albanese?

  32. Roswell

    Harry, it’ll be the fault of the states. Nothing surer.

  33. paul walter

    And Labor, Roswell.

    The Greens, we don’t even disdain to mention.

  34. Pingback: Pastor Disaster’s Smoke, Mirrors and Denial | The Max Gross Archive

  35. Ken Fabian

    Take our drought and fire crisis. Now add 3 degrees C (if Morrison’s lot don’t get their way) or more than 5C of global warming (if Morrison’s lot DO get their way). That is properly terrifying.

    If getting alarmed about that is needless anxiety I don’t know what real anxiety is!

  36. Pingback: The Coalition makes a miserable start to 2020 - » The Australian Independent Media Network

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