Consider the extraordinary, wilful, determination required to host a press conference on Tuesday, with the view of Sydney outside totally obstructed by suffocating thick smoke from the bushfires on the city’s outskirts, with the air quality more than ten times hazardous levels, and pretend it’s business as usual?
— Judith Whelan (@whelan60) December 10, 2019
For Scott Morrison, or #SmoKo as he’s been dubbed, it’s all in a day’s work.
Never mind the unprecedented bushfire crisis that just ten days into summer has decimated two million hectares of land, wiped out more than 1,000 homes and killed six people, the PM wanted to talk about the religious discrimination bill. So he did.
Because, it seems, nothing deters the Prime Minister from his plans.
Tuesday in Sydney was unlike any ordinary Tuesday. It was ghastly and begged one inevitable question: if the smoke in Sydney was this intolerable, imagine the air quality closer to the actual fires?
Going… gone pic.twitter.com/GvOSJSmsDj
— James Jeffrey (@James_Jeffrey) December 9, 2019
Aside from inexplicably pushing ahead with his religious freedom amendments rather than confront the crisis enveloping the country, Scott Morrison also denied extra support for the volunteer firefighters who are working for free.
Scott Morrison said they “want to be there”.
PM @ScottMorrisonMP is correct. I want to be there, volunteering, protecting my community, all volunteer firefighters do. However my landlord also wants his rent, my employer also wants work doing, and ironically, the ATO wants its tax bill paid… #AustraliaBurns #bushfiresNSW
— Dean Knowsley (@deanknowsley) December 10, 2019
Australia’s Rural Fire Service roughly comprises more than 70,000 unpaid volunteers and 900 paid staff.
In recent days social media has been flooded with posts in which RFS brigades have been crowdfunding or seeking donations for water, suncream and food for volunteers in the field. The Prime Minister did not address these concerns.
Today I asked PM how long volunteer firies are supposed to continue without pay, while some crowdfund for food/water. He said the govt gives everything they're asked for, and firies "want to be there"
If you're an RFS volunteer, my DMs/emails are open. https://t.co/HO9WVonJXS
— heldavidson (@heldavidson) December 10, 2019
Morrison maintained that Australia’s “standing volunteer force” is capable of managing the unprecedented fire and specifically rejected the possibility of paying them.
But the former Fire and Rescue NSW Commissioner Greg Mullins warned that volunteer firefighters are already exhausted and have ‘nothing in their tanks’.
Crews are reportedly working 12-hour shifts and travelling two hours each way to reach fire grounds, meaning they are working 16 hour days.
“Everyone is getting pretty worn out and, in my experience, that’s where all the bad stuff happens,” Mullins told AAP. “The troops, if they’re worn out, you get to a stage where it just overwhelms everyone, so that’s a worry.”
In stark contrast to the Prime Minister’s apparent ambivalence the NSW Environment Minister Matt Kean broke from his Federal coalition peers and argued climate change is behind the bushfire crisis.
“Longer drier periods, resulting in more drought and bushfires. If this is not a catalyst for change, then I don’t know what is. This is not normal and doing nothing is not a solution,” he said.
“We need to reduce our carbon emissions immediately, and we need to adapt our practices to deal with this kind of weather becoming the new normal.”
Matt Kean – One of the most interesting and engaged government figures in Australia finally says what everyone is thinking. “This is not normal”. https://t.co/oDEqoprx61
— Ellen Fanning:Journo (@ellenmfanning) December 10, 2019
On Wednesday morning Kean told ABC’s RN Breakfast he would not “wait till the end of summer to have a meaningful conversation” about how to address the issue of climate change, which he said must be dealt with “as a matter of science … not religion”.
I consider this obvious statement an act of significant moral #leadership: ‘(Enviro Minister) Kean said addressing climate change was also “about growing our economy … It would be negligent to miss the opportunity to address climate change.” @GuardianAus NOW @ScottMorrisonMP
— Clare Bowditch (@ClareBowditch) December 10, 2019
It is a welcome acknowledgement and sign of leadership.
The devastating bushfire season has propelled mounting public concern for the urgent and immediate need for greater action against climate change. A rally is being held in Sydney to that end.
Will it be enough to put climate action firmly in Scott Morrison’s sights?