It’s been impossible for any news-watcher to have been unaware of what some claim (wrongly) is an unprecedented expanse of Australian native bush — most of which consists of highly flammable gum trees labelled “petrol on a stick” by fire-fighters — ablaze around the continent this fire season, which still has about 3 months to run.  A combination of drought, aberrant hot temperatures and high winds has caused tinder dry vegetation to be set alight by lightning strikes — and insane arsonists — and spread into mega blazes.

Unsurprisingly, there have been plenty of recriminations about the responsibility that Federal government and individual State governments have for it.  The Climate Change from Unnatural Causes brigade claim that it’s evidence of their belief in global warming.  They in turn have been criticised for refusing to allow controlled vegetation burn-offs.

What is undeniable is that there is big time failure to plan for adequate reserve water supplies (for example, when water is scarce you don’t sell huge quantities of it to Chinese businesses) and adequate rural fire fighting in the conditions that the country now has.

Scott Morrison has managed to turn this into a personal PR disaster for himself. —Melbourne based Kiwi, John Smith

Politics and bush fires across the Tasman

By Roger Childs

Scott Morrison not getting a hand shakeIn the last 12 years New Zealand has had two prime ministers, in Australia there have been six. Shortly after Scott Morrison took on the job there was a delightful cartoon across the Ditch showing two women watching a bus with the new PM’s face on the back, moving off. One says to the other – Don’t bother chasing it, like our prime ministers there’ll be another one along in a minute. Will the present incumbent last much longer? His popularity is currently at an all time low.

Morrison is in trouble over his handling of the unprecedented Australian bush fires raging in every state — most extensively in New South Wales and Victoria. So far there have been–

  • 24 people killed
  • more than 1500 houses destroyed, as well as shops, schools and other public buildings
  • possibly up to 500 million wild life casualties
  • over 6 million hectares of bush and grassland burnt – the equivalent of more than half the area of the North Island.

Australain bush fires 1These are apparently the most extensive bush fires in Australia’s recorded history. By comparison, California’s record fires late in 2019 burned through about half a million hectares.

There has been some relief in the last day or two with rain in the east of Victoria and New South Wales, but the summer still has a long way to go and the crisis is far from over. 

A beleaguered Prime Minister

Scott Morrison was always coming from behind – a man who has built his public persona as a tough guy — ‘he ‘stopped the boats’ as Immigration  Minister — is always going to have trouble portraying himself as caring and compassionate. —John Smith

Australian bush fires 2The PM has not handled the bush fire catastrophe well. He headed off to Hawaii for a holiday after they had started and were spreading rapidly, and consequently he received a pasting from the media and cartoonists. One cartoon showed Morrison on a beach holding a sign from Hawaii saying  HAPPY CRISIS. Then he delayed returning home for two days. Another cartoon showed him dressed as Nero playing a violin with the fires raging behind him.

He further compounded his PR problems by–

  • initially distancing the federal government from the disaster saying the states are dealing with it
  • watching the Sydney New Year fireworks before making a public appearance
  • equating the battle with the fires to the Australia – New Zealand cricket tests
  • announcing that 3000 military personnel would help in NSW, but not telling the co-ordinator of the fire-fighting operations who found out from the media
  • putting up a video on social media of himself explaining what the federal government was doing about the fires which many have interpreted as shameless political advertising.

Australian bush firesNot surprisingly, on his visits to affected areas ScoMo, or ScuMo as some call him, has received verbal abuse and faced people refusing to shake his hand; one such incident was caught by news cameras.

He has now announced the positive step of setting up a two billion dollar federal fund for rebuilding housing and infrastructure after the fires, but although welcome, it came after many online fundraising efforts to help people and communities which have lost everything.

The link to climate change?

Many scientists see the (apparently) unprecedented fires across Australia as a symptom of the incremental warming of the planet. Scott Morrison has been in denial on climate change, but may be softening his position. Canadian journalist and author, Naomi Klein, has talked of the government having a love affair with the coal industry. Morrison, like Donald Trump, has often spoken about not wanting to adversely affect businesses and jobs by reducing production and exports of fossil fuels. As can be expected, some media have been very critical of this stance.

Opinions differ on the whole climate change issue, but the increase in greenhouse gas emissions in recent decades, the melting of ice at both poles of the planet [although not simultaneously; there are hotter summers balanced by colder winters —Eds], plus glacier retreat in different countries, is undeniable. 

Furthermore, the recent fires in California and the continuing blazes across Australia are in line with the increase in extreme weather events associated with Climate Change.