This is one for the arsonist-is-the-cause crowd that sit in the Conspiracy Corner of the Coalition Party Room. On a recent day of complete fire ban with the North-East Victorian bushfire front near at hand, some idiot was out there with a slasher cutting dry grass. Not the first time he had done this on a day of complete fire ban. Inevitable spark and a grass fire erupted. Fortunately the fire was brought under control before it could threaten the herd of prime cattle up the road, not to mention the residents.
It is a bit immaterial how this joker voted but obviously by his actions he was a climate denialist in as far as denying hot weather should have been hampering his stupidity. However, not much better than mining for coal on a complete world century ban on temperature rise.
Let’s play Premier
One of the reasons nothing gets done is that everybody is always in meetings. One of the frustrating things is that the person with the current designated responsibility seems to be positively Arthurian in the number of round tables around which he is perching.
In Tasmania, a former auditor-general, Michael Blake heads the review of fire services. He replaced a real estate agent as head of the review in early 2019, the initial report having been made in 2018.
He has headed reviews before, which means that in the parlance for appointment to such positions, he either is seen as a “safe pair of hands” or else someone who “won’t rock the boat”. In reviewing the 2016 Huonville floods, he wrote presciently:
“Finally, and I raise this with no particular view about the causes, perhaps greater attention may be needed to agencies we establish or why bother to set them up? I refer to agencies like the Tasmanian Climate Change Office. Its research indicates temperatures will rise and rainfall will remain unchanged but there will be more intense rainfall events. The implications of this research need to be considered for the benefit of all Tasmanians…”
However, the current fire review does not give one a sense of anything being done – and hence does Tasmania have to have a catastrophic burn before anything is done?
Last year, a review of fire services regulations was initiated, with 35 questions asked and 39 responses (plus 4 appendices) received. Let us quote from the short response of Sustainable Timber Tasmania:
- Agree the Act should be amended to exempt hazard mitigation activities from LUPAA. Given the Statewide Strategic Fuel Management program is based on tenure blind treatment of fuels, and TFS, STT and PWS are partners in the program, any provisions to TFS in the Act should also apply to STT and PWS when undertaking hazard reduction activities on private land (where these provisions are relevant and appropriate).
Concentrate on tickling the regulations and one gets bureaucratic, acronymic obfuscation – and no commitment and no money.
Instead, let’s lay out a plain sheet of paper. You, the reader are now the all powerful, all knowing Premier of Tasmania.
It is not conventional bushfire season; there are probably only four months in the year when bushfires are unlikely, and thus we have to choose a time when it is furthest away from bushfire season to get a lead time to accomplish a preventative strategy.
You, the Premier for the point of this exercise, lay out the topic of bushfires. You call in the 29 local councils to show you their fire plans and you ask them to detail individual budgets and resources. You know Central Highlands, West Coast and Huon have the lowest density population but the greatest “pristine wilderness” – the signature of Tasmanian uniqueness, which you know has been continually under threat by the timber cutters and the engineers who do not care a dam. Tourism meanwhile is cast against the image of a scantily clad model frolicking with a stuffed thylacine uttering jolly Australian obscenities. These images are the dilemmas that you, dear Premier, face.
There is another more pointed dilemma. It was understood that rainforest on the west coast had not had fires for hundreds of years. However, man has been careless in allowing weeds to grow – gorse, blackberries and bracken for starters. We also do not want fire in the peat that underpins so much of the button grass, whose tannin residues wash into the creeks and river to give the tea colour. Peat bog fires can form an eternal flame in front of which Tasmania weeps. But enough of your tears, does Tasmania have the expert advice on how to isolate the weeds in any removal and then the will to do so?
A timber industry representative arrives at the table advocating tree thinning. Tasmania has already suffered from the euphemisms of timber predators. And judging by their current contribution to the fire services review they know one course of action – woodchopping. Where are the groves of huon, king billy and celery top pine? Let us show who’s boss by cutting down the tallest trees we can find; after all is that not thinning?
OK you’ve cut down the trees. I presume you are not leaving any detritus on site – it’s not about cutting down trees to leave fuel for bush fires? In good industry parlance, you’ve cut down the trees and now you want the government to give you permission to do what you have already done. Sorry, didn’t you get the message that times under my government have changed?
As I have said to those who may be tempted and then get caught for malfeasance such as looting or deliberate arson, I will allow them to cut down one tree – the one upon which he or she will be hanged.
Finally, there is also the major question raised in the report on the 2009 fires in Victoria about the danger of electricity delivered above ground since it was shown that powers are a source of fire. The question arises therefore, in vulnerable areas, of placing the powerlines underground, where they may have a life of up to 80 years before needing renewal. This again is a consideration that you, as Premier for the day, need to consider.
Once upon a time a young fellow could spend his vacation time in the bush fire-spotting. How can drones substitute? Are they the best way to detect the first signs of smoke? Drones? How many drones operating around the clock or when the probability of lightning strike is high are needed? Is the technology up to it?
Accessibility by roads: have our forest trails been graded and are they able to take increasingly large vehicles and what of bridge loads? What about access to water? How many training exercises have you done since last summer? I can ask the fire chiefs that.
What vehicles do we need? It seems that these new fire vehicles can also clear a passage into the forest to the seat of the fire and some are able to evacuate people in emergencies. What are you doing about that?
And the fixed wing aircraft including seaplanes and the helicopters, how many do we need permanently and on lease from the beginning of summer? Or is the beginning of summer already too late? Are our landing strips sufficient for these aircraft to land as close as possible to the fire and in emergencies?
What about boats? The current array of defence force boats seems unwieldy to be of much use. Can a ship the size of the S.S Adelaide be able to dock in Macquarie Harbour or any of ports around the coastline? After all, to paraphrase that Minister of the Crown who famously said: “Tasmania is an island surrounded by water.” Therefore, up front the sea should figure in any plans, not as an afterthought.
Now that most valuable of resources – fire fighters. Each of your communities provides the people to fight fires. How many do you have? What is the optimum number? How easy is it to get reinforcements from elsewhere in the State and outside the State.
And what of the community – you know those who don’t have house and contents insurance and bludge on those who do (not forgetting that the fire levy is part of the insurance premium). Sorry to use the word bludge but if you build a dwelling without having insurance, and then presumably hope the community will bale you out … It shows a degree of irresponsibility (although who will bale you out in you are burnt out is probably not a conscious thought when the house is built or bought). In this worsening climate, the luxury of being uninsured is no longer an option. And there is the other side of the two edged sword: for the majority affected by bushfires, probably since 2009, the building codes in fire prone areas have become so much more rigorous that even those with basic home and contents insurance will not be adequately covered to rebuild in the same area.
Now submit your answers, and we shall excuse errors of omission and commission, because the answers will not remain gathering dust, or is it ash.
The Progress of John Barilaro
Canberra Times 9 April 2019: The report of Mr Barilaro’s announcement on postponing any brumby cull in Kosciuszko National Park (“NSW puts ‘immediate’ brumby cull on hold”, April 8, p.7) exposes his approach to facts. Mr Barilaro: “before we can determine how many brumbies are to remain …”
Fact: an exhaustive process in 2015-16 determined how many brumbies should remain. The answer was 600 to 750.
Mr Barilaro: “a draft management plan needs to be drawn up”. Fact: a draft management plan exists and is available on the web – the Kosciuszko Draft Wild Horse Management Plan of 2016.
Mr Barilaro seems determined to keep asking until he gets the answers he wants, even if this involves spending the tax-payers’ money on yet another committee, another report, and another survey. The broad-toothed mice and other species whose existence is threatened by feral horses in Kosciuszko National Park are running out of time.
Canberra Times 26 July 2019: Acting Premier John Barilaro has launched an extraordinary on-air attack at ABC South East NSW, appearing to encourage people to stop listening to the station. He also heatedly exclaimed he would not leave politics while the independent broadcaster continued to operate.
Canberra Times 13 November 2019: Mr Barilaro had a spat with a union after his party was accused of hindering bushfire preparations across NSW with “crippling” staff cuts. A political blame game has broken out – even as bushfires continue to rage – with Mr Barilaro criticising the National Parks and Wildlife Service for not doing enough hazard reduction in the lead-up to the fire season.
The Public Service Association, which represents park rangers, hit back by saying Mr Barilaro was “tastelessly blaming” public servants after his government slashed staff numbers. The PSA says there’s been a 35 per cent cut to fire-trained positions in the state’s national parks, which are now being managed by “skeleton staff”.
But the NSW government says the number of firefighters in national parks has increased from 1050 in 2011 to 1226 in 2019. Mr Barilaro refused to back down when he was grilled in State parliament on Wednesday. “The truth of the matter is that we still live with (former premier) Bob Carr’s legacy – lock up the forest and let it burn,” he said. “I make no apology for my comments. The PSA went out and fibbed in relation to the reduction of rangers dealing with fires in national parks.”
Mr Barilaro in a separate statement said he wouldn’t be lectured by those pushing a “green-left ideology”. “There are things to learn out of every bushfire emergency and what’s clear is that more hazard reduction work needs to be done during times where it is safe to do so,” he told AAP. “We can’t be dictated to by a green-left ideology that advocates locking up bushland and leaving it.”
PSA acting general secretary Troy Wright said politicians should focus on preparedness – not political ideology. “If the origins of these catastrophic fires across the state are in national parks then it is the National Party and part of the Berejiklian government that are responsible for the lack of preparedness,” he said in a statement. “It is the complete absence of proper funding, not some mercurial green movement as the Nationals allege.” Australian Workers’ Union national secretary Daniel Walton is calling for an inquiry into firefighter staffing levels in national parks. “Every day we are hearing from members across the state about how their resourcing is poorer than it’s ever been and the knock-on effects that’s having,” he said in a statement on Wednesday.
“The AWU has been warning for years that fire services are grossly under-resourced. We just don’t have adequate resources to deal with catastrophic events that are becoming increasingly common due to climate change.
I thought the call by Mr Barilaro to stop listening to the ABC particularly tasteless, but then he was in London on holidays while the South Coast burned. Without the ABC broadcast, there would have been nothing, no communications, broadcasters putting themselves in some risk, but then the Savoy (was it?) does not take the ABC.
Now Mr Barilaro, you can weep for your beloved feral horses, but weep also for the koala and other native animal habitat that the horses have destroyed or by land clearing which had been done to increase their vulnerability.
Hazard reduction burns, well your majority in Queanbeyan may be slashed when the few remaining days of the year are coated in smoke, year in and year out. I’ll assure that everywhere there will signs saying Barilaro Hazard Reduction Burns, if and when it happens.
As I leave you bouncing hyperactively on your bar stool, some might hear one say you are full of la cacca di toro or would you prefer merda in the first degree.
I’ve worked in a town that speaks Italian, but correct me if my Italian is wrong.
However, the Premier has seen fit to anoint you to clean up the mess, but while you were away in London determining which chianti you wanted from the rack, remember Andrew Constance, your fellow Minister was there, every day, coated in bushfire ash, a true Australian – in every sense.
Has any estimate been done of how much vermin has been killed in these fires – foxes, rabbits, feral cats and dogs, deer, wild pigs – and of course those feral horses?
But hopefully there are still alpine dingoes. Somewhere. They seem to be forgotten in the destruction.
The late Robin Day once came to Australia to do a BBC Panorama program to get the everyperson Australian view of the prospect of the UK entering the Common Market. He wanted an Australian view and he sought advice from Zelman Cowan, the then Dean of Law at the University of Melbourne, to gather a group of students whom he could interview. We were gathered before while he talked to us, and his belittling tone reminded me of why we of Irish descent had some difficulty with the monarchy.
Later in the filmed interview, he turned to me and asked my view. The substance of my response… “I’m a republican. I couldn’t care less what the UK does.” and unexpectedly from the front row someone piped up “And I don’t like the Poms too”.
A shaken Day was led away by Zelman Cowan, who was heard to say “Totally unrepresentative opinion.”
The next year, I happened to come into the student common room at the maternity hospital, where I was doing my obstetric term as a medical student, and there he was on television – Zelman Cowan coming off the Shrine steps burbling something about the indissoluble ties between Australia and the Mother country. I did not wait for any further balm and went out to deliver another baby.
I wrote this following poem in memory of Robin Day and Zelman Cowan and all those people who have been unable to dissolve the indissoluble ties.
Australia Day Once upon a pastured lawn The Pom called Robin Day did ask To serried ranks we stood Respectful Should we seek republic And the answer unexpected To knees once genuflected To Day we all said aye. January 26 A day of Independence When India Grew up and threw away it swaddling clothes A cope with mace and orb and sceptred crap Lie shattered upon brown flattened earth For a people confused by Battenburg But now Republic Day they all say aye January 26 A good man stood on Botany shores Sent from porphyric hungover king Possession gained with jack of Andrew, Patrick, and of George But no place for David, no daffodils nor leek Yet this Southern harsh and sunburnt land earmarked for gaols He christened green and pleasant New South Wales In homage today we whitefellas celebrate that day January 26 Summer invasion to those not tanned To frolic in illusory freedom The Jack still flutters A cornered eye The Southern Cross is overseen. By stiffened queen To celebrate a day of smoke and sand and foaming ale Robin Day is long since dead That rank of 61 or was it 2 now thin and worn Who once called aye for change Yet Her of steely Albion eye Or He of fumbling foreign voice survive Shall we now spent and grey Not live to have a true Australia day Which we can call our own A lone voice rings out Make September First Republic Day Is it not the first day of Spring Is it not when wattle bloom A sprig for all Is it but a symbol of youth and vigour This day which is The First of September.