Coalition policies fan flames of climate change

October 24, 2013
Barry O’Farrell has cut $70 million from the Fire and Rescue budget over the next three years.

The Defence Department has confirmed it was responsible for starting the ferocious State Mine fire in the Blue Mountains that burnt over 50,000 hectares of bushland in the past two weeks.

An investigation found that a large amount of explosives — exceeding normal limits — were used during a training exercise at Marrangaroo.

Unlike the young boys who were arrested for lighting fires this week, it is unlikely anyone from defence will be charged.

Similar exceptions are given to gas company Santos, which has been granted an exemption to release and burn off gas in NSW’s Pilliga forest even on days of total fire bans.

It is unacceptable that on days of high temperatures and strong winds, CSG companies are allowed to operate business as usual, which leaves people living nearby to bear the risks to their homes and lives.

Even worse, CSG is a dirty fossil fuel that is contributing to climate change, which is shaping weather conditions ideal for more frequent and dangerous bushfires.

The link between climate change and bushfires is undeniable. Bushfires have always been part of the Australian landscape, but the fires occurring now are bigger and more intense than before.

A new study by the Climate Council, the independent body set up after the Climate Commission was abolished by Prime Minister Tony Abbott, says: “Climate change is making hot days hotter, and heatwaves more frequent and severe. Last summer, Australia experienced the hottest summer on record, and now has just had the hottest September on record.

"South-eastern Australia is experiencing a long-term drying trend. In NSW, soil moisture levels have been at record low levels now for a number of months. More intense and frequent hot weather, as well as dry conditions, increases the likelihood of extreme fire weather days.''

It is not offensive to talk about this link while fires are still burning. The people who do not want to acknowledge this reality are those whose interests will be threatened by strong action on climate change — the billionaire owners of fossil fuel corporations, right-wing media and the politicians who serve them.

When nearly 100 people died when their boat sank as they were travelling to Australia to seek asylum, Labor and Coalition politicians did not refuse to talk about it. In fact, they used the issue to push even harsher refugee policy through parliament — sending all future asylum seekers to PNG.

It is critical to keep talking about climate change as these disasters unfold, and keep demanding climate action on the scale that is needed. Restoring a price on carbon is not going to curb emissions at the necessary rate. Instead, campaigns need to demand public investment in renewable energy, no new coal or coal seam gas projects, and an increase in public transport.

It is not just climate change that is making bushfires more deadly and destructive, but also the neoliberal policies of Liberal governments.

As the bushfires raged across NSW last week, Abbott refused to extend the disaster recovery payment — a payment of $1000 each — to people who have been cut off from their home for more than 24 hours, despite Labor providing it to people in the same position when they were affected by the Tasmanian bushfires in March.

On top of that, NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell has cut $70 million from the Fire and Rescue budget over the next three years. Now, if stations cannot meet a minimum of four staff on at one time, the station will be closed rather than calling extra staff in and paying them overtime.

The Fire Brigade Employees’ Union said that over the past 10 months, stations that used to be permanently staffed have been shut down hundreds of times. The result is that crews take longer to respond to emergencies, putting lives and homes in danger.

What can people do when the prime minister cuts funding to climate programs and the environment minister assures the public that there is no link between climate change and bushfires because he “looked it up on Wikipedia”?

We need to rebuild a climate movement strong enough to take them on. Rallies demanding stronger action on climate change are happening around Australia on November 17, organised by GetUp! and AYCC. We want to make sure these rallies are as big as possible, in order to mobilise public opinion for real action on climate change.

Events such as these can help to rebuild a strong, grassroots movement, that links up communities who are fighting unconventional gas, coal mining and environmental destruction across the country.

The movement won't be rebuilt in just one day of action, however. To win, we need an ongoing, organised, grassroots and politically independent movement against the power of the fossil fuel corporations and the governments that rule on their behalf.

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