A Song of Inaction and Fire: How the Liberal Party is failing Australia

(Photo: PR Week)



It has now been over 4 months since the start of the devastating wildfires that have swept the east coast of Australia. The full extent of their damage is still unknown, but as of now they have killed more than two dozen people, and more than a billion animals. As well as this, they’ve destroyed more than 2,200 houses, an untold number of commercial buildings and 10.7 million hectares of land, including thousands of acres of prime farmland1. These numbers, unfortunately, will only continue to increase as the fires still rage.

However, fingers have been pointed towards the government response to the crisis, in particular Liberal Prime Minister Scott Morrisons perceived inaction, as well as the actions of his party whilst in government, which has systemically gutted funding for national parks and fire prevention. This can be divided into short-term, and long-term failure.

Short-Term Failure

Much of this stems from a letter written in April of 2019 by twenty-three former emergency services leaders and senior personnel within the fire and rescue department2. This letter, sent months before the fires began, called upon major parties to recognise the need for “national firefighting assets”, and asked to speak with the Prime Minister “within three months”, in order to avoid a disaster. This warning was ignored by Scott Morrison’s government, and the country are now faced with fires that almost mirror what was predicted in the letter. Prior to the fires, when asked about the letter, Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack elected to say, “well we don’t need the ravings of some pure, enlightened and woke capital city greenies”3. This quote, aimed at some of the most experienced and seasoned fire prevention personnel, is both baffling and terrifying, and only goes to highlight the ineptitude within the government.

Echoing this sentiment, whilst the fires were raging, the Australian Prime Minister felt the most appropriate use of his time would be to take a secret two-week holiday in Hawaii. Upon returning, his initial response was to attempt several botched photo-ops in fire-stricken towns, where he was met by enraged locals. When met with heckles from the crowd, he turned his back and walked away4, a damning metaphor of his administrations treatment of these areas. It would seem that his “Thoughts and prayers” 5, did not reach those most affected by the fires.

The inaction of ‘ScoMo’ is further highlighted by the reaction of his political peers. Whilst Morrison was electing to perform his civic duty from a sun lounger on a Hawaiian beach6, Labor and Opposition leader Anthony Albanese spent time on the front lines with volunteer firefighters, who’s plea for them to receive compensation for their tireless work was eventually co-opted by Morrison7. Morrisons inaction was even contrasted to that of former Liberal Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who has spent months fighting wildfires on the front lines with volunteers8.

It is this perceived disinterest of Morrison that has been almost universally criticised by the worlds media. Whilst his political peers and rivals were fighting fires with volunteers, he was seen hosting backyard cricket in the garden on his mansion9. As climate scientist Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick put it, “They’re burying their heads in the sand while the world is literally burning around them”10

Long-Term Failure

However, whilst the initial response to the crisis may have been inadequate and incompetent, many would argue that it is the government’s role in creating the crisis that is far more unforgivable. Since 2011, over $100 million has been cut from the National Parks and Wildlife Service budget, which has led to around 500 job losses, equivalent to around a 25% overall cut11. These cuts were even further cut at a local level, most notably New South Wales (NSW), the worst affected area of the fires. Under the leadership of NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, in 2019/20 alone, the NSW Liberal and National coalition government cut the capital budget of both Fire and Rescue NSW and Rural Fire Services by 35.4% and 75.2% respectively12. This included reduction of ‘Fire Management Officers’ by 75%, a role which is vital for planning of fire prevention. This led to some officers being faced with sole responsibility over areas as big as Tasmania. This gutting of necessary resources has made the safeguarding against fires essentially impossible for local fire services; as one ex-ranger stated, “It’s not because the people aren’t dedicated, it’s not because they aren’t hardworking — they’re not being resourced, and they’re not being allowed to do it.”13

One of the biggest factors that has ensured that this year’s wildfires have been so unprecedentedly damaging, is due to the lack of water in much of NSW. This once again can be linked to the incompetent, and in some instances borderline corrupt decisions of the Federal and State Liberal governments. One of Australia’s main sources of water is the Murray-Darling basin, which sustains nearly 40% of all agriculture14. However, in recent years it has been involved in multiple water scandals. Firstly, there have been consistent instances in recent years of cotton farmers stealing vast amounts of water from the basin. To counter this, in 2017, the Liberal government announced a water buyback scheme, in order to replenish the supply. To do this, in an action that would almost be impressively brazen if it wasn’t so absurdly corrupt, they paid $80 million to a company that had been co-founded by the then energy minister, who profited around $52 million that was largely transferred to their parent company in the Cayman islands15. To top this off, the government then continued to lie about the amount of water that had been replenished, and reports suggest that there is still billions of litres less water in the basin than reports claim16.

This lack of water has led to up to 99% of NSW being ‘drought affected’ 17. To counter this, the Federal government proposed drought funding, but elected to give 94% of it to councils held by their own parties, including to towns that had not even experienced any drought18. They then proposed a $10 million ‘drought education fund’ exclusively for private schools, a move that was branded as ‘disgraceful’ by the Australian Education Union19.

To many, it is these acts of borderline corruption from both the Federal and State liberal governments that have siphoned both money and water away from areas that vitally needed it for fire prevention. Those in power have consistent shown a neglect towards the necessary safeguards, and through their incompetency and potential corruption, they have a high proportion of the blame in one of the biggest ecological disasters in recent history. Whilst the country burns, Australia more than ever needs real leaders to pick up the pieces, and try a heal a very wounded nation.

























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