Scott Morrison has been badly damaged by his response to the bushfire crisis, after weeks of refusing to act. He has been forced to shift and announce new funding for bushfire relief—but is still not willing to budge an inch on climate action.
During the worst fire days in December Morrison cleared off on holiday to Hawaii, while firefighters were dying in the blazes.
Angry residents from the fire-stricken town of Cobargo rounded on him when he visited. One person told the Prime Minister he should be “ashamed of himself” and had “left the country to burn”. So much for the quiet Australians.
After previously refusing to call the situation a crisis and insisting firefighters had all the resources they needed, Morrison has now had to change his tune.
The army reserves have been deployed to fire zones, and more funding has been announced for firefighting aircraft, as well as $2 billion for bushfire recovery.
After rejecting calls for financial compensation to volunteer firefighters, he has now announced a meagre compensation package.
In a major ABC interview with David Speers, he attempted to recast his government’s response. This made it clear he will try to put the political focus on “the recovery and rebuild effort” from the fires, with further announcements and a Royal Commission to come, in an effort to bury discussion of climate policy.
Some commentators have been taken in by his claims the government’s response to climate change would “evolve”, seeing them as an indication a shift on climate policy is coming.
But Morrison was clear: his aim is simply to “meet and beat” his existing hopeless emissions reduction target. This is only possible through his plan to cheat through using emissions “credits” from the Kyoto protocol period.
He refused to go any further—simply re-iterating his usual excuses about why nothing can be done, saying further action would mean “putting a tax on people’s [cost of] living… increasing people’s electricity prices” and “writing off $70 billion-dollar industries”.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese has criticised Morrison’s handling of the fire emergency, but will say nothing on what the government should do about climate change. He is even helping prevent action by saying there is no problem with jobs in coal.
But the severity of the fires and the prolonged drought across large parts of the country are direct consequences of climate change. It is a glimpse of a grim future if we do not force the transition to a decarbonised economy.
The climate movement has to go on the front foot with clear demands for action. We need a huge government investment program in building publicly-owned renewable energy infrastructure. This is the only way to start reducing emissions on the scale and in the timeframe needed. Private investors and the market will only cherry pick the most profitable projects and cannot be relied upon to get us to 100 per cent renewables.
Morrison and the NSW government found $3 billion for bushfire recovery spending within weeks. We need spending on the same scale for climate action.
This does not need to come at the cost of jobs and living standards. The rich and their corporations that have profited from polluting the planet should pay. Hundreds of thousands of good jobs can be created right now through a public works program in renewable energy, public transport, housing, land management and reforestation.
To deliver this we need to build a social movement that can take on Morrison and the capitalist interests blocking action, taking over the streets and shutting down the workplaces.
Rallies of thousands have already mobilised in capital cities.
The work stoppages in response to the hazardous bushfire smoke were also a step forward, linking workers’ safety with the need for climate action. The maritime union, representing wharfies who stopped work, explicitly linked the failure to act on climate change to increasing bushfire danger.
Volunteer firefighters have been working around the clock, often with poor equipment, to save lives and homes. But relying on volunteers to fight fires for months on end is unsustainable. We need more paid professional firefighters and funding to protect rural communities.
Firefighters’ union representatives have also spoken out, pointing to the unprecedented nature of the fires, the link to climate change, and calling for proper staffing and equipment.
We need much more of this. The climate disasters are a class issue and we will need to mobilise workers’ power if we are to prevent even worse ones in the future.
We need to go all out to make the national day of protest on 22 February another huge show of support for climate action—demanding the billions in government investment needed to tackle the climate crisis.