NOTE: The views expressed in the piece are the writer’s, and are not necessarily the views of Lot’s Wife
By Corey Everitt
Four thousand people are stranded on a beach. The night sky has turned from pitch black to a crimson red. Communication is gone, the roar of a wall of fire becomes louder, the smoke is suffocating. A siren is heard from inland: this is their signal. They must enter the water because land is no longer safe. As the fire encircles them, there is no certainty of what to do next, no word of rescue.
This is not fiction. This is not Hell. This was New Year’s Eve in Mallacoota, Victoria.
The country is burning from an unprecedented catastrophe. Hundreds of fires still rage, 8.4 million hectares of land have been scorched, almost five million of that in NSW alone. 27 people are dead, with many still missing. Cities are being poisoned by smoke. Sydney and Canberra’s air pollution have at times become the worst in the world. Meanwhile, the fires are unlikely to end soon, we still have two months of bushfire season to go and the fires are now predicted to not be fully contained for months.
This is no simple natural disaster. It’s a social disaster that was precipitated by a thoroughly corrupt system that puts the interest of the rich first while the vast majority face the consequences of the disaster. One individual best represents this, standing at the centre of this scorched earth: the Liberal Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
Politicians say a lot of nice things to justify themselves in power, but when crisis comes the veil is lifted. Within the first year of Morrison’s government, it took mere days for this catastrophe to unravel the cultivated daggy dad persona of a man that has an occasional tendency to soil himself at Maccas. What has been revealed underneath the facade is a callous, out of touch man of the rich and powerful. No longer Scotty from marketing, he is the champion of the coal barons with a mission of austerity, leaving the poor to burn for the sake of more profits for the rich and more destruction to the planet.
Climate change is the imminent threat of this generation and yet Morrison’s government gifts 29 billion to fossil fuel companies a year. He approved the Adani Coal Mine in Queensland last April (once done, it will be biggest open coal mine in the southern hemisphere). He scrapped even the small pretence of a renewable energy target and he can’t even stomach showing up to the UN climate summit, where he’ll just be called out by other climate criminals. He is still refusing to acknowledge that this unprecedented fire season has anything to do with climate change. Not to mention the imbecilic antics of Morrison’s history, parading a lump of coal around parliament and threatening repression of climate protesters.
The list of Morrison’s crimes goes on, from overseeing cuts to the budget for NSW Fire and Rescue service to ignoring a requested meeting of heads of the Fire Service to discuss concerns of a disastrous coming fire season. However, the more important point is that he and the long line of preceding governments have made Australia into a centre of climate destruction. Australia is one of the largest exporters of coal, fuelling the world with its poison. New projects for natural gas are proliferating in Western Australia. There are new plans for off-shore oil drilling in the Bight. For Australia’s fossil fuel companies, monolithic profits are made. Coal represents 15% of total export value and of the thirty top companies on the Australian stock market, seven are in mining and fossil fuels. The companies of Rinehart and Forrest are some of the wealthiest in the country.
Australia is now a tinderbox because of this system. The Murray-Darling Basin has seen the lowest rainfall in recorded history, having effectively gone without winter for the last two years. Entire areas of east coast rainforest are reportedly turning to severe dry conditions. Trees die, dry up, and turn the area into kindling ripe for the colossal 150-metre-high mega blazes we are seeing today. This is the summer that Morrison and co. have brought us.
All the while the RFS and volunteer firefighters are spread thin and under resourced across the country, battling unprecedented fires. Some communities have essentially been left for dead. The Aboriginal community of Lake Tyers in East Gippsland have been left to fend for themselves, with a water tank on the back of ute as their sole firefighting equipment. Countless people that will never be named have spent their holidays fighting the fires, caring for sick and elderly, providing food and clothing to the newly homeless, all the while fearing for their own lives and those of loved ones. Tens of millions have been raised for fire relief out of the pockets of the many people across the world wanting to help. It’s to the shame of the people in power that we must give our own money because we know they’ll never properly look after the victims. The millions and billions in wealth they control will always go the priorities of the rich. Firefighters crowdfund for basic equipment, while the government will spend $180 million to reopen the Christmas Island detention centre that’s now torturing a refugee family, or on expanding the military budget and the fossil fuel industry, or to just straight-up leave it in the pockets of the rich as in Morrison’s proposed tax cuts to the country’s elite.
Nevertheless, it’s testament to the stark difference between the compassion of the masses and the cynicism of those at the top. The people have every right to heckle and abuse the Prime Minister, to lay the blame at his feet.
However, it’s not just Morrison. He is merely the current manager of vast and rotten system that creates such inhumanity. It’s worth remembering climate inaction is the policy of successive governments, Liberal and Labor. Right now, State Premier Anastasia Palaszczuk’s Queensland government has been the hardest campaigner to get the Adani Coal Mine done. Even Labor leader Anthony Albanese himself toured the state in early December campaigning for the coal industry and has since provided little serious opposition against Morrison. While tens of thousands marched to sack Scomo on 10 January, Labor dismissed the popular criticism of Morrison, backed up Peter Dutton’s defence of coal exports and is now looking to scrap its 45% emissions reduction target. It’s clear Labor would rather not rock the rich man’s boat than relate to popular discontent. They have to run a system based on profits rather than the needs of the majority. They will never solve the problems they helped create.
The only sign of hope in this disaster has been the rapid growth of the international climate movement over the last year. Millions across the world have stood up against the destruction of the planet. The hatred of Morrison would not have been as profound if this movement did not put climate change on the global agenda. Just this month, campaign group Uni Student for Climate Justice initiated a national protest against Morrison and his treatment of the bushfires. This mobilised close to 100,000 across the country and many others in solidarity protests internationally.
We have to keep fighting and organising, whether it’s in joining the next protest against Morrison or the Uni Student Climate Strike on 13 March. We need to win, because the consequences of climate change are no longer a prediction. We are living it right now. And if we let them continue, the Morrisons of the world will happily watch it all burn.
Never accept Morrison’s handshake, don’t accept the blood on his hands. Him, his mates and their entire wretched system must go.