Peter Holding
Peter Holding

Bushfires expose how our politicians have failed us

COMMENT

Australia is being failed by our political leaders. I remember a time when politicians would use disaster to bring the nation together.

Now it seems they're obsessed with scoring cheap points off each other, dividing us at a time when we should be uniting to face one of the greatest challenges we have faced as a country.

I've been a volunteer rural firefighter for 40 years. What we have seen over the past week has left me shocked. Firstly, if you're reading this, and you're anywhere near a fire zone, stop reading. Right now. Turn on ABC radio, get your valuables together and ensure your loved ones know the plan.

Don't just assume 'she'll be right'.

If you're not currently holding a fire hose, or evacuating a fire ground, (neither of which most politicians are doing) it's time to get your act together. You can still take late, but decisive action, and you owe it to those on the ground to do so. Pronto.

Now is the moment for you to stop the mudslinging, stop the populist garbage and to start being the leaders that Australia deserves.

From today, you can start communicating with regional communities to develop fire risk management solutions that draw on local wisdom: reintroduce strategic grazing where appropriate and be smart about managing fire risk in our rapidly changing environment.

Start truly backing our Rural Fire Service (RFS) volunteers and keep our service alive. We need to recognise the changing socio-economic circumstances volunteers find themselves in so we can continue to maintain our teams.

Start basing urban planning on climate change modelling, particularly when it comes to fire prone regions.

Start to build policy based on evidence beyond urban planning. Show courage in the face of wicked problems; engage the scientists, the emergency service leaders and those on the front lines and ask the hard questions.

But most of all, start to change our climate trajectory.

I was there when Sydney went up in 1994, when Canberra burned in 2003 and when countless other fires both big and small have broken out. I've driven through walls of flame, fought bureaucracy and witnessed apocalyptic scenes. I have seen fires becoming slowly more intense with ever increasing risks to community and firefighters.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison surveys the bushfire situation in New South Wales and Queensland during a visit to the Australian Government Crisis co-ordination Centre in Canberra. Picture: AAP Image/Lukas Coch
Prime Minister Scott Morrison surveys the bushfire situation in New South Wales and Queensland during a visit to the Australian Government Crisis co-ordination Centre in Canberra. Picture: AAP Image/Lukas Coch

While we always had big fires, the fires we see today are vastly more dangerous to the point that I am very cautious as to who I send into a fire and exactly what I ask them to do.

As a Zone Group Officer, with the safety of 2,500 volunteers on my shoulders, I need to know that there are good odds of my crews making it home safely when I send them onto the fire grounds.

I need to know that kids won't be left without parents, and parents without children. I need to know that the people elected to represent their best interests are not adding fuel to the flames.

Because in 2019, unlike in 1979, I can no longer say 'she'll be right mate'.

Peter Holding is a farmer in Harden NSW, volunteer firefighter and Farmers for Climate Action supporter.



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