Bushfires: Time to Focus on Recovery
The tumult and the shouting are dying down and now the authorities have to focus on the recovery.
The first issue to be resolved is whether to hold a royal commission or some other form of inquiry into the fires. At the moment the Victorian and Western Australian Governments are opposed to a royal commission and would prefer any review to be conducted within Council of Australian Governments (COAG).
The difference between these two approaches is that the public gets to have a say if there is a royal commission whereas if it is confined to COAG then only governments will be involved in the review. The Victorian Emergency Management Commissioner, Andrew Crisp, told the media that a royal commission was unnecessary because they already knew everything they needed to know from the Black Saturday Royal Commission.
But people are saying that these fires are unprecedented so there must be new data to be examined. These go beyond fire behavior to wildlife protection, tourism, land management and use of defence forces.
Scott Morrison wants a royal commission because he believes that it will show that the Commonwealth’s response was the correct one and the argument that it was ‘too little, too late’ is simply political rhetoric. The state governments are happy for the Commonwealth to cop all the blame because that will deflect blame away from them.
Beside this there is an immediate measure that needs to be taken. Someone needs to tell international celebrities to shut up about the bush fires. As Cate Blanchett, Nicole Kidman and Ellen De Generes breathlessly told people all over the world, watching the Golden Globes, that Australia was on fire because of climate change, tens of thousands of would be tourists were cancelling their plans to travel here. As a consequence the economy is about to suffer a major hit. It would be much more useful if some of them announced their intention to visit as a way of demonstrating that there were vast areas of Australia yhat were still open for business.
Meanwhile there is a new political problem on the horizon that governments will have to deal with sooner rather than later. Conservationists are pointing out that vast areas of native wildlife habitat have been destroyed and this threatens the future of some species of plants, animals and birds. The ecologists say that in the circumstances every piece of remnant bush is precious including that which is close to houses that were threatened or destroyed. Some conservationists are even arguing that state governments should resume properties that are close to wildlife habitats or are indefensible.
On the other hand farmers and householders are demanding that containment lines should be created around properties and fuel loads reduced through burning and scrub clearing. This would significantly reduce the habitat range of plants and animals that are already under stress.
This is a no win situation for governments. If they opt for the property owners then they will be hit with a social media tsunami demanding they defend the cuddly koala. If they support the conservationists then there will be howls of outrage from property owners who will defect to fringe parties like One Nation and the Shooters and Fishers.
Of course the issue of climate change hovers in the background but at a government level most politicians realise that even if Australia had a zero emission economy they would still have to deal with extreme drought and bushfires.