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Smoko The Saviour Has Returned

For the past several weeks there have been dramatic and intense bushfires in Australia, especially in New South Wales. It has affected almost fourfive million hecatres, has destroyed approximately 2500 houses, has resulted in a (thankfully few) eleven deaths. The Prime Minister has only just announced that he'll be cutting his holiday in Hawaii short and returning to Australia to respond to the crisis and that he "deeply regrets" any offense caused by his absence, comparing it to taking an extra plumbing contract instead of picking up the kids. This is, of course, the same Scott Morrison, who brought a lump of coal into parliament, cradling his pet rock and earnestly declaring that we shouldn't be scared of it.

Morrison was here for what can now be considered the early days of Australi's 2019-2020 fire season. As the initial houses burned and fatalities occurred he offered "thoughts and prayers". Apparently with no minders checking his tweets and the expenditure on an empathy consultant not helping, he followed up a few days later with:

"Going to be a great summer of cricket, and for our firefighters and fire-impacted communities, Iā€™m sure our boys will give them something to cheer for."

The statement was insane and stood in stark juxtaposition as NSW woman Toni Doherty rescued a badly burnt koala from the midst of a bushfire, tearing off her shirt in the rescue. Sadly the koala didn't make it, and had to be euthanased; the burns were just too great.

It stood out as a textbook example of "the banality of evil", as coined by Hannah Arendt's famous essay "Eichman in Jerusalem", where one person is talking about happy and trivial distractions, such as the pleasures of a cricket game, in a situation where people (and non-human animals) have lost their homes and lives in a bushfire. One person showed natural empathy and engaged in direct action. The other wanted the public relations problem of reality to go away.

Shortly afterward, when asked if climate change was a factor in the intensity of the fires - a position agreed by climate scientists - the New South Walkes premier responded with "Honestly, not today", not even wanting to discuss the issue. Not to be outdone, the Deputy Prime Minister described who did try to make the empirical link as "the ravings of some pure, enlightened and woke capital city greenies". Because apparently in these days the considered opinion of the scientific community has become politically partisan and in contrast to scientific facts, others might have "alternative facts". To their credit, at least the NSW environment minister has acknowledged the role of climate change.

As Sydney was covered in smoke, well above recommended health limits, the Prime Minister rejected suggestions that the Federal government could do more to help firefighters, especially volunteer firefights who he said "want to be there", as deperate volunteers turned to crowdfunding for equipment. An announcement has been made for extra cash for the National Aerial Firefighting Centre, but with exception of extended leases, the proposed future purchases will not help the immediate situation. It must be mentioned that multiple attempts were made to convince the Prime Minister of this expenditure several months prior.

Then, as the fires got worse, the Prime Minister went on holiday. Now, of course, it is a person's right to go on holiday as they please. But when one is a leader of a country, perhaps a little bit more responsibility and action are expected. Especially when the same person condemned the Victorian Police Commissioner Christine Nixon for going out to dinner during the Black Saturday bushfires. The Herald-Sun even made it a front-page issue. The Prime Minister's actions compares very badly in comparison to previous leaders, across the political spectrum, and especially to Kevin Rudd, who almost immediately mobilsed the army and established a relief fund. The marketing genius behind a poorly-received Australian tourism slogan, suddenly found themselves on the receiving end of their own campaign: #wherethebloodyhellareya

For his own part, opposition leader Anthony Albanese went out to serve firefighters breakfast and announced that volunteers should receive some compensation for their efforts. The Prime Minister disagrees, despite the fact that these people, literally putting their life on the line, are being provided with "not much", even in terms of leave provisions. In contrast, the Prime Minister argues that compensation is not a priority.

In what looks like an attempt to divert criticism, the Federal government has now announced a probe into state government policy, which it has actually done before, primarily looking at land management practices and the need for a more direct federal role. Members of the Federal government have already made some ludicrous contributions, with the Deputy Prime Minister linking the fires to self-combusting manure or even, as the former Deputy Prime Minister has done blaming God due to our lack of reverence.

The cause of fires is extremely well-known; heat, fuel, and an oxidising agent. Removing the latter is not really an option, so we are left with heat and fuel. Land management and greater Federal co-ordination, the government's preferred policy approach, can help but avoids the more critical issue of heat. Everything is fuel if it's hot enough, and Australia's leadership when it comes to climate policy is sorely lacking. But this, of course, fits the funding model for the "COALition", as they are sometimes refereed (although fossil fuel companies donate almost equally to the LNP and Labor). Supported by the fossil fuel industry, skeptical of anthropic climate change, and opposed to compensation for fire-fighting volunteers; this is the dangerous response of the Australian government to the ever-increasing quantity and intensity of Australia's forest fires.

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