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A firefighter wanted to discuss the climate change elephant in the room

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A firefighter wanted to discuss the climate change elephant in the room


“Let’s not forget we were in that place,” he said.

“Not only was it bipartisan, but it was across the Federation. And we were ready to make a very strong move. Unfortunately, Malcolm Turnbull lost his job by a single vote the day before the Senate was to pass the bill. The rest is history.”

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And what a history it is, leading us to this week’s clashes between the climate sceptics of the right and those of us who believe the evidence of our own eyes. Most notably, this pitted deputy PM Michael McCormack against Greens MP Adam Bandt, with McCormack describing climate change concerns as the obsession of “raving inner-city lunatics”.

On Q&A, this imbroglio set Labor panellist Mark Butler off on a confusing expedition in search of the moral high ground. Once found, it proved to be endlessly slippery.

This will come as deeply shocking to anyone who has been paying attention to the modern Labor Party, but Butler wanted to have it every which way. He began by proclaiming himself the voice of civility, the man who would not get down in the gutter with the conservative and Greens riff-raff during the bushfire crisis.

“I think that’s a betrayal of so many people who are putting their lives at risk to save other Australians,” Butler said.

“These are good people. Adam Bandt and Michael McCormack care deeply for their community but let’s put the politics aside while the country is facing this sort of emergency.”

The “good-people-on-both-sides” argument is an epidemic, but it will only get you so far. And it got Mark Butler nowhere when the discussion turned, as it inevitably did, to the necessary debate over political gridlock that has hamstrung climate change policy for a decade.

Having declared himself above the party political stoush, what was he to do when the time came to deliver the justified critique of his opponents – such as when NSW Liberal MP Jason Falinski celebrated the Coalition’s alleged progress?

Falinski: “In Australia we have managed through good luck, good management to actually reduce our emissions, our trend line is down, our energy prices are coming down and we do, we have actually made progress in this area.”

Butler: “Am I in an upside-down world?”

Tony Jones: “You may well be.”

When you contort yourself like that, upside-down world is where you’re bound to end up.

Still, no one was swearing – not even those frontline heroes Butler wanted us to celebrate but who themselves wanted to discuss the elephant in the room.

This, from audience member James Lavery: “I’m a firefighter. My question is in regard to the ongoing cuts to front-line fire services across the country, including here in our state of NSW. How do you see both federal and state governments’ role in properly funding fire services and responding to our prediction things will get worse, particularly in the context of growing threat of climate change?”

Firefighter James Lavery wanted to know why the PM hadn't met with fire chiefs.

Firefighter James Lavery wanted to know why the PM hadn’t met with fire chiefs.Credit:Q&A

This kicked off a discussion of the Prime Minister’s failure to meet with a heavyweight group of former emergency services chiefs, despite their request earlier this year to discuss climate change and the bushfire danger.

Jones: “Do you think the PM should meet those 23 fire chiefs who have tried to meet him in April and again in September with the idea of a warning him that precisely this sort of thing would happen?”

Falinski: “I don’t know why the PM hasn’t met with those fire chiefs. He’s a very busy person.”

Jones: “Should he meet them?”

Falinski: “At this point that’s a decision for him. Yeah, look, I think that at least the minister … should take the time to meet with them, hear from them. I understand that meeting’s under way.”

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And then back to James Lavery the firefighter.

Jones: “What is it that professional firefighters are seeing that’s happening and why are you guys in particular focused on the climate change issue?”

Lavery: “Well, we have noticed over the last few years … the fires are getting worse. The resources that we have, they’re not there. We need more firefighters on the ground. And to be honest, without more firefighters on the ground, these things will continue to happen.”

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