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Issue #1893      November 6, 2019

Climate Change: more severe bushfires droughts and floods

These weather conditions have been steadily increasing in frequency and severity since the time of Invasion Day on the January 26, 1788.

With this federal Coalition government, who are enchanted with coal and chock-a-block with climate change sceptics, plus the opposition acting like wobbly jellies on the subject, there is a critical need for continued public action demanding change to the current ruinous path.

History has shown

Major bushfires have occurred and caused considerable damage, destroying lives, property and the eco system. Black Thursday in 1851, in Victoria where an estimated 5 million hectares were burnt, followed by another on Red Tuesday in February 1891 in South Gippsland when about 260,000 hectares were burnt, 12 people died, and more than 2,000 buildings were destroyed.

This deadly pattern continued

Dorothea Mackellar’s poem published in 1908, My Country, endures with its “wide brown land” evoking “flood and fire and famine” and that “pitiless blue sky”.

Major bushfires on Black Sunday, February 14, 1926 saw the tally rise to 60 lives being lost and widespread damage to farms, homes and forests.

Prone to weather patterns

Australia is commonly regarded as being extremely prone to damaging bushfires. Much of eastern Victoria and alpine parts of NSW are remote, mountainous and inaccessible, with bushfires often caused by multiple lightning strikes which can grow quickly in size. Climate drivers have affected the variability of Australia’s fire weather and lower than average rainfall. The bushfire seasons are commencing much earlier and finishing later.

Bushfire experience

Experience has consistently shown that early detection and aggressive early attack is the key to keeping bushfires small and gives the best chance for control. In September and October this year, bushfires ravaged properties in the Granite Belt, Queensland’s cool climate country where farmers were already battling drought conditions with shortages of water. It’s been a big blow to the local community estimated at $60 million less in economic activity.

Homes were destroyed by bushfires burning in northern NSW and about 40 fires were reported burning across the state, many out of control.

Reliance on firefighting aircraft

All the states now rely heavily on expensive firefighting aircraft. After Black Saturday in 2009 it was reported to the Royal Commission that the Sikorsky S-64 (Elvis) air crane cost $20,000 a day to keep on standby plus an additional $11,000 a day to operate. Fuel was a significant cost with the aircraft consuming about 2,000 litres per hour. Whereas, smaller reconnaissance helicopters such as Euro copter AS350 proved cheaper, costing about $1,500 per day on standby and $1,000 more to operate. The overall cost of having a fleet on standby for the 2008-09 financial year was $18 million plus an additional $16 million in operating charges. An enjoyable profit for private aircraft operators.

The National Fleet of aircraft is hired

The responsibility for bushfire suppression, and therefore aircraft use, rests with the each state and territories government. The National Aerial Firefighting Centre (NAFC) was formed in July 2003 to coordinate national arrangements for contracting and sharing valuable firefighting aircraft. The national fleet comprises approximately 130 contracted fixed-wing, helicopters and large air tankers which supplement many state-owned and state-contracted aircraft to meet peak demand across Australia, making up more than 500 aircraft, provided by over 150 operators.

Why should private operators of firefighting aircraft make huge profits from a vital service when it could be performed by the RAAF? Our air force has the expertise in maintenance and pilots. Profits should never be made out of people’s disasters, it’s immoral.

Hired drones used for monitoring

Remotely controlled Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) (also called drones) were hired by Emergency Management Victoria and the Department of Environment Land, Water and Planning in 2016 to test their effectiveness as a low cost means to gather intelligence on bushfires, planned burns and floods. Drones fitted with infrared cameras were used at Rosedale in January 2019 to detect hot spots during mopping-up operations. More drones should be utilised in bushfires for information gathering and dropping fire pellets for back-burning operations instead of putting helicopter crews at risk and ground crews exposed to the carcinogenic bushfire smoke.

Bushfire and coastal flooding insurance?

Insurance issues are being considered in the light of climate change and the increased risks of bushfires and coastal flooding. Many areas prone to bushfires or coastal flooding will be uninsurable. After all, insurance companies have never been remotely benevolent societies. Already some insurance policies exclude damage from bushfires and floods.

Built into premiums in all policies are: the cost of their multi-story buildings, staff wages, chief executive officer and board members plus bonuses, motor vehicles, and significant returns for shareholders. Premiums will inevitably rise to protect profits. State governments have sold off publicly owned insurance companies, even compulsory vehicle insurance so that the market can make even bigger profits.

How do we get our policies to the people?

The capitalist mass media have always deprived the CPA of oxygen, because we challenge the capitalist system by promoting socialism. Other parties receive coverage because they work within the capitalist system and “advocate changing the rules” to tinker with changes which do nothing substantial to change workers’ exploitation. The national and multinational companies are continually increasing wealth for bankers, financial speculators, insurance companies and big business executives.

Organisations such as Lock the Gate, Get-Up, and the Greens have made good use of communication technology to connect with members and supporters. Our party needs to exploit this option and all other technology that can promote our policies. There has never been a more urgent need to put before the people a true alternative to the capitalist system.

Next article – Opposition mounts to union-busting bills

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