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Australia Scott Morrison should listen when top fire chiefs call him out on climate change

02:00  15 november  2019
02:00  15 november  2019 Source:   abc.net.au

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Scott Morrison doesn't see climate change as a central issue for the Government, but when the nation's top fire chiefs call him out he should listen , writes Michelle Grattan. Five former fire chiefs have urged Scott Morrison to take more action on climate change . (ABC News: Mark Moore).

When five former fire chiefs held a news conference on Thursday to urge the Federal Government to take more action on climate change , it was a challenging moment for Scott Morrison . Those who fronted the cameras represented a group of 21 men and two women, who make up the Emergency

When five former fire chiefs held a news conference on Thursday to urge the Federal Government to take more action on climate change, it was a challenging moment for Scott Morrison.© ABC News Images When five former fire chiefs held a news conference on Thursday to urge the Federal Government to take more action on climate change, it was a challenging moment for Scott Morrison. When five former fire chiefs held a news conference on Thursday to urge the Federal Government to take more action on climate change, it was a challenging moment for Scott Morrison.

Those who fronted the cameras represented a group of 21 men and two women, who make up the Emergency Leaders for Climate Action. These people have led fire and emergency services all around the nation.

They're powerful voices, because they are advocates with compelling experience and expertise.

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bushfire climate change firefighters nsw scott morrison . When five former fire chiefs held a news conference on Thursday to urge the federal government to take more action on This should be broadly defined. Put aside the Extinction Rebellion, which may alienate more people than it persuades.

The prime minister, Scott Morrison , says he will focus on ‘resilience and adaptation’ measures to address climate change rather than bolstering However, he rejected the argument that the bushfire crisis should prompt a major rethink on climate change policy in the same way that the Port Arthur

The group's messages are that we're in "a new age of unprecedented bushfire danger", climate change is the key reason things are getting worse, and the Government needs to respond with more resources and a better policy to reduce emissions and move to clean energy.

The problem is, as group founder Greg Mullins, former Fire and Rescue NSW commissioner, put it succinctly, "this Government fundamentally doesn't like talking about climate change".

The devastating fires are a dramatic additional element intensifying the pressure on a Government already increasingly on the back foot over climate change, as it responds poorly to a complex set of policy problems.

It's not that Morrison denies climate change. It's that he refuses to acknowledge it as a central issue, either because he doesn't see it as such or because he fears provoking his right-wingers.

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Scott Morrison has rejected criticism of the Coalition’s climate change policies amid the ongoing bushfire crisis, as a growing number of MPs privately concede that the government needs to do more to match the rising tide of concern over the issue. As firefighters continued to battle out -of-control

Morrison has faced growing anger and frustration from the public as the fires continue to spiral out of " Morrison took a very decisive stance against climate change policy in the election campaign in He hasn't been listening to his voters. This is not what a Prime Minister should be doing," said

When five former fire chiefs held a news conference on Thursday to urge the Federal Government to take more action on climate change, it was a challenging moment for Scott Morrison.© ABC News Images When five former fire chiefs held a news conference on Thursday to urge the Federal Government to take more action on climate change, it was a challenging moment for Scott Morrison.

Scott Morrison must consider these three factors

Consider three factors now weighing on Morrison:

1. Activism In Australia (as internationally) activism is rising. This should be broadly defined.

Put aside the Extinction Rebellion, which may alienate more people than it persuades. Rather, include in the definition the many companies now factoring climate change into their planning, investment and public statements.

Morrison might rail against activists hitting resource companies via secondary boycotts, and commentators might denounce so-called "woke" behaviour by business. But the long view indicates a tide is running here and its direction is clear.

2. Poor policy

Second, there is a general recognition the Government's climate policy is badly wanting. Emissions are rising. Its modest centrepiece — a fund paying for projects to reduce or capture emissions — isn't doing the job. The fund's limitations were tacitly acknowledged when recently the Government set up a panel that sought submissions on how it could be enhanced.

More broadly, the Government's lack of a coherent energy policy means continued uncertainty for investors.

3. Is Angus Taylor right for the job? Third, Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor has frustrated those in the energy sector and the states.

He's too confrontational and short on people skills (in contrast to predecessor Josh Frydenberg).

His cheap shot accusing the Sydney City Council of ludicrous travel costs blew into a major embarrassment.

Next Friday, Taylor will again be under scrutiny when he meets the states at the COAG energy council. The last meeting, nearly a year ago, turned into a nasty stoush between Taylor and the NSW minister.

If Taylor's performance doesn't improve in the next few months, Morrison — who will be the one eventually carrying the can for policy failure — surely should move him.

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RFS firefighters prepare to fight fire -spotting at the Three Mile Fire on the NSW Central Coast on Tuesday. Photograph: Sam Mooy/Getty Images. Morrison also rejected calls by the opposition and by his predecessor, Malcolm Turnbull, for a nationally coordinated response to the fires .

‘ Scott Morrison has taken the view that saying he believes in climate change is enough to avoid any suggestion that he is in fact a climate change denier.’ The problem however is that the government’s intransigence on climate change is not something that can just be forgotten should they lose the

It would be interesting to see how (say) a Simon Birmingham or a Mathias Cormann would go in the portfolio. Better, you'd think.

It's no time to play politics It was no wonder Morrison wanted to contain partisan argument while the fires rage.

It's a reasonable view for a prime minister to take, with a basis in past practice, but was also politically driven.

Morrison has been assisted in this by Labor, despite the ALP recently voting in Parliament (without success) for a "climate emergency" to be declared.

Anthony Albanese believed there was no gain in seeking to score points during a disaster, and danger in doing so.

But a moratorium, although mostly adhered to by Liberal and ALP federal politicians, was never going to happen more generally.

Indeed some people, like the retired fire chiefs, judged this was precisely the moment to press their point.

It was predictable the Greens would strike hard; climate is core ground for them.

But that Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack would take the bait, leaping in to condemn "the ravings of some pure enlightened and woke capital city greenies", showed a lack of discipline, probably in part a reflection of the strain the Nationals leader is under as he tries to manage a difficult party room.

Some believed McCormack was playing to his base.

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Scott Morrison has been labelled “ out of touch” for angrily condemning a national student strike to protest government inaction on climate change . “ When young people try to have a voice in politics, Scott Morrison is shutting them down, yet he’s happy to listen to the coal lobby and big corporations

A firefighter penned a letter to Scott Morrison urging for action on bush fires . A small-town firefighter has written a powerful letter calling on Scott Morrison to acknowledge the impact ' When my pager goes off in the middle of a hot, blustery severe fire danger day and I have to rush off to a

If so, he'd only be talking to part of it, most notably those with an eye to the coal industry. Many farmers are very aware, first-hand, of the impact of the changing climate.

Labor's demographic dilemma After its election loss, there's been much talk about how Labor is caught between its dual constituencies on climate — inner-city progressives versus traditional suburban workers.

But the Liberals face their own dilemma, which could deepen as the issue amps up in the electorate.

We have seen over many years the split within the Liberal party, and the very high costs it has extracted. As Morrison assesses how to pitch to voters in the future, he might have to be careful of straining internal unity.

Over coming months, the fires' impact on public opinion will presumably be measured in the focus groups through which the Government hears its "quiet Australians".

More immediately, Morrison won't be able to escape a response when this crisis passes. His moratorium will make expectations greater.

Time for an armistice? John Connor was formerly chief executive of the now-defunct Climate Institute, which commissioned from the CSIRO a 2007 research paper — that turned out to be prescient — on the link between climate and bushfires, titled Bushfire Weather in South-East Australia: Recent Trends and Projected Climate Change Impacts.

Connor, who now heads the Carbon Market Institute (which describes itself as a peak industry body for climate action and business) suggests the current situation provides the opportunity for an "armistice" — a chance to build a platform on the middle ground for the climate debate.

One step, Connor said, would be for the Government to establish a parliamentary inquiry to examine the growing risk climate change presents for the fire scene and the resources required for the future.

"It could be a stepping stone to a more mature debate about carbon policy for the broader economy," Connor said, although he admits he is "a professional optimist".

The Government's former drought coordinator, Stephen Day, wrote in his report, finally released last week: "As a consequence of climate change drought is likely to be more regular, longer in duration, and broader in area."

What's striking about Day's observation is how matter-of-fact it is.

Climate change is stated as a reality from which other considerations flow. The same reality applies to bushfires.

It also applies to the need to move the economy to a new energy mix and net zero emissions by 2050.

Michelle Grattan is a professorial fellow at the University of Canberra and chief political correspondent at The Conversation, where this article first appeared.

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