MUNGO MACCALLUM.- A Tin Eared Prime Minister

For the last three months the headlines have been dominated by bushfires, and the grim prospect is that this will continue for at least another three months to come.

Unprecedented, obviously – to all but the deliberately perverse. The latest line from the deniers and refuseniks is that sure, the bushfires are less than desirable, but hey, we’ve always had bushfires and we always will.

We can rely on no greater authority of Dorothea Mackellar, who has now been resurrected as a climate scientists – she called Australia a sunburnt country of droughts and flooding rains, so just suck it up, cupcakes.

And her droughts (forget about the flooding rains for the moment) were worse than our droughts – they led to more fires, more damage, more loss of life. Why, the Victorian Black Saturday holocaust of 1939 killed 71 people and burnt some 2 million hectares.

Then even our Queen, sheltered safely in her fastnessses on the other side of the world, sent a telegram of commiseration – a courtesy she had not extended at the time of writing. So this time we have got out relatively lightly – some deaths to date, although far less than the scores that were feared, and lots of destruction, but even that not on the scale the pessimists predicted.

We should be relieved and grateful. Well, sure, and we are. But the comparison is utterly misleading.

Communications, technology and fire fighting innovations have changed a bit over the last 80 years. We have been forced to become both faster and more efficient in our responses, and it this, not some irrational claim that the fires have somehow become less severe, have saved us from worse losses.

In fact the fires have become longer, hotter, more widespread and far more regular – just as the scientists have always told us they would. However, after bitter experience we have become more prepared. The internet, for all its drawbacks, has proved an unparalleled method of issuing instant and near-universal warnings of danger, the need to get ready for the worst and evacuate when necessary. And our irreplaceable ABC has been constantly on the job updating information and providing succour and advice.

Fire fighting remains a mix of professionals and volunteers, but both teams are now far better trained and resourced than they used to be. Water bombing, once considered a rare, ,expensive and often risky last resort, are now, if not quite routine, certainly a normal and effective part of the job.

Cooperation between all tiers of government – federal, state and local – has been vastly improved. And. somewhat belatedly and reluctantly, the armed forces have become involved in logistics at least, if not on the front line. Obviously we are neither fireproof nor foolproof, and probably will never become either. But as the disasters increase – as they will – we holding back the worst of the onslaught.

The problem remains that we will have to keep doing better, year after dreadful year. It’s not a solution — it’s a palliative, one which may offer some comfort, but will not heal the afflictions,, let alone offer hope that they might be alleviated altogether.

The best Scott Morrison and his climate sceptics can offer is a form of stoicism – last week we were repeatedly adjured to remain calm and steadfast, to look after each other and trust the authorities – meaning, basically, him. And, of course, pray for rain – the flooding rains, the drumming of the army Mackellar remembered.

But, as events have shown, that drumming is becoming far more of an exception than a rule. Drought is pretty much the norm in large parts of Australia, and while there will be areas which will escape – and even prosper — as a result of climate change, vast tracts on which we relied for providing our food, both locally produced and for export, are going to be all but unviable.

The government’s solution, as demanded by the beleaguered Nationals, is to try and buy itself out of trouble – more compensation, more subsidies. And obviously the farmers and graziers, having been assured for a couple of centuries that successive governments would look after them, have every right to expect help. But they would also like something like a plan, some hope that somewhere, somehow, someone is in charge and, if not ready with a silver bullet, can at least shown an ability to find his arse with both hands.

Which brings us back to the tin-eared ScoMo. Having returned from his family sojourn in Hawaii, the prime minister urged his quiet voters to celebrate, to fling themselves into new year festivities with mammoth fireworks displays, even in places where a total fire ban had ben imposed to ordinary mortals. Business as usual – pyrotechnics have proved to be hugely profitable, especially for those in Sydney.

Even the state National leader, John Barilaro, found that a touch crass and insensitive, but Morrison was unfazed – we mustn’t become depressed just because our homes are burning and our friends being killed. So watching a couple of tonnes of cordite explode on television is just the fillip needed.

And then, back to the real fire front – not that the exhausted fire fighters and their potential victims had ever left it. And they are unlikely to be assuaged by another distraction emanating from those determined to play down the ongoing catastrophe. This is the sudden realisations that some of the fires were probably deliberately lit – arsonists may have been involved. And a few may have been, although most flare ups are more likely to have been caused by badly extinguished camp fires, lightning strikes, electrical faults, even tossers who still throw their lighted cigarettes out of car windows.

And anyway it hardly matters – they still have to be put out. But the implication is that the fires, like everything else that goes wrong in the best country in the world, can be blamed by greenie lefty latte sippers intent on – well, what? Elevating the great climate change conspiracy to new height of evil? Very likely – after all, they are the ones who oppose massive burning off in the increasingly rare intervals when nature is not doing it for them.

Presumably that this is yet another escalation of the culture wars, a ramping up from the identity politics of the lunar right in which ideology – their ideology – will always be more important than science, logic and common sense. And of course, it provides a few more headlines anti-green diatribes for the Murdoch media. And that, perhaps, is the most important thing of all.


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14 Responses to MUNGO MACCALLUM.- A Tin Eared Prime Minister

  1. Michael Butler says:

    I’m not sure if you’re being sarcastic when you say of the Greens:
    “they are the ones who oppose massive burning off in the increasingly rare intervals when nature is not doing it for them”
    But if you aren’t, then you’re incorrect. The Greens do support backburning (clearance burning, whatever the right term is), per their website (
    “Hazard reduction, including manual, mechanical and hazard reduction burning activities should be strategically planned to protect the community and vulnerable assets while minimising the adverse impacts of these activities on the environment”.
    As a side note, I think the Greens are amazing. They’re not in power federally or in any state, but they’re calling the shots on policy and operations. Quite a trick.

  2. Allan Kessing says:

    There has been some rain, though not enough, ovr the south east – let’s hope that SmoKo doesn’t claim it as proof of the efficacy of his prayers.
    Anyone care to give odds that with his penchant for a cunning stunt (no Spoonerism intended) he doesn’t try?
    PS. Dorothea Mackellar wrote her poem, originally called “Core of My Heart”, as a homesick 19yr old in London which the first verse – rarely cited – shows.
    The love of field and coppice,
    Of green and shaded lanes.
    Of ordered woods and gardens
    Is running in your veins,
    Strong love of grey-blue distance
    Brown streams and soft dim skies
    I know but cannot share it,
    My love is otherwise.

  3. Graham English says:

    …and you could leave out one of the commas in line 17. “Well, sure, and we are.”
    Big deal!

  4. Alison Broinowski says:

    Fortunately, we didn’t see the fireworks. Most people in the fire zones had no power, tv or internet so we cancelled our NYE events, lit candles, and read books.

  5. Rob Stewart says:

    Come on Mungo, you know that the current fires aren’t real, just like climate change they’ve been blown way out of proportion. And the internet and GPS isn’t real either, showing all those make believe fires on those supposed “fire alert” apps. It’s all a greenie/pinko conspiracy by do gooder leftists, deliberately trying to undermine the magnificent, wonderful awe inspiring performance of the Government. Give Scomo a break. The people love him – I know this is true because he says so. How good is the cricket!!

  6. Wayne McMillan says:

    Good to have you back Mungo well written piece.

  7. Paul Sullivn says:

    Unfortunately, we did indeed have a Queen in 1939, Queen Elizabeth was the Queen consort of King George VI until his death in 1952, after which she was known as Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother to avoid confusion with her daughter, Queen Elizabeth II.

  8. John Doyle says:

    “They” say we get the politicians we deserve. I remember from living in Italy that they got worse than they deserved, but with Morrison at the helm we have a new low. He is totally unsuited for the PM role. Certainly not a leader, and not even a follower he is just an idiot.

  9. Geoff Andrews says:

    On the question of global warming:

    “He who knows not,
    and knows not that he knows not,
    is a fool; shun him.

    He who knows not,
    and knows that he knows not,
    is a student; Teach him.

    He who knows,
    and knows not that he knows,
    is asleep; Wake him.

    He who knows,
    and knows that he knows,
    is Wise; Follow him.”

  10. Con Karavas says:

    Hi Mungo,

    Morrison has a coal ear, not a tin ear.

    Morrison’s and Frydenberg’s machinations out of government’s/party’s last meeting has been underwhelming.

    Spending the budget surplus and considering a bushfire royal commission!?

    A royal commission into bushfires, and would have to include climate change impact, will have the same effect on this government as the banking royal commission has – bugger all!

    What about some words on changes to emissions and climate change policies?

    They didn’t learn anything from Qld and Tasmanian 2018-19 summer fires and northern hemisphere 2019 summer fires about Arctic Circle.
    That was when the current tragedy started.
    Not in December when Morrison, McCormack and earlier Littleproud had their climate change acceptance pretend epiphanies. Pretend, because they then say under their breath, that it’s natural and not primarily caused by fossil fuels.

    As I said, Morrison has a coal ear.

    Poor fellow my planet,

  11. Michael Rogers says:

    When there’s a ‘king’ there can also be a ‘queen’ as their spouse. Noting however that when the Sovereign is female, although they are referred to as ‘queen’, they are technically, the ‘king’ as well.

    “The Queen and I are greatly distressed to hear of the loss of life. and damage to property caused in the state of Victoria by the disastrous forest fires. I should be glad if you would convey our deep sympathy to all those who have suffered either through the death of their relatives or the destruction of their homes.”

    George VI to Lord Huntingfield, Governor of Victoria – January 17 1939.

  12. Barry Thompson says:

    The black Saturday fires were in 2009.
    The fires of 1939 were on Black Friday. We did not have a Queen then.
    In the Black Saturday fires 173 people died.

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