MUNGO MACCALLUM. Proud to be dumb.

David Littleproud has a somewhat unwieldy title – Minister for Water Resources, Drought, Rural Finance, Natural Disasters and Emergency Management. But, keeping it simple, he is happy to live up to his name: he knows very little, and is bloody  well proud about it.

Asked whether the calamitously early bushfire season might have something to do with man-made climate change, Littleproud responded cheerfully: “I’ve no idea…. I’m not a scientist, I haven’t an opinion one way or the other…. I don’t have an opinion but I don’t think it really matters”.

If his insouciance meant anything, it seemed to suggest that as long as the taxpayers were prepared to go on funding the results of his ignorance, he was doing his job; and although he scrambled back later to admit that perhaps the scientists who overwhelmingly believe in the reality of man-made climate change might have a point, it was still nothing to do with him – nothing to see here, move along please.

In fact those on the front line – the worried residents of rural communities and of course the firefighters themselves – think it matters quite a lot. As they put it, climate change may not have lit the match, but it is making things a lot more difficult.

And there will be worse to come: there is pressure to bring the fire danger season forward from October to September, and perhaps extend it further into Autumn. Similarly, the drought may not have been the direct trigger for climate change, but its severity and longevity cannot be denied.

The rivers are literally drying up and the only solutions offered are beyond absurd. Water is already being diverted to supply thirsty townships, and the latest idea seems to be to switch the rivers off entirely – to cancel the normal flushing entirely.

This is risibly described as allowing nature to take its course. If this was truly the motive, presumably the proponents would advocate shutting out the irrigation pumps and canals, opening the dams and letting the rivers run.

But of course this is not the plan – it is pure self interest. Understandable, in the desperate plight some find themselves, but hardly sensible policy, even in the short turn. If the rivers die, so surely will those who depend on them. And even without artificial aid, climate change is surely, and not so slowly, diminishing them to critical levels.

So Littleproud’s solution? Give the country the tools to adjust – by which he apparently means keep pouring out the drought relief and praying for rain in the delusion that once the drought breaks, we can all get back to normal. The point is that normal has changed: the new norm is hotter, drier and longer droughts, harsher conditions all round.

And the old Murray-Darling Basin Plan, whose report Littleproud has not yet read (“there are 750 pages, nearly, to read. It would be very pre-emptive to make any assumptions from me” – far too many difficult words for a National minister) is clearly now obsolete – if it ever had any integrity left after Littleproud’s predecessor, the unlamented Barnaby Joyce, had rorted it to the point of extinction.

So Littleproud is resigned to the likelihood that there is really nothing he can do except watch on: “And let me brace you all, these disasters will happen again. That is the way of nature. But let me say, these water managers had to make a decision about the use of  that water, the use of the water that would evaporate. Ag science will tell you that if you leave water out in the hot sun it will evaporate.“

Well yes, and especially if you don’t keep it flowing.  And obviously allowing absentee landlords to  speculate and hoard what water remains in the hope of accumulating windfall profits is not helping either. So when all the rivers run dry, what is plan B – or even plan A, for that matter?

For Littleproud and his colleagues, there just isn’t one – it is all too hard. And the grim reality is that it is probably too late anyway – years, decades of neglect have meant that the damage has been done and may be irretrievable. Even the incorrigible optimists are starting to give up.

Labor stalwarts are now talking about ditching their ambitious aim of a 45 per cent cut in emissions by 2030, because there is no longer sufficient time to implement it within their self-imposed deadline; they had expected to be in government by now, but even if they win in 2022, time is running out. There is still a hope – and it is no more than that – that net zero emissions by 2050 remains achievable.

But this is the kind of pie-in-the-sky stuff which Littleproud espouses. What is need, as the firefighters and the increasing number of Australians now directly threatened by climate change realise, is immediate action. And there is absolutely no prospect that they are going to get it.

ScoMo keeps blathering on about what is really important to hard-working Australians — lower taxes, keeping more money in their pockets, deporting asylum seekers, wedging opponents and pretending that everything is just hunky-dory as long as he is there as their miraculous messiah. His vision is, always has been and always will be, limited to the next election.

The position embraced by our leader and its party is that because the voters – or at least a sizeable majority of them – believe in climate change, the government has to pretend it does too. Most of it doesn’t, and in any case it has no intention of doing anything about it.

The catechism is one of serial denial. Climate change isn’t happening – it’s fake news, invented by sinister socialists attempting to overthrow elected governments to make more money for themselves. But if by some chance climate change could be real, it is certainly not man-made – the race is too puny to influence the massive forces of nature, ordained by God. But if some portions of it are actually anthropogenically induced, no problem, technology will solve everything. But if, regrettably, it doesn’t, we can always adapt to the consequences. And if we can’t, well, God will provide.

Or perhaps not. Either way, there will be even less reason for David Littleproud to boast of his ignorance and impotence.

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Mungo MacCallum is a veteran political journalist and commentator. His books include Run Johnny Run, Poll Dancing, and Punch and Judy.

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