Australians demonstrate against pro-bushfire government

Protesters march in Melbourne, Australia

From the World Socialist Web Site in Australia:

Australia: Thousands protest government inaction on bushfires and climate change

By our reporters

22 January 2020

On Saturday, several thousands of young people demonstrated in Melbourne, the Victorian state capital, in opposition to the official response to the ongoing bushfire crisis across the country.

The protests reflect the deep hostility and distrust that ordinary workers and youth have for successive Labor and Liberal-National coalition governments who have refused to act to mitigate bushfires or take any action on climate change, which is contributing to the severity of droughts and fire danger.

Like earlier rallies, the events were organised by Uni Students for Climate Justice …

Socialist Alternative’s Cormac Ritchard told the Melbourne rally: “If the Liberal MP who follows Morrison won’t [tackle climate change]—and they won’t—then we’ll sack them as well. And if the Labor Party government that comes in after them won’t do it—and they won’t—then we’ll sack them as well.” …

Kath Larkin

Socialist Alternative’s Kath Larkin—a leading figure in the Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU)—also spoke at the Melbourne rally. Larkin denounced the “so-called Labor opposition,” as well as the Morrison government

She singled out the United Workers’ Union … and the RTBU for their statements of support for the protest. …

In Melbourne, Socialist Equality Party (SEP) campaigners and World Socialist Web Site reporters found a warm response from workers and youth at the rally for a revolutionary, internationalist and socialist program.


Speaking with WSWS reporters, musician Josh said: “The government isn’t doing anything about the fires. ScoMo went to Hawaii and left us to burn. There wasn’t enough done to reduce the impacts of it. And they saw it coming for a long time and did nothing.” …

Jennifer (right)

Jennifer works in philanthropy and attended the rally with Mark, and daughter Rose. She said, “The government is not doing nearly enough. They’ve got a ridiculous position about climate change, complete denial, in bed with the coal industry. We vote against it whenever we can but it’s clearly not enough. So we want to keep sending a signal that we’re unhappy.”

Angie (left)

Victoria University nursing student Angie told the WSWS: “The fires are happening and the government doesn’t seem to be doing anything at all. You can only do so much raising money on social media. Climate change is real and it is going to have a terrible impact on future generations. It all comes down to money and how much they can make. But what is the point of improving economically if there isn’t going to be anywhere to live?”

Marcus (right)

Marcus noted that “the fires are definitely climate change-induced, I think we have to stand up to the government and actually demand that they do something. I think the response is focussing on emergency and disaster planning. I see that as a Band-Aid effect. I think you have to get to the root cause, and the root cause is climate change.”


High-school student Jessica, originally from New Zealand, said she thinks “climate change is the biggest issue we are facing. I think there is too much greed, and profit is prevalent. Once there is money and power—there’s too much. I think that climate change is not unconnected. Everything that happens has to take into account climate change. Social justice has to be tackled.”

Matt, from the outer-eastern Melbourne suburb of Boronia, told WSWS reporters: “The situation is getting worse. I don’t think politicians want to hear about this. In Australia we have a Prime Minister who brought in a lump of coal into the parliament. I vote Labor but I don’t think any of the parties have made climate change a priority. Even the Greens and independents do deals that do not assist this cause.”

Matt (centre)

Translator from Britain, Maddy, said: “I’m interested in the issue of climate change. I’ve read about it and it’s scary. I’ve come to realise that it’s an unavoidable symptom of the capitalist system which is based on exploitation and maximising profits, as if there are no consequences.

Maddy (right)

“It’s going to take a huge movement of people to change this. Political leaders are trying to appease business. I think that Scott Morrison is corrupt and the ALP still supports coal despite everything that has happened. In the UK the ruling party doesn’t take any actions on climate change.”

She added: “The way it is framed is that ordinary people have to keep making changes, but even if we recycled everything it wouldn’t stop climate change. This has to come from government policy.”

Australian bushfire smoke kills

This 17 January 2020 NASA video from the USA says about itself:

The local impacts of the Australian bushfires have been devastating to property and life in Australia while producing extreme air quality impacts throughout the region. As smoke from the massive fires has interacted with the global weather, the transport of smoke plumes around the globe has accelerated through deep vertical transport into the upper troposphere and even the lowermost stratosphere, leading to long-range transport around the globe. The smoke from these bushfires will travel across the Southern Ocean completing a global circumnavigation back around to Australia and is particularly pronounced across the southern Pacific Ocean out to South America.

By John Mackay in Australia:

Smoke haze from Australian bushfires pose serious public health threat

18 January 2020

Australia’s intense and prolonged bushfire crisis poses a significant public health threat, with major cities still experiencing unprecedented elevation in pollution.

Health experts continue to issue warnings about the negative effects of the high levels of air pollution. Australian Medical Association (AMA) president Dr Tony Bartone warned in a press release early this month that the duration and intensity of smoke exposure presents “a new and possibly fatal health risk that most of us have never faced before.”

The denser smoke haze and longer periods that people inhale it, Bartone said, means “there is a much higher risk that previously healthy people will face developing serious illness.” The AMA also stressed that respiratory health may not be the only health issue, predicting the mental health burden from the disaster on the community will be considerable.

The high level of smoke haze is unprecedented. Over the New Year period, air quality in Canberra, the national capital, reached 23 times the level considered hazardous and the worst rating to date in the city.

Canberra was registered as the worst polluted city in the world, beating Sarajevo in Bosnia Herzegovina, Lahore, Pakistan and New Delhi, India. The highest rating recorded was 5,185 on New Year’s Day, more than 25 times above the minimum hazard level of 200.

A few days before these high levels were reached, an elderly woman died after going into respiratory distress as she disembarked from a plane onto the tarmac at Canberra airport.

At its peak the poor air quality forced most of Canberra to shut down, including many businesses, shopping centres, the city’s museums and public galleries. Postal deliveries were cancelled. Canberra Hospital closed some medical and diagnostic procedures due to smoke impacting on the facility and equipment, such as medical resonance imaging (MRI) machines.

At Batemans Bay, 150 kms from Canberra, where hundreds of houses were incinerated on the New South Wales south coast, the concentration of smoke particles was nearly double that of Canberra.

In Sydney, Dr Tim Senior a General Practitioner who works at a medical clinic in the western suburb of Campbelltown, located not far from serious fires to the city’s south-west, told the ABC: “The smoke has hung around and there’s not been any relief.” We’re seeing more people coming in with respiratory symptoms—mainly coughing and a bit short of breath”

He also described how many people attending his clinic were suffering chest pain, sore eyes, runny noses and sore throats. However, it is not only patients with pre-existing conditions that have been affected. Dr Senior stated: “Some people who don’t have a history of asthma are feeling short of breath and [are] actually having to try using inhalers for the first time.”

When asked about how other communities are coping with the effects of poor air quality the doctor said: “I know it’s much, much worse for people I have spoken to down on the [NSW] south coast, where the capacity for [health] services to see people and handle their health problems has been really limited.” He continued: “It’s putting pressure on the healthcare system across a really broad area of Australia”.

The fine particulates from smoke from wildfires has been known to contain a mix of chemicals that are a concern to public health, such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, fine particulate matter, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and volatile organic compounds.

While some facemasks—such as P2 or N95—have been recommended as possibly helpful for those with existing lung disease, they have significant limitations in being able to provide complete protection and can make breathing more difficult.

A study published last year in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine revealed that inexpensive facemasks provided only limited protection against air pollution in Beijing, one of the world’s most polluted cities, due to poor facial fit. Masks that provide more comprehensive protection are bulky and more expensive.

Sotiris Vardoulakis, a professor of global health at the Australian National University, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC): “[T]he general message is we need to minimise exposure and there are different ways of doing that. On days with high air pollution, it’s better to spend more time indoors.”

Dr David Caldicott, a consultant emergency physician at the Calvary hospital in Canberra, told the media that there have been increased emergency admissions by elderly patients, asthmatics and those with other respiratory problems.

“The psychiatric element associated with the potential threat of fire,” Caldicott added, “is something that’s often forgotten when people are focusing on respiratory disease.” He also warned that staying indoors for extended periods can have a negative impact on mental health.

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has raised concerns about the high levels of air pollution on mothers and their unborn children. College president Dr Vijay Roach told the ABC: “Exposure to air pollution in pregnancy has been linked to increased rates of preterm birth, decreased birth weight, hypertensive disorders of pregnancy and gestational diabetes.”

Health experts are uncertain when the real extent of the effect of smoke exposure will present in the population.

Professor Bin Jalaludin from the Centre of Air Pollution, Energy and Health Policy research at the University of New South Wales told the Sydney Morning Herald: “What we’re finding now is that air pollution tends to affect all parts of the body… There is increasing evidence around air pollution and neurological conditions, for example Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s.”

In September last year, the AMA, in line with similar positions taken by both the American and the British Medical Associations, declared climate change a “health emergency.” It pointed to the “clear scientific evidence indicating severe impacts for our patients and communities now and into the future.” In 2015, the World Health Organisation stated that the evidence is “overwhelming” that climate change is the greatest threat to global health in the 21st century.

Dr Allison Hempenenstall of the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine recently told the Guardian newspaper that there was “a united strong voice” demanding government action. “[W]e need to push for governmental change, prioritising climate change policy which is something that the government isn’t doing at present… the health implications of climate change are only going to be fixed by addressing climate change itself.”

Consecutive Liberal and Labor governments have done little to address climate change and deliberately disregarded the warnings of more severe weather events. The parties of big business will continue to ignore the scientific evidence and demands by health experts to address climate change, for the same political reasons in order to defend the profit system.

The author also recommends:

Australian bushfire catastrophe exposes the contempt of the ruling elites for working people
[8 January 2020]

Australia: Toxic air from bushfires rated a “public health emergency”
[23 December 2019]

The World Socialist Web Site recently interviewed Dr Luba Volkova, a senior research fellow at the University of Melbourne, about Australia’s bushfire crisis: here.

British Conservatives endanger fire safety

This 24 July 2019 video from Britain says about itself

Firefighters launch Grenfell: Never Again campaign

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) is calling for urgent action on a range of fire and building safety issues to prevent another Grenfell, launching a campaign with the Daily Mirror. On the second anniversary of the tragedy, action to prevent a similar fire has been wholly insufficient, with little to nothing being done to tackle the structural issues that led to the tragedy.

The “Grenfell: Never Again” campaign aims to pressure government to take decisive action to tackle the underlying risks which caused the catastrophic fire at Grenfell Tower. You can sign the petition here.

1. Remove flammable cladding from all tower blocks and public buildings. There are still 328 residential and public buildings using the same cladding as that on the Grenfell Tower, and at least 1,700 with other potentially combustible claddings, including hospitals, care homes and schools as well as high rises.

2. Retrofit sprinklers in high rises and schools, wherever a risk assessment deems them necessary. Coroners’ reports have called for sprinkler systems to be fitted, but so far only 32 out of 837 council tower blocks over 30m tall have sprinklers.

3. Ensure tenants are given a real voice in the running and upkeep of their buildings. Grenfell tenants say their concerns about materials used in the refurbishment were ignored by Kensington and Chelsea council. Tenants’ right should be strengthened and democratically-elected groups given a direct say.

4. Reverse the cuts to firefighter numbers and Fire Safety Officers. In 2016-17, the government spent £1,013m on fire services. But in 2019-20, it will only spend £858m. Every single fire authority has seen the amount it receives in central government funding cut in the last three years.

5. Create a new independent national body to oversee standards and best practices in fire and rescue services across the country. There is no national body to oversee fire and rescue service and fire policy. This means standards vary across authorities and lessons are not being learned. Minimum standards should be set for response times and crewing levels.

Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said:

“The second anniversary of Grenfell must be a moment of both heartfelt reflection and determined action. We have seen 72 lives tragically lost, in a wholly preventable blaze, all while desperately under-resourced firefighters risked their own lives to save others. Firefighters and control room staff never want to see a fire like that again, and are calling on the government to take immediate action.

“In the time since the fire, the government’s facile approach has utterly failed all those involved that night and the thousands of people who are at risk across the country. After two years, the Grenfell Tower Inquiry has delivered no answers and we are no closer to tackling any of the underlying causes of the tragedy.

“As things stand, we risk sleepwalking into another catastrophic loss of life. We demand urgent action from government to ensure that the events of Grenfell Tower can never happen again.”

The campaign, launched today with the Daily Mirror, has backing from Grenfell campaign group Justice4Grenfell; Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London; and John Healey MP, Labour’s Shadow Housing Secretary.

Firefighters will join tonight’s monthly Grenfell Silent Walk and will march alongside community activists in the solidarity march tomorrow. The FBU is a core participant in the ongoing Grenfell inquiry.

From daily News Line in Britain:

Fire service cut to the bone! Kick Tories out before another deadly fire breaks out

18th January 2020

THE INCREASE in the time between a 999 call and fire engines arriving on to the scene of a fire has increased. This is despite the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) warning that in a fire seconds mean the ‘difference between life and death’.

Firefighters take 2 minutes 42 seconds longer to respond to a primary fire, compared with 1994/5.

Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: ‘In a fire, a matter of seconds could be the difference between life and death, so these figures are incredibly alarming. Services have been cut to the bone, and it’s obvious that with fewer firefighters and scarcer resources, firefighters are taking longer to get to fires, putting lives and businesses at risk.’

Over a decade of Tory cuts, during which PM Johnson was Mayor of London, has devastated the fire service. Johnson shut 10 fire stations, axed 552 firefighters’ jobs and took 27 fire engines out of service!

Meanwhile, the 999 call centres are being merged. The FBU has already issued a safety-critical notice after Surrey and West Sussex control rooms were merged. More than 9,000 extra calls per year are to be handled by just four staff, a 79% increase in incidents.

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) published their annual report on Wednesday and it was shocking.

The report, while describing a service hacked, slashed and starved of resources, had the cheek to turn its fire against the union itself, alleging the FBU had ‘undue influence’ on the fire service.

The FBU defiantly hit back: ‘We utterly refute any suggestion that the FBU have “undue influence” on our service. We are the democratically elected representatives of professional firefighters. They know best about their service and should have a strong voice in how it is run.’

And the HMICFRS are not the only ones to attack the firefighters. A leaked report by the chairman of the Grenfell Tower fire inquiry, Martin Moore-Bick, blamed the London Fire Brigade (LFB) itself for the deaths.

However, the truth is that, if the May government had legislated to make the type of cladding that was used in Grenfell illegal, as was demanded of it, there would not have been a fire at all!

The inquiry is steering the blame for the Grenfell fire away from the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) council, the government, the cladding company Arconic, the refurbishment company Rydon, and the Tenants Management Organisation (TMO).

Yesterday, we found out that the inquiry is to have connections with the cladding industry itself. Benita Mehra, a civil engineer, and past president of the Women’s Engineering Society (WES) has been appointed by PM Johnson to the Grenfell Tower inquiry panel to take part in the Inquiry’s second phase.

It is a fact that Mehra’s WES received funding linked to US firm Arconic, which supplied the cladding that helped spread the Grenfell Tower fire. Arconic supplied the flammable cladding panels and Rydon did the refurbishment.

These links should bar Mehra from the inquiry. A refusal to do so will be the proof that the much-praised inquiry is biased in favour of the cladding industry, and that its findings, especially its condemnations of the FBU, cannot be taken seriously.

It is the Tory RBKC council, the Tenants Management Organisation who put the cladding up, private companies Arconic and Rydon, and the Tory government that are responsible for the deaths of 72 people in the Grenfell Tower fire. Their deaths are not the responsibility of the brave firefighters, who did their duty and did save many lives.

Rydon and its management team have not faced court corporate manslaughter charges. In fact, Rydon has been awarded further local government contracts. Maidstone borough council has awarded Rydon a contract to build a £9.5m complex at the Kent Medical Campus.

Instead, FBU heroes have been shamefully targeted. Rydon, Arconic, RBKC, the TMO and the Tory government must face justice for the Grenfell Tower atrocity. Otherwise, mass deaths from preventable fires will become the rule.

What is required is a workers government that will make fire safety in workers’ homes its top priority.

Australian volunteer firefighters interviewed

Australian firefighter Brendan O'Connor and his wife Wendy

From the World Socialist Web Site in Australia:

Australia: Balmoral firefighters say they were “abandoned” and demand better resources

By our reporters

17 January 2020

Balmoral Village Rural Fire Service (RFS) captain Brendon O’Connor told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) this week that authorities had re-directed firefighting equipment away from the community as it came under attack from the Green Wattle Creek fire on December 21. Balmoral is in the Southern Highlands and about 100 kilometres southwest of Sydney.

The ill-equipped local RFS unit, which is entirely manned by volunteers, desperately fought to save the settlement under conditions where it is not connected to the state water supply and quickly ran out of water. Twenty-two houses or 15 percent of the village’s homes were destroyed by the fire.

“On the Thursday and Friday [December 20] we had a great number of resources, but unfortunately a decision was made on Friday evening to remove all resources from Balmoral, including bulk water, and that was replaced with a small water truck,” O’Connor told the ABC.

“We were asked to remove our own trucks from the village, which I refused to do… We were abandoned during the fight on the Saturday until much later and we’ve been abandoned since… We haven’t seen any government agency, and it’s been too hard for them to come into the village and offer assistance.”

World Socialist Web Site reporters revisited Balmoral last weekend and spoke with O’Connor.

“For the first two weeks we were on our own with no official assistance from outside,” he said, “apart from the wider community through donations of water, non-perishable foods, clothing, bedding, toiletries, which was absolutely overwhelming. We’ve had Indian, Thai, Vietnamese restaurants feeding over 150 people so it’s incredible.

“It’s been a very different [response from the authorities]. Our local council didn’t even know that we were part of this shire. They thought we had town water and didn’t know that there was fire in their shire.”

O’Connor explained that most of the water tanks, which the village relies on for its water, were now contaminated with ash and possibly asbestos. Specialised trucks are required to vacuum the tanks, which have been requested but are yet to arrive. The RFS captain described the considerable dangers posed by dead trees and said that the main road through the village was only 80 percent safe with at least 100 more trees to be felled. “It’ll be months of work cleaning up,” he added.

Asked about Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s holiday in Hawaii, he said: “None of them [government politicians] were paying attention to what was going on. Everyone dropped the ball. It didn’t bother me that Morrison went on holidays but what did bother me is that he didn’t know about that catastrophic day. He should have put his hand up and said ‘I made the mistake.’

“There needs to be a massive inquiry into what has happened and it should not be allowed to happen anywhere again. There’s been too many failings and areas that need changing.

“They [governments] are definitely not looking after us, there’s too many hidden agendas. Things are not being done to make sure we’ve got adequate power or water. It’s scary where we’re going, and it seems to be happening in lots of countries. It’s a failure to look after the people.

“We’ve got to do what’s right for us as a community, a national community, and a world community. It’s people power that should make the decisions, not a few who live in a world very unrealistic to the rest of us. We’re just political footballs in a lot of senses but without the people moving, and their voices being heard, we will be forever put down.”

Charity lunch at Balmoral Village RFS

Wendy, 36, is a railway shift worker and an RFS volunteer. She had worked for 13 days at a time, on 8- to 12-hour shifts, since the Christmas period and said she was getting four or five hours of sleep and then going to Balmoral as a fire fighting volunteer.

“It’s like a blanket has been drawn over Balmoral. The village has been forgotten about. There isn’t the help that the villagers need and they don’t know who to contact or where to turn. They’re going through an emotional roller coaster because as yet there isn’t any counselling services being offered,” she said.

Asked about the millions of dollars donated to assist fire victims, Wendy replied: “The background story is that with big organisations and government agencies, the money doesn’t pass down to the little man. They’re there to assist themselves. The donations will basically go into a kitty and one percent, maybe a bit more, will actually come down to the brigades that have been out fighting or those who have been affected. They’ll be lucky if they see a cent, let alone a dollar.

“I’m disgusted by what happened here. The RFS captain was told that he and the brigade were not to stay and defend the village. What’s the point in having a rural fire service based here?

“Everybody here is a volunteer. It’s home and you do everything to protect and defend it for as long as you can, even if that means that the flames are coming in every which direction and you’re running out of water. These RFS guys are still standing, and they’ll keep doing it, and going against the wishes of the higher authorities.”

Asked about the government response to climate change, Wendy said: “Politicians are only about lining their own pockets. It’s all about making themselves look good and feeding crap to the public so they can achieve what they want, not what the people want. NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said Balmoral had been wiped off the face of the Earth, but we’re still here!”


Elisa, another volunteer firefighter, said: “I’m only 24 but I’ve had a lot of experience under my belt with fires for my age. I was on property protection during the fires and helping a fellow firefighter protect his home.” She said that volunteer firefighters had little sleep. Some had not slept for over 24 hours.

“The councils don’t just allow the residents themselves to protect their own homes. We’re not allowed to clear where we think is dangerous or cut down trees. The scientists just do the numbers, but the locals mainly know what to expect, they’ve been here for many years. We need to be able to back burn more often but there’s a lot of red tape with that. Some places haven’t been burnt for 50 or 60 years, that’s probably why it was so bad.

“We need more resources and a lot more access to gear. We have our protective gear but we don’t necessarily get given new ones if they’re wrecked. You have to go down to the headquarters to sign paperwork. We should at least have two sets of boots or two sets of uniforms in case something happens.


Rita, Elisa’s mother, has lived in the Balmoral area for almost nine years. “Six years ago, in 2013 we had a fire but it was nothing like this. So the warning signs were there from 2013 but RFS head office took no notice. They used a simulation to predict what was going to happen and said it’s not going to go through Balmoral.

Rita explained that “Brendon O’Connor, the fire captain, opposed the head office’s view, spoke up and basically went against protocol. He called an urgent meeting on the Tuesday afternoon before the fires. We went up to the station and he was sitting on the chair, hand on his head—a heavy burden on his shoulders. I asked ‘What can I do?’ and he said, ‘Tell people, get out and tell people’ so I went up the road and told people what was going on and that there was a fire coming.”

Referring to the government and media response, Rita said: “The media reporting is just terrible. The premier said this place had been wiped out and they just reported it. We’re the only town that doesn’t have a water supply and we ran out of water in this humongous firestorm. How can you not think about conspiracy?

“Why did Gladys Berejiklian reduce the fire budget? Why did she say Balmoral was wiped out, when she didn’t even come?”

Johnson makes London Grenfell disaster inquiry unjust

Grenfell Tower in west London, England burns

By Lamiat Sabin in Britain:

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Grenfell: Johnson appoints engineer with links to the firm that made the tower’s cladding to the inquiry

Former Labour MP Emma Dent Coad tells the Star that the PM has driven the ‘final nail in the coffin’ of justice

BORIS JOHNSON has driven the “final nail in the coffin” of justice for the victims of Grenfell by appointing an engineer to the fire inquiry who has links to the firm which made the tower’s cladding, former Kensington MP Emma Dent Coad told the Star today.

Mr Johnson picked Benita Mehra last month to assist Sir Martin Moore-Bick, who is leading the inquiry into the June 2017 disaster that killed 72 people.

Ms Mehra previously ran the Women’s Engineering Society, which received a £71,000 grant from the charitable arm of Arconic, the US-based maker of the aluminium composite cladding that fuelled the Grenfell fire.

She will be one of two experts helping Mr Moore-Bick with at least 18 months of hearings into the events leading up to the fire.

Ms Dent Coad, who lost her seat last month, said people affected by the fire have now abandoned all hope that the second phase of the inquiry will bring any justice.

“They ripped the firefighters to shreds in the first phase and now what I hear from people in the community is that this is proof that it is — as we feared — an Establishment stitch-up,” she said.

“People are in shock but will be regrouping and planning over the next few days. We were told over and over again that we should trust the process — but we can’t.

“The appointment is the last thing we want to hear. The whole idea of the second phase has been so invested in and for this to come about is horrific.”

Grenfell United vice-chair Karim Mussilhy, who lost his uncle in the fire, is calling for Ms Mehra to stand down before hearings restart on January 27. He described the appointment as a “disgrace.”

A spokesperson for the inquiry said it was confident that Ms Mehra’s former role would “not affect her impartiality.”

Australian bushfire survivors interviews

This 16 January 2020 video says about itself:

Prehistoric Wollemi pines saved by firefighters from Australia’s bushfires

Australia’s Wollemi pines survived the dinosaurs and now firefighters have nursed them through the country’s unprecedented bushfire season to live another day. When seen from above – among acres of charred, native forest – there’s a thin trail of green. Firefighters were winched in by helicopter to activate irrigation systems, while other aircraft dropped water and retardant along the flames’ edge to minimise their impact. The giant trees were thought to be extinct until 1994, when authorities found 200 of them in a national park near the Blue Mountains, north-west of Sydney

AUSTRALIA’S ENDANGERED ‘DINOSAUR’ TREES SAVED A stand of trees with ancestors that date back 200 million years was saved from a series of devastating bushfires, a rare glimmer of good news amid the ongoing disaster. A team of firefighters was deployed to a remote part of the Blue Mountains, about 120 miles northwest of Sydney, as a massive bushfire approached. [HuffPost]

From the World Socialist Web Site in Australia:

Australia: NSW bushfire victims condemn inadequate planning and government responses

By our reporters

16 January 2020

Reporters from the World Socialist Web Site recently spoke to residents from northern towns of New South Wales (NSW) affected by the ongoing bushfire crisis. The region has been experiencing a drought since 2017, which has exacerbated the spread and intensity of the fires. Most areas are still under level-four water restrictions, the most severe, since the WSWS reported a month ago.

Across the country, the fires have resulted in at least 26 deaths, the destruction of more than 2,100 homes and the decimation of millions of hectares of bush and pastoral land. Broad swathes of the NSW coast have been devastated by blazes unprecedented by their size and intensity.

The crisis has revealed the immense growth of social inequality, and the failure of successive governments to put in place measures to mitigate the impact of annual fires. It has also underscored the criminal refusal of the political establishment to address climate change, which is a major contributing factor.

Reg and Usha are retirees living near Taree, 300 kilometres north of Sydney. Usha said: “These fires have unraveled the lie that the economy is separate from the environment. How does the economy work if you can’t grow your own produce? They are very much integrated.

“The drought is in large part due to deforestation and all sorts of anti-environmental policies extending way back to the start of white settlement. It’s all coming back to haunt us. You can’t have infinite growth of this economic system, it’s unsustainable.”

Reg added: “The problem is that the fossil fuel industry is so entrenched in the economy, and politicians are cowards who just want to stay in office as long as possible. I can’t remember the last time a courageous independent thinking person was preselected by the two major parties. The regime is totally corrupt.”

Reg and Usha

Usha pointed to broader political issues, stating: “We’ve come to a position where we have the prime minister openly speaking about crushing environmental activists. I think it all started from the war on terrorism almost 20 years ago. The censorship laws that have built up since have made politicians arrogant enough to be more authoritarian in their approach.

“There could not have been a Peter Dutton or a Scott Morrison before. This has an absolute connection to the persecution of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and the state of politics today. They feel free from public sentiment and scrutiny. Australians like to think we live in a free society but we’re definitely not.”

One member of the Rural Fire Service, the volunteer force that has had to tackle many of the blazes, told the WSWS: “The ferocity of the fires has led to a lot of fatigue-related accidents, with instances of people rolling their trucks. I’ve come to a scene where a fire tornado had picked up a truck weighing 10–13 tonnes and tossed it over a farm fence. I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ve seen two dead bodies, severe burns. I’ve become numb to it now.

“Fires have been starting overnight, running 40km in one instance. One travelled 5km in one hour. Traditional, 100-foot containment lines have been helpless. I often joke that the only thing that’s going to stop these fires is the Great Eastern Firebreak. People ask, ‘What’s that?’ I say: It’s the Pacific Ocean.

“No white man has seen a drought this bad before. I had 70 head of cattle and I’m down to 30. Most have been lost due to hunger and misadventure in search of food. The cattle have been using the dried-up Manning River like it’s a highway in search of food.

“There are a whole number of factors coming together to create this fire season, and it’s not simply a lack of funding. The RFS is good for rapid response but reacting to this crisis is too late. The fuel load and conditions for severe and widespread fires have been building for a long time.

“One of the issues is that people are not as wealthy as they were 40 or 50 years ago. Gone are the days of single-income homes. Now everyone is trying to outdo each other. We are up to our eyeballs in debt. Living costs are so high that many people are uninsured.

“Most RFS members in the past were farmers, but there has been a massive shift in the last 20 years with a loss of experience and knowledge. Volunteers are dwindling in numbers and the average age is increasing. You can’t go flogging these people for 11 weeks of fire-fighting.

“There has been a widespread failure in the duty of private landowners, the council and National Parks to manage properties for fire risk. There needs to be far more resources devoted to mitigation. Funding for social services such as the National Parks and State Forest (NPSS) has been reduced, with limited staff available for hazard reduction burns.

“A large amount of crown land was signed over in the 1990s by Bob Carr’s Labor government to the NPSS when their 99-year leases ran out. This virtually doubled its jurisdiction in size, but without the corresponding funding to deal with it. So they just locked it up, creating a highly flammable forest.”


Matthew is a resident of Gloucester, about 100km west of Taree, who owns a nursery. He said: “They’ve run out of water here. They should have gone on water restrictions a lot earlier, it’s not been well planned. There’s got to be a certain amount of water in the river before they go on restrictions. You can see the river’s not running at the moment. It’s as dry as I’ve seen it, and I’m forty-five.

“The fires didn’t reach where I live, I’ve been lucky. But for the environment and for the wildlife, there’s millions and millions of animals dead. If anything had survived you would think it would be in the small bits that hadn’t burned, but there’s nothing there either, the fires are that hot.

“My brother used to work in the national parks, and the federal and state governments have cut their funding. Over the last four or five there’s been about 130 less jobs. With less jobs and less funding, there’s less people to do back-burning. They need more funding for people to do the burning-off.

“With this drought, some of the fire-fighters have said that even with the burning-off it wouldn’t have stopped the fires. And there are places, like up near Tenterfield, or at Wollemi National Park, where you can’t really burn-off safely any time of year. Every year it’s worse. So climate change is having an effect, and I still think that we need to respond to it.

“I think the government isn’t funding the national parks or the firefighters because it would cost them money, and then they’d have to admit that climate change is real and that they haven’t done anything about it. It’s like the state government who’ve said they’re putting money in and they’ve bought two more water bombers. That’s nowhere near enough, and it doesn’t matter how many water bombers you have, it does nothing to prevent fires in the first place.”


Paul, a farmer at the Gloucester markets, said: “The bushfires near Taree were right up close to us because our property joins up with the Coopernook forest. They had to bring in a lot of resources, including aircraft, that weren’t there at the start.

“There’s been a lot of trouble with the way things are set up. They couldn’t even get water close to here and some of the helicopters had to refuel as far away as Williamtown which is 100km away. They’re getting some salt-water out of the rivers for fighting fires but they are trucking in town water here at Gloucester now because there’s nothing. At our place we’re just relying on dams and wells.

“I also think that those volunteer firefighters should be paid. They are putting their life on the line to save others. We’ve had three or four of them lose their lives.”

Paul noticed the WSWS reporter’s “Free Assange” t-shirts and commented:

“I think Assange should be freed, he’s been set up. The Swedish allegations were false, I’ve known that for a long time. He’s a good fellow from what I know of him. He told the truth. And when the truth is exposed, shit hits the fan as they say. It’s the same all over the world. The truth is, if the people who write for the Sydney Morning Herald or the [Rupert Murdoch owned] Daily Telegraph published what Assange has published, they’d lose their jobs. It’s the same with these bushfires, they don’t want the truth to get out.”

Australian fires have incinerated the habitats of up to 100 threatened species. Scientists warn of an ecological catastrophe as crucial habitats of rare plants and animals burn: here.