Sunday 26 January 2020

Scaling down coal 'reckless', claims PM as wildfires rage

A koala drinks water from a bottle given by a firefighter in Cudlee Creek, South Australia. Photo: Oakbank Balhannah/AP)
A koala drinks water from a bottle given by a firefighter in Cudlee Creek, South Australia. Photo: Oakbank Balhannah/AP)

Giovanni Torre

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison is refusing to scale down the coal industry amid the debate on climate change, saying such a move would be "reckless" and "job destroying".

It has prompted Kevin Rudd, the former prime minister, to say the current government has "failed miserably".

Australia accounted for a third of the world's coal exports in 2018 and the current government has no plans on slowing down. Mr Morrison yesterday again rejected opposition calls for an emergency meeting while also ruling out compensation for volunteer firefighters affected by the fires that continue to sweep across the nation.

Shane Fitzsimmons, the rural fire service commissioner for New South Wales, said thousands of exhausted New South Wales firefighters would be doing an "enormous amount of work" over Christmas to tackle firestorms and strengthen bushfire containment lines before conditions worsened further.

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One of his volunteers spoke to the BBC yesterday from the tangled and charred wreckage of his own home. He had been fighting a fire nearby. "It was only when the blaze was brought under control that my team leader told me my house was on fire," he said.

In Balmoral, Sydney, a community of 400 people saw their homes wiped out by a firestorm. Steve Harrison survived in the suburb by sheltering in a makeshift kiln he had built the day before.

"I was in there for half an hour while the firestorm went over," he said. "It was huge, glowing orange-red everywhere. I was terrified... I could have [died] if I hadn't thought about a plan B. In that little kiln I made, I had a fire extinguisher, a bucket of water, a drinking water bottle and a fire blanket," he told local media.

Meanwhile in parliament, opposition parties said the government was divided over climate change - Michael McCormack, the deputy prime minister, said he "absolutely agreed" that more had to be done to tackle the issue.

Mr Morrison visited fire-stricken areas yesterday, having returned from holiday in Hawaii. When a New South Wales fire officer was told: "This is the prime minister", in front of news cameras, she replied: "He's not my prime minister."

Karl Weatherley, a fire service volunteer and sheep farmer, told news crews that Mr Morrison had "nothing but words" to offer.

Mr Rudd told the BBC Radio 4 'Today' programme that Australia's peak scientific body had warned for more than a decade that climate change would lead to "more frequent droughts, more intense droughts, and more intense natural disasters".

"The question is... what any Australian government does by way of national policy... to provide Australia with the political standing to leverage other governments around the world to take global action necessary to keep temperature increases within 2C this century," he said. "That has not happened."

He said the government scrapped Labour's successful emissions-reducing carbon price and had "acted with other governments to impede global action on a collective response to climate change". He added: "The government has failed miserably."

Polling has indicated growing support for clean energy and action on climate change.

The severe nature of the drought afflicting southern Queensland and northern New South Wales, and the duration and intensity of the fire crisis could see public opinion swing behind greater urgency on climate change.

Mr Morrison compared his decision to go on a family holiday to Hawaii during a bushfire emergency to parents choosing to take an "extra plumbing contract" instead of picking up their kids on Friday afternoon - a comparison that left many baffled. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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