Health experts estimate that around 445 people were killed by exposure to bushfire smoke during the disastrous summer fires. Government funding cuts to fire services and corporate carbon pollution are to blame.
Hospitals admitted an additional 3340 due to the smoke. The health related costs are estimated to be about $2 billion. This information was presented to the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements.
Increasingly frequent natural disasters due to climate change are seen as the new normal by many people the Commission heard. The annually recurring threat of catastrophic fires worsens the psychological impact on survivors, particularly on children, making it harder to recover.
People don’t need another commission that offers no actual change or action. It is clear that the government was made aware of the fire risks in advance and failed on many fronts.
Despite numerous warnings from experts the government did not properly implement any precautions before the fire season. Instead just prior to the fire season last year both the Queensland and New South Wales Rural Fire Services faced budget cuts.
At the same time the federal Government gave tax cuts to the super rich in the 2019 budget. This is the latest in decades of attacks by both Labor and Liberal on vital services.
Rural firefighter services are heavily dependent on community fundraising to provide basic supplies. They are staffed by thousands of dedicated local volunteers. These services are forced to run on bare bones, without adequate resources to properly prepare for emergencies.
No real action on climate change has been taken by the government either, which directly contributed to these dangerous fires. Future fires will continue to worsen if no effective action is taken.
Both major parties have overseen expanded gas and coal production instead of shifting towards green renewable energy.
Shifting to clean power would not only drastically help slow climate change but will also provide new jobs, particularly for communities that are dependent on mining and gas. Skilled fossil fuel workers could be retrained to provide green energy.
Private corporations receiving big tax breaks and government grants will only worsen the effects of climate change.
The government not only failed to prepare for the fires but has also failed many of the communities most devastated by them during and afterwards. Things are made worse by the current Coronavirus pandemic.
Instead of being provided with adequate support by local and federal government, thousands of families who found themselves homeless overnight instead had to rely on the generosity and charity of others.
On top of the traumatic experience of losing their houses and loved ones many also now have to deal with greedy insurance companies. The industry raked in a massive $4.4 billion in profit last year alone. These companies are not there to help people recuperate but instead to make a profit.
Some homeowners in fire-affected areas have reported insurance premium increases by as much as 50%!
Instead of a royal commission, people need urgent action before the next fire season on climate change and funding firefighting services.
Wealth exists that could be used for this. Taxing billionaires a little more could fund major investment into rural firefighting services. Volunteer firefighters could be provided proper pay, new equipment, and more training.
Climate action is also needed now more than ever! Money needs to be invested into renewable energy, green jobs, research and public transport.
Of course the super-rich will vigorously resist higher taxes and restrictions on their profits. Decisions about running society and dealing with major disasters cannot be left in the hands of Scott Morrison’s government and their big business friends.
That’s why socialists go further than just calling for higher taxes. We call for public ownership of the biggest companies. That way the working-class majority in society will own the wealth we generate together and be able to decide how to use it.
With key industries like mining, oil and gas under public control we could begin planning a swift transition to renewable energy. Profits made in these industries could then be diverted into public services instead of lining the pockets of the already wealthy.
Anger at the government’s mishandling of the bushfires is still burning. Catastrophes like this will happen again as climate change gets worse. To deal with the climate crisis and its disastrous consequences a restructure of the economy along democratic socialist lines is needed. That’s the only way to put the lives of people and the planet first.
By Kai Perry