Thanks to the generosity of everyday Australians, Hollywood and Instagram stars, the NSW RFS may be able to make up the deficit to their capital and expenditure budgets for 2019–20 incurred when the Berejiklian Government cut their budget by $49.9 million. That’s 75% of their annual operational budget. We’ve just given back what those arseholes took away. Gladys says, ‘Thank You!’
Conservative governments are becoming dependent on charities providing services that they should be funding through our tax dollar – our ‘common’ wealth. If you want to be re-elected, you need a surplus. I hear people in cafes talking about backburning like it’s been a plot by the Greenies to stop the RFS putting in containment lines. The reality is, the pre-emptive controlled burns that Aboriginal Australians have been doing for 60 000 years, that are usually done by Parks and Wildlife these days, didn’t happen, because of funding cuts – by the coalition. Not the Greens. That means more than 274 000 ha in NSW alone that weren’t subject to hazard reduction burns. A government that spends is seen as fiscally irresponsible. And now we’re all feeling the heat of governments who have been trimming back their expenditure on climate- and environment-related services. In a time of climate change, with longer, drier weather, with record heat waves, it’s never been more important to have fire strategies in place across the country.
One such strategy is to plant more trees. Millions and millions of trees. NGOs have been in your streets for years asking for donations for tree planting or forest buy-backs. Have you given anything? More and more of what should be government funded public or community service has been shaved back so severely many organisations are forced to rely on charitable donations and patronage to survive.
This fire crisis is the government’s shout. Their lack of action on climate change, their support of Adani, their reluctance to move away from fossil fuels – in favour of renewables – proves they are not prepared to put in the real and lasting containment lines that might give us more lasting and reliable protection from bushfires. This enormous environmental tragedy is on Scott Morrison and his government. It’s on any government who doesn’t recognise and respond to the danger we face. That includes the opposition, who’ve been very quiet on the matter. Could it be that they also receive party donations from fossil fuel interests?
The reality is, that while enormous amounts of money are raised to attempt to repatriate communities and bushland, if immediate systematic change isn’t achieved, then we’ll just burn again next year, and the year after that and the year after that, until our green planet is just a lump of charcoal orbiting the sun with a go-fund-me to Mars.
And what will happen to the millions of dollars donated to the RFS? The scope of the horror – the lost lives, the decimated landscape, the dead wildlife, the lost homes and livelihoods – it has touched everyone. People have lost faith in their government and shown that they are able to take things into their own hands, and use those hands to give. We can give. But can we affect change? Through concerts and crowd funding, comedy gigs and buckets in the street, Australia has dug deep. But how do we get that money to the people who need it most? It’s easy to give, but the bureaucracy of distribution is something else entirely. Unfortunately, no bureaucratic process was lost in the fires. Many have jumped in quickly to answer the call, without realising the complexity and inflexibility of the charters of the not-for-profits that they’ve fund-raised for.
Most people think they’re donating across the states. If you’ve given $ to wildlife and it’s gone to WIRES – be aware that they’re just in NSW. It’s not a Victorian or Queensland wildlife fund. Celeste Barber’s incredible campaign that has raised over $30 million isn’t for the families of those killed, or for those in hardship. It’s for the RFS in NSW. While extremely worthy, it’s not Victoria or Queensland. And it’s for equipment and operations.
There’s a definite frustration in not being able to target the human and environmental need more directly; those who lost their homes and were uninsured, those families who’ve lost loved ones, the incomprehensible loss of habitat and wildlife, and the loss of income and hardship faced by volunteer firefighters. Most of us want to put money directly in their hands, but it’s not that simple. The federal government has offered volunteer firefighters up to $6k, claimable at $300 per day for lost income while fighting fires. Many will be losing more income trying to wade through the complex and tricky eligibility criteria, showing a huge difference between the expectations raised by the promises made by the PM, and the reality. In bleak times, it’s good to remember the re-birth that happens after a fire. The green shoots that push through, despite the devastation. Let’s hope those green shoots are the beginning of the real change we so desperately need.
You want to backburn to remove danger? Let’s start at Parliament house.
For conversations about systemic change, check out the ideas of big-picture thinkers, like David Suzuki, and Charles Eisenstein at Going Local: Hope in a Time of Crisis, running 20–22 March, at Byron Community Centre. Early bird tickets until 20 Jan from localfutures.org.