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Climate action requires unity not division

  • 07 January 2020


The bushfires that have assailed Australia over these past weeks have reminded us of the fragility of this ancient land. The loss of life and of so many homes, properties and farms, and the loss of livestock and of native animals, have touched almost every corner of the country, just as the smoke haze has smothered so much.

The natural disaster has also brought out the best in so many people. The heroic efforts of our volunteer 'firies', and of so many others, the resilience of so many small communities, and the generosity of the wider community, shine amid the pain and loss. A reminder too, of the richness of Australian identity, with Muslim and Sikh and Vietnamese groups, among others, reaching out in support of the firies and affected communities. And on the ground, our traditional religious groups, the Salvos and Vinnies, along with the Red Cross, play vital roles in enabling the volunteer services and supporting affected communities.

Politically, it has been something of a disaster for Prime Minister Morrison. The ill-advised holiday in Hawaii, gaffes on the road, breakdowns in communications etc. have plagued him. More importantly though, are the policy challenges around bushfires, drought, and climate change that need to be addressed. The Liberals and Nationals have to find a way forward that balances the interests of their supporters with serving the national good. Old arguments and ideological stands need to be re-examined. The Prime Minister needs to enable a real debate.

Naturally enough many who are passionate about climate change have seized on the fires to press their case. I think we need to be careful not to claim too much, as polarisation has done so much to hinder progress in Australia, and exaggerated positions exacerbate this division.

It seems to me that if every change in Australian policy, proposed by the Greens and others in the last ten years, had indeed been adopted, it would not have altered the present reality. The fact is that no decisions by Australia could have adverted the changing climate or have prevented the drought and these bushfires. Only worldwide action can so mitigate any human impact on climate.

Let me be clear that this does not negate the pressing moral argument for Australia to do its bit, because only by many smaller players doing their part will there be a chance for real and effective global action. But the actions of any Australian government