‘Raving city lunatics’: Fire row erupts
A letter that tried to sound an urgent warning about the "grave danger" Australia was facing ahead of the bushfire season is at the centre of a row about the government's response to climate change.
The correspondence has emerged as huge bushfires in two states - which have destroyed hundreds of homes and claimed the lives of at least three people - has ignited debate about the link between climate change and extreme weather.
Greens MP Adam Bandt suggested on Saturday the Prime Minister bore some responsibility for the bushfires because of what he perceived as a lack of climate change policy.
But Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack told ABC RN this morning that people didn't need the "ravings of some pure, enlightened and woke capital city greenies at this time".
Mr McCormack said it galled him when "inner-city lefties" raised climate change in relation to bushfires.
"What people need now is a little bit of sympathy, understanding and real assistance. They need help, they need shelter," he told ABC Radio.
But RN Breakfast host Hamish Macdonald pointed out that it wasn't just "inner city greenies" who were raising concerns, and said the Mayor of Glen Innes as well as a group of respected emergency service workers had also sounded the alarm.
Former commissioner of Fire & Rescue NSW Greg Mullins is one former emergency worker who is now part of a group called Emergency Leaders for Climate Action, which has been seeking an urgent meeting with the government since April.
Letters released to the ABC show the group's frustrations as its meeting requests were ignored and delayed.
In an opinion piece published today in The Sydney Morning Herald, Mr Mullins said the group, which includes 22 other retired fire and emergency service chiefs, felt they had a duty to tell people how climate change was "super-charging our natural disaster risks".
"I wish we were wrong, but we're not."
These are the letters sent by former NSW Fires Chief Greg Mullins and 22 other former emergency chiefs to the Prime Minister in April and September predicting a bushfire crisis and requesting a meeting. #nswfires #auspol pic.twitter.com/djhHjHknAe— Zoe Daniel (@zdaniel) November 9, 2019
The first letter addressed to the PM from the group, which was sent in April, requested a meeting within three months to discuss how the Federal Government could help Australia better respond to climate change and prepare for growing national disaster risks.
A follow-up letter sent in September describes the group's frustrations after Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor failed to get in touch, as promised by the PM's office.
"Unfortunately, there was no contact from Mr Taylor's office until last week when the matter of a meeting, coincidentally, was raised in parliament and the media," the letter said.
Mr Mullins said that while Mr Taylor did eventually offer to meet the group on October 2, there were further delays when the minister later revealed he had not coordinated with Natural Disaster and Emergency Management Minister David Littleproud, and suggested the group contact Mr Littleproud themselves.
"The Minister appears at best to be disinterested in what the Emergency Leaders might have to say," Mr Mullins' letter states.
"We are entering uncharted territory with worsening extreme weather; my fellow emergency services leaders and I are deeply concerned that we are not adequately prepared, and that our brave emergency services personnel and communities are in increasingly grave danger."
The Climate Council has confirmed to news.com.au that the meeting still hasn't taken place.
A spokesman for Mr Taylor issued a statement about the meeting saying: "Emergency Leaders for Climate Action were offered a meeting with Minister Taylor to raise their concerns. That offer to meet still stands".
While many leaders have suggested it was not the right time to talk about climate change and the focus should be on the emergency response, Macdonald pushed back against Mr McCormack's comments that it was not the right time for the debate.
"You are saying (that) now is not the time to talk about climate change and it's connection with the fires," Macdonald said.
"But it seems that April this year wasn't, it seems that September this year wasn't.
"When is the right time to have that conversation?"
Mr McCormack said it was up to Mr Littleproud to organise the meeting.
"At the moment he's going around the countryside making sure that people know that there is help, there is shelter, there is cash assistance available," he said.
He added that some groups were "quite frankly … a front for something else" although he said he was "not discounting this group at all".
"Sometimes you do meet them, these groups, and honestly, all they want to do is waste your time."
Yesterday Mr McCormack described the comments as "stupid and callous".
"This is despicable," he said.
"The fact is, the government does take climate change very seriously. The fact is we are meeting our international obligations and will continue to do so."
Mr Bandt labelled Mr McCormack a "dangerous fool" who was putting lives at risk.
"Thoughts and prayers are not enough, we need science and action too," Mr Bandt told reporters.
"They've done everything in their power to make these catastrophic fires more likely.
"When you cuddle coal in Canberra, the rest of the country burns."
Labor senator Penny Wong said the immediate focus should be on firefighters battling the blazes, people at risk and those grieving lost loved ones.
"When we get through this, it is a responsible thing for us to focus on how we plan to keep Australians safe," she told ABC radio.
"Warnings about a longer bushfire season and more intense fires have been on the table for a long time."
Emergency Services Minister David Littleproud also said the climate change debate should wait.
"Let's have those conversations in the cold, hard light of day after the event," he said.
In NSW three people have been killed and 150 homes destroyed, and there are still 47 fires burning in Queensland.
Firefighters across Sydney and NSW are bracing for "catastrophic" conditions on Tuesday, with a state of emergency declared.