Australia — In the weeks and months which will follow the appalling bushfire tragedy in Victoria, one behavioural pattern will emerge.
Governments will fight strenuously to convince the public that the fires were of such unprecedented force that nothing could have been done.
I’ve already, yesterday, talked about the persistent refusal by government over many, many years to implement recommendations for fuel reduction burning.
Worse than that, where such recommendations were made, governments have actually removed all such references.
To win government, the Greens have to be accommodated, no matter the cost.
But that is just one of many failures of government in the wake of this fire tragedy.
For example, much was made last week about the fact that plans to introduce a nationwide fire alert system in time for this year’s bushfire season were torpedoed by backroom bureaucratic boffins.
And hence we get again this argument that well, nothing could have been done, the fire was so overwhelming.
Victoria had wanted an early warning system operational in time for this year’s bushfire season.
But they got so frustrated by red tape that Victorian Premier Brumby officially complained to the Prime Minister in the months leading up to this week’s tragedy.
But it was first raised with Prime Minister Rudd last June.
It was all about the fact that an early warning system means releasing a whole heap of data about people’s phone numbers or whatever, yet privacy and data security restrictions in the Telecommunications Act were delaying the scheme’s introduction.
It would have enabled the States and Territories to use a public phone number data base.
The Commonwealth owns it. The States need it. So change the legislation.
Now we’re told the finalisation of the legislation drafting is imminent.
The last Federal election was in November 2007.
John Howard wrote to John Brumby before that election saying he had decided to move on the system.
Then came the Federal election; the whole thing’s placed on the back burner.
But in January 2008 the Victorian Emergency Services Minister, Bob Cameron wrote to the Federal Attorney General.
Then it got stuck in COAG for nine months.
It wasn’t until Julia Gillard became acting Prime Minister on January 8 this year that she gave policy approval for the legislative change.
The draft was drawn up on February 4, days before these appalling and deadly fires.
COAG, this is all the State Governments and the Commonwealth, discussed the scheme last March, a year ago, and ordered a cost analysis to be prepared.
Now no one will reveal the cost, or who would pay.
Telstra are saying it’s ready to go, that it has the capability to send very specific messages to specific geographical locations and keep people alerted in terms of what’s happening.
It had already been trialled in Victoria in 2005.
But nothing is done.
And the Rudd Government says it’s sorry and offers condolences and apologies.
How many people’s lives would have been saved if it had moved with expedition to get an early warning system operational, and did not cave in to the Greens re back burning?
No wonder the move is on to pretend nothing could have been done.