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14 January 2020

This live blog has now finished. For more on Australia’s bushfires, visit our In Focus section.

In the face of disaster, misinformation can move quickly, and solutions can be hard to come by. As part of our mission to bring you relevant, fact-based, policy-focused debate on crucial issues, over the coming weeks Policy Forum will cover analysis and opinion on Australia’s bushfires.

Don’t miss a beat right here. If you see any analysis and opinion you think we should cover, reach out directly to me at angus.blackman@anu.edu.au. You can also join the conversation on social media via @APPSPolicyForum on Twitter or in our Policy Forum Pod Facebook group.

Thanks for supporting our live blog!

4.53pm, Friday 31 January

That’s all for our live blog of bushfire analysis and opinion. Thank you to everyone who has followed and contributed over the last few weeks.

If you want to stay in touch with Policy Forum, you can find us on Twitter, Facebook and online.

 

Inoculating against disinformation

4.00pm, Friday 31 January

Throughout the bushfire crisis, disinformation on social media has spread fast, say Stephan Lewandowsky and John Hunter. They suggest that one possible way to prevent the proliferation of disinformation is something called ‘inoculation theory’, whereby authorities might expose, “ahead of time, the myths most likely to be perpetrated by sceptics”.

“The logic is analogous to the way a medical vaccine works: you can prevent a virus spreading by giving lots of people a small dose,” they say.

In future, Lewandowsky and Hunter propose “educating the public on climate science, and the tactics used by disinformers, increases the chance that ‘alternative facts’ do not gain traction”.

 

Fashion industry’s efforts “better than nothing”

3.07pm, Friday 31 January

While some have criticised the fashion industry’s bushfire fundraising efforts as an irresponsible waste of resources, National Fashion Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, Melissa Singer, says the industry was actually able to make a difference. 

In response to the bushfires, Australian fashion labels raised significant funds for affected communities by selling special relief fashion items like t-shirts, writes Singer. Criticism of the actions appeared in fashion website Fashionista, with academic Anika Kozlowski saying labels are “reaping the benefits without actually using [their] own money”.

“It’s hard to ignore that some of the fashion brands that raised the most connected with a demographic – young, affluent, engaged on social media – that traditional fundraising methods may have missed. The fact they ‘benefited’ from their charity by getting something in return, namely a T-shirt or whatever, doesn’t mean the act is without merit,” says Singer.

 

NSW Opposition calls for support to flow faster

2.04pm, Friday 31 January

NSW Labor Party leader Jodi McKay is calling for the state government’s $6 million in bushfire aid to be delivered to those in need at a much faster rate, writes Peter Hannam in The Sydney Morning Herald.

“The government has attacked charities for money not flowing, but after announcing three weeks ago money would be released immediately in a $1 billion recovery effort, they haven’t followed through on that promise,” Ms McKay says.

The state government defends their relief efforts, with a spokesperson saying “the NSW government is working hard to get payments into people’s bank accounts, and cut the red tape”.

 

Bushfire weather pattern also impacting Africa

1.00pm, Friday 31 January

The weather pattern partly creating catastrophic bushfire conditions in Australia is also having a serious impact in East Africa, leading to massive locust swarms, writes Bridget Fitzgerald for the ABC. This phase in the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) has lead to warmer than usual conditions in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya, creating perfect conditions for locust storms, writes Fitzgerald.  The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations calls this situation “an unprecedented threat to food security and livelihoods”, according to the report.

Professor Nerilie Abram, climate scientist at The Australian National University, says positive IOD and Southern Annual Mode events are becoming more common as a result of climate change.

 

Struggling to adapt

12.08pm, Friday 31 January

There are signs climate change could start outrunning our capacity to adapt, writes the University of Queensland economist Professor John Quiggan. He points to mismanagement of the Murray Darling Basin, which shows that “adaptation tipping points are not, in general, triggered solely by climate change”.

“The interaction between climate change and social, political and economic systems determines whether human systems adapt or break down,” he says.

In response, he calls for greater political action.

“We need radical and immediate mitigation strategies, as well as adaptation measures based on science. Without this, 2019 may indeed be seen as a tipping point on the road to both climate catastrophe, and humanity’s capacity to cope,” Professor Quiggan says.

 

Better advice needed on bushfire smoke

11.08am, Friday 31 January

The Australian National University’s (ANU) Professor Sotiris Vardoulakis says the advice currently issued about dealing with bushfire smoke, such as recommendations to stay indoors and reduce strenuous exercise, is impractical for dealing with long-term exposure. He adds that many Australian homes are “leaky” and facemasks are often ill-fitting.

“Bushfire smoke is a major public health concern. These very small particles in bushfire smoke can penetrate deep into the respiratory system inducing inflammation and even translocate into the bloodstream,” says Professor Vardoulakis.

 

NEW POD | Caring for burning Country

9.56am, Friday 31 January

On this week’s Policy Forum Pod, we ask if policymakers are really heeding the lessons of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people when it comes to environmental management.

Public interest in Indigenous fire management practices like ‘cool burning’ has grown significantly in the wake of Australia’s unprecedented bushfire crisis. But what is cool burning, and what does the attention it has received tell us about how Indigenous knowledge is valued in Australia? On this episode of Policy Forum Pod, Dr Virginia Marshall and Dr Annick Thomassin join us to talk about the impact of the bushfires on Aboriginal people, why Indigenous knowledge should be central to policy-making, and the state of reconciliation in Australia.

If you want to stay up-to-date with our podcasts, join our Policy Forum Pod Facebook group.

 

Our final day

9.21am, Friday 31 January

Welcome back to our live blog of bushfire analysis and opinion!

Today will be our final day on the live blog. While we still have a full day of updates to come, you can stay across original pieces of analysis on the bushfires via our special In Focus section. You can also join the conversation on Twitter via @APPSPolicyForum, where we share all our new pieces on the bushfires and other key policy issues facing Australia and its region.

More to come.


 

See you tomorrow!

4.59pm, Thursday 30 January

That’s all for today – thanks for joining us! We’ll see you again tomorrow on our live blog of bushfire analysis and opinion.

Just a reminder that if you see any analysis and opinion you think we should cover, reach out directly at angus.blackman@anu.edu.au. You can also join the conversation on Twitter via @APPSPolicyForum.

 

Solo birds come together amidst fire threat

4.33pm, Thursday 30 January

Residents of Wollombi in New South Wales observed the extraordinary sight of nearly 20 lyrebirds coming together when bushfires threatened the area, writes Ben Millington from the ABC. Usually solitary animals, this might be the first time such a large gathering has been captured, says lyrebird expert Alex Maisey.

“It’s really incredible, because it’s a rare thing to see a bird that’s generally solitary and territorial coming together like this,” he says.

In NSW, an estimated 50 per cent of lyrebird habitat has been damaged by fire this season, with potential long-term impacts on the species, writes Millington.

 

Banks, investors step away from coal

4.08pm, Thursday 30 January

Ian Verrender, business editor at the ABC, says the supposed ‘tough choices’ faced by Australia in terms of its coal and energy policies “already have been made in boardrooms around the globe”. Since December, Australian bank ANZ, Goldman Sachs and the world’s largest investment management corporation Blackrock have signalled they are moving away from carbon-intensive industries, says Verrender.

The message each is broadcasting is clear. When it comes to investment, coal, particularly thermal coal for electricity generation, has little, if any, future,” he writes.

 

No fireproof houses

3.34pm, Thursday 30 January

The National Construction Code may be leading people to believe they can defend their houses during bushfires, and in doing so risk their lives, argues Geoff Hanmer, architecture lecturer at the University of New South Wales. With nearly 3,000 destroyed in Australia so far during the bushfire season, Mr Hanmer says the national code “provides false, and dangerous, hope”.

“The sad truth is that any practical building that is exposed to an intense bushfire will probably burn down, whether it complies with Australian Standard 3959 or not,” he says.

He suggests a better approach might be to rethink subdivision practices, prevent people building in bushfire-prone areas, and focus on evacuation and shelters.

 

Stop “disaster tourism”: ACT emergency services head

02.57pm, Thursday 30 January

ACT Emergency Services Agency commissioner Georgeina Whelan slams ‘disaster tourists’ who are slowing down fire crews. People are crowding roads and creating obstacles for emergency services in order to get photos of fires burning in and around the ACT, says Ms Whelan.

“Say no to disaster tourism. It is a disgrace, there is no two ways about it,” says Ms Whelan.

“Please refrain from doing this. Taking a photo for Instagram is not worth your life,” she says.

 

NEW POST | Firefighting technology – Australia needs to upgrade

01.24pm, Thursday 30 January

Given the destruction caused by this summer’s fire season, it is high time the government invested in the technology it needs to fight the bushfire threat, Dr Bruce Forster writes for Policy Forum.

“This summer, many ideas have been put forward as potential solutions for reducing the devastating impact of bushfires, particularly hazard reduction burning. However, little has been said about bushfire detection,” says Dr Forster.

“Investment in greater technology to spot and fight fires can be the action governments need to protect families, save infrastructure, and nurture the Australian environment,” he says.

 

Inquiry must consider climate change

11.50am, Thursday 30 January

The impact of climate change must be explicitly considered by a national inquiry into the bushfires, Professor Ross Bradstock of Wollongong University tells Mike Foley of the Sydney Morning Herald. Professor Bradstock says none of the previous 51 bushfire inquiries in Australia have done so.

“If the Prime Minister truly wants to enhance resilience and adaptation to fires, climate change has to be factored in to a new inquiry,” he says.

The New South Wales inquiry into the fires will consider climate change, with Premier Gladys Berejiklian saying it will “leave no stone unturned”.

Professor Bradstock also calls for a large increase in the amount of controlled burns undertaken, but other experts express concerns about the risk posed by smoke and the potential for property damage.

 

ADF and disaster response

10.26am, Thursday 30 January

Griffith University’s Dr Peter Layton calls for the Australian Defence Force (ADF) to take a lead role in disaster response, to be supported by volunteer organisations like rural firefighting groups.

“A well-equipped, professional force will have the capacity to be significantly more ambitious in trying to limit damage.” he says.

The Australian National University’s Professor John Blaxland called for the establishment of a ‘Australian Universal Scheme for National and Community Service’ to take pressure of the Australian Defence Force in disaster response situations.

 

Helping schoolchildren cope

9.36am, Thursday 30 January

The idea of engaging retired school teachers and principals to support students in bushfire-affected areas is currently under consideration, Australian Primary Principals Association president Malcolm Elliott tells the ABC. This proposal is designed to help teachers support a full class of students that have been impacted by the fires, he says.

As previously covered in the blog, researchers Rachael Jacobs and Carol Mutch say schools can play an important role in helping students cope with the bushfires, providing “a sense of familiarity, routine and security among chaos”.

 

Welcome back!

9.06am, Thursday 30 January

As we welcome you to another day of our live blog of bushfire analysis and opinion, we invite you to share your favourite pieces of analysis and opinion on the bushfires. You can email me directly at angus.blackman@anu.edu.au or join the conversation on Twitter via @APPSPolicyForum. More to come.


 

That’s all for today!

5.12pm, Wednesday 29 January

Thanks for joining us again on our live blog of bushfire analysis and opinion.

Don’t forget you can reach out directly at angus.blackman@anu.edu.au to let me know about your favourite pieces of analysis and opinion. You can also join the conversation on Twitter via @APPSPolicyForum.

We’ll be back again tomorrow morning!

 

Paramedics want paid bushfire relief leave

4.32pm, Wednesday 29 January

The Victorian paramedics’ union is calling for paid leave for paramedics who have been deployed as Army Reservists to bushfire-affected areas, writes Paul Sakkal in The Age. Around 30 Victorian paramedics are also Army Reservists, with 15 of them having been deployed as part of bushfire relief efforts, writes Sakkal. The Victorian Ambulance Union is threatening industrial action if the government does not accede to a range of demands.

 

Managing bushfire donations

3.34pm, Wednesday 29 January

Charitable organisations including the Australian Red Cross have been criticised recently for not acting swiftly enough to distribute donated money to bushfire survivors. The Saturday Paper’s Rick Morton covered the Red Cross’s Disaster Relief and Recovery Fund, speaking to past and present employees of the organisation.

Unlike campaigns for specific events such as the Black Saturday fires, donations to the Fund do not have to be used for a specific cause. Some employees have questioned the decision of the organisation to hold money in bank accounts rather than administer them to other charities and organisations working in bushfire communities, writes Morton.

Yet campaigns for specific causes can make money difficult to spend, according to some. Specifically, the Red Cross was reprimanded for struggling to spend money it raised for the victims of the 2002 Bali Bombings, writes Morton.

“They copped a lot of criticism for that because they raised so much money they could not spend it legally,” says one former staff member.

Approximately $30 million donated in the wake of the bushfires will be distributed to those in need immediately, with much more to be donated in the years to come, Poppy Brown from the Red Cross tells the ABC.

“What we know, and what we’ve always said to donors, is that it’s not just the immediate needs – but communities will take a long time to recover,” she says.

 

Australian Laureate Fellows call for urgent climate action

2.46pm, Wednesday 29 January

A number of Australian Laureate Fellows, a group of the country’s leading researchers funded by the Australian Research Council, have written an open letter calling for deep cuts in Australia’s carbon emissions in the wake of this bushfire season. Specifically, they reject the notion that making deep cuts in emissions will be “economically destructive”.

“This claim has no basis, nor is it consistent with Australia’s traditional optimism and ingenuity, nor with historical experience. Similar objections were raised in the past against government policies to limit air pollution, environmental toxins and ozone-destroying chemicals, but we collectively found ways to achieve mitigation at manageable cost, and with net benefits to society that are clear in hindsight,” they say.

In the letter, released on the same day that Prime Minister Scott Morrison delivers his 2020 opening address at the National Press Club, the group also says the international attention that the bushfires have generated “presents a unique opportunity for us to emerge as a leader on this challenge”.

“Doing so will aid our economy, strengthen our standing in international affairs and relations with neighbours, and help secure Australia and the world from the impacts of climate change,” they write.

Signatories to the letter include John Quiggin of the University of Queensland, David Lindenmayer of the Australian National University, John Dryzek of the University of Canberra, and Policy Forum Editor-in-Chief Quentin Grafton.

 

Bushfire smoke could have serious health impacts 

1.33pm, Wednesday 29 January

Research out of California on monkeys exposed to bushfire smoke reveals possibly serious consequences of small particles to humans, write Kathryn Diss and John Mees for the ABC. Expecting to observe signs of asthma in the monkeys, younger animals showed more persistent impacts on their immune and respiratory systems. As juvenile monkeys exposed to smokey conditions grew, the developed lungs with up to 20 per cent less capacity than healthy monkeys. As monkeys have similar physiology to humans, the findings could be instructive for policymakers and health professionals, says University of California researcher Dr Lisa Miller.

“Our findings should inform regulatory agencies because they can anticipate the types of health outcomes that might be expected in the human population,” says Dr Miller.

 

“No safe level” of PM2.5 particles

12.44pm, Wednesday 29 January

A large academic study has found a “significant association between cardiac arrest and exposure to fine particles,” writes Jenny Noyes for The Age. Led by researchers at the University of Sydney, the study examined Japanese air quality data against cardiac arrests.

Sydney residents were exposed to a record 81 days of bad air quality in 2019, according to a report in yesterday’s Sydney Morning Herald.

 

Australia’s soft power “up in smoke”

11.32am, Wednesday 29 January

Australia’s ‘soft power’ is being damaged by the bushfire crisis, with international media making the link between the bushfires and our climate policy, writes the Lowy Institute’s Hervé Lemahieu.

“Our rancour, partisanship and short-termism on the climate crisis present growing sinkholes for our international reputation. The cost to Australia’s soft power is just beginning to materialise,” he says.

 

Beware “dodgy” middlemen

10.36am, Wednesday 29 January

The Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) has warned people in bushfire-affected areas to be wary of signing with claims management companies. AFCA CEO Justin Untersteiner says some companies are employing aggressive sales tactics for products that deliver little for vulnerable consumers.

“The worst we are seeing is bullying tactics where these middlemen are quite pushy and creating panic,” he tells ABC Radio.

“We’re talking about people that are already vulnerable, who have experienced significant hardship, so it can be easy for them to enter an arrangement that they don’t understand.”

 

Volunteer firefighters

9.38am, Wednesday 29 January

Despite not being the only country to have volunteer fire services, Australia “relies on these volunteers to an extent unparalleled in the world, due to the country’s sheer size and the extent to which it is prone to bushfire,” says Dr Michelle Cull from Western Sydney University. Australia boasts the ninth most volunteer firefighters (195,798) of any nation, or approximately 4.5 per cent of the rural population, she says.

Siobhan Hegarty from the ABC produced a guide for young people who are concerned about the environment and looking to volunteer. While not everyone is best suited or eligible to volunteer as a firefighter, there are a range of organisations involved in wildlife protection and bushcare that accept volunteers.

 

Join the conversation

9.03am, Wednesday 29 January

Welcome back to our live blog of bushfire analysis and opinion!

Don’t forget, you can also join the conversation about the policy response to Australia’s bushfires on social media. Follow us on Twitter at @APPSPolicyForum or join our Policy Forum Pod Facebook group. More to come.


 

Thanks for joining us!

5.00pm, Tuesday 28 January

That’s all for today with our live blog of bushfire analysis and opinion.

If you see any outstanding stories you think we should cover, reach out directly at angus.blackman@anu.edu.au or join the conversation on Twitter via @APPSPolicyForum.

Thanks for joining us today – we’ll be back again tomorrow morning!

 

No silver bullet on bushfires?

4.43pm, Tuesday 28 January

Authorities should burn five per cent of Victoria’s forests every year to reduce the risk of bushfires, says bushfire expert Professor Kevin Tolhurst. Speaking to Liam Mannix from The Sydney Morning Herald, he says areas that recently experienced bushfires are especially vulnerable. When fire kills large trees, they are quickly replaced by smaller, more flammable trees.

“Wherever there was one tree, now there are 10 trees, or 50 trees,” he says. “And the chances are it will burn again. So those 10 trees will become 100 trees.”

However, other experts aren’t convinced by Tolhurst’s hazard-reduction argument.

“This summer’s fires have burnt through many areas that had hazard-reduction burning. They can help control fires in moderate weather conditions, but in severe conditions it might just help reduce the severity,” says Associate Professor Philip Gibbons, a bushfire researcher at ANU.

“If there was a silver bullet on bushfires we’d have found it by now, after the 51 inquiries since 1939.”

 

Local businesses trying to survive

3.42pm, Tuesday 28 January

Tourism businesses in bushfire-affected areas have suffered major losses after visitor numbers nosedived as a result of the crisis. In order to cope with the disruptions, some regional Victorian businesses have been changing it up to stay afloat, writes Erin Somerville for the ABC. Cheesemaker Melissa Jacka launched a Facebook campaign where people could sponsor one of her 120 goats.

“I was gobsmacked watching how many people it reached, how many times it was shared, and how many people we had never met before were all of a sudden interested in what we were doing and wanted to help,” Ms Jacka says.

The federal government recently announced $76 million in assistance for Australia’s tourism industry to boost domestic and international visitor numbers.

“Tourism is the lifeblood of so many communities around Australia and it’s absolutely critical that we help to get people back visiting those communities that rely on tourism,” says Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment Simon Birmingham.

 

Bushfires and national security

2.45pm, Tuesday 28 January

Climate change is a serious threat to national security, writes UNSW Canberra’s Associate Professor Robert Niven. Despite the threat made clear by the bushfires, Associate Professor Niven says Australia’s political class has failed to properly assess the risks.

“Despite the vast sums spent on Australia’s security over the past two decades, especially on terrorism and asylum seekers, Australia’s security and defence apparatus seems antiquated and unfit for purpose,” he says.

Bushfire experts, professors David Bowman and Ross Bradstock, say a national bushfire enquiry should assess the need for a national civil bushfire defence force to reduce the country’s reliance on state-based volunteer firefighters.

“The federal government could give members of a national bushfire force consistent training, equipment, remuneration, and protection of their rights. This could be akin to the army reserve, enabling effective nationwide integration of casual firefighters with professional state-based forces,” they say.

The Australian National University’s John Blaxland says the government should introduce an ‘Australian Universal Scheme for National and Community Service’ to take pressure of the Australian Defence Force in disaster response situations.

 

Infrastructure vulnerabilities

1.42pm, Tuesday 28 January

Regional communities in Victoria may have to wait another month for critical communications infrastructure to be restored, writes Sumeyya Ilanbey in The Age. Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews says the government is trying to find alternatives while Telstra rebuilds damaged and destroyed telecommunications infrastructure.

“It is frustrating, I know, but as much as can be done is being done as quickly as possible, and we try to make alternative arrangements for those communities that are still cut off,” he says.

Earlier this month, concerns were raised about Australia’s telecommunications infrastructure after a family was forced to rely on its soon-to-be decommissioned landline for critical information when their National Broadband Network, ABC radio and mobile connections all failed.

The Australian National University’s Professor Genevieve Bell says the fires demonstrate vulnerabilities in Australia’s critical infrastructure. Speaking to Linda Mottram on ABC Radio, Professor Bell says we much consider our impact on the planet and connect that with our “technology-dominated future”.

“This is what the future of the planet and of the relationship between humans, the ecosystem and tech could feel like,” she said.

 

Impact on vulnerable people

12.50pm, Tuesday 28 January

Longer bushfire seasons are “a big concern” for vulnerable communities living in bushfire-prone areas, Western Australia’s Department of Fire and Emergency Services community preparedness manager Su Ferreira says.

“It is about them being able to access our emergency information, to be able to understand that information and act upon that information to get themselves safe,” she tells the ABC.

Sydney residents experienced a record 81 days of bad air quality in 2019, writes Pallavi Singhal for The Sydney Morning Herald. While it’s still only January, there have already been 14 days of bad air quality in 2020 in the city. These conditions are especially challenging for children, pregnant women, and people with existing health conditions, The Australian National University’s Professor Sotiris Vardoulakis tells Singhal.

“We need to reconsider air conditioning and air filtration in the school environment and make sure that facilities are well-equipped to protect [people] from smoke,” he says.

 

Understanding each bushfire status

12.11pm, Tuesday 28 January

Are you unsure what bushfire descriptions like ‘out of control’ and ‘contained’ actually mean? Dr Thomas Duff from the University of Melbourne explains in this piece in The Conversation.

“The status of a fire is a description of the stage of the firefighting effort, not the nature of the fire or its likelihood of being a threat. This means that to understand what actions to take when an active fire is nearby, it’s important to follow the advice of your local fire and emergency information sources,” he says.

 

Australia a target for climate tariffs?

10.46am, Tuesday 28 January

Former trade minister and now Distinguished Fellow at ANU Dr Craig Emerson warns Australia could become the target of tariffs if it fails to do more to reduce emissions. The European Union has already signalled it may not sign a trade deal with Australia unless the government demonstrates its commitment to the Paris Agreement, he says, with Democrats in the United States signalling a similar approach could be possible if they take power.

“In Australia, we need a mature analysis of the cost of not taking effective action on climate change. Company CEOs and boards can be sure fund managers, banks, insurers and regulators will be counting carbon tariffs on Australian exports as a material risk,” he says.

 

NEW POST | What do bushfires mean for Australia’s water supply?

9.53am, Tuesday 28 January

More on this: Bushfires and Australia's water supply
This bushfire season has seen extreme pressure on water sources already under stress from drought, says The Australian National University’s Dr Aparna Lal. This water contamination and shortage present serious risks to Australians’ long-term health, she writes in a new piece for Policy Forum.

“Research shows that extreme weather events can impact the quality of drinking water. This includes increased concentration of bacteria and other microbial contaminants, changes to turbidity, and changes to colour and smell,” she says.

“In Australia, there have been strong examples of increased concentration of phosphorous and total nitrogen following bushfires compared to average pre-fire levels.”

 

Welcome back!

9.03am, Tuesday 28 January

Welcome back for week three of our live blog of bushfire analysis and opinion.In the face of disaster, misinformation can move quickly, and solutions can be hard to come by. As part of our mission to bring you relevant, fact-based, policy-focused debate on crucial issues, Policy Forum is covering analysis and opinion on the bushfires, from Australia and around the world.

Don’t miss a beat right here. If you see any analysis and opinion you think we should cover, reach out directly at angus.blackman@anu.edu.au.

You can also join the conversation on social media via @APPSPolicyForum on Twitter or in our Policy Forum Pod Facebook group.


 

That’s all for this week!

5.00pm, Friday 24 January

Thanks very much for following along with our live blog of bushfire analysis and opinion. We’ll be back again on Tuesday morning with more. Wishing everyone a safe, happy weekend!

 

PM can build a legacy

4.45pm, Friday 24 January

While bold changes in Australia’s climate policies are unlikely, Scott Morrison has the opportunity to build a legacy by making incremental changes, writes Tony Wood from the Grattan Institute. Changing Australia’s 2030 target is improbable, writes Wood, but committing to net zero emissions by 2050 would be a positive step.

“Success will position Scott Morrison as a worthy successor to the pragmatic Liberal leaders, Robert Menzies and John Howard. Failure will consign him to being yet another Australian political leader left defeated on the battlefield of our country’s climate wars,” he writes.

 

Legal frameworks failing

4.15pm, Friday 24 January

With bushfires set to increase in frequency and severity due to climate change, cross-border smoke as seen during Australia’s bushfires is likely to become a growing problem, write Dr Eric Kerr and Dr Malini Sur. Yet legal and policy frameworks are failing to capture the diffused responsibilities of climate issues, they say.

“As fire seasons worsen, political leaders will come under increasing pressure to stem the emission and spread of bushfire smoke. Key to this will be stronger climate change laws and enforcement, which recognise that a bushfire in one country can quickly become the world’s problem,” they write.

 

Power prices to rise

3.30pm, Friday 24 January

Rising insurance costs for electricity networks could lead to rising power prices for consumers, says Energy Networks Australia (ENA). More frequent bushfires are putting pressure on electricity infrastructure, ENA chief executive Andrew Dillon told the ABC.

“We don’t think there’s going to be an overnight increase of prices as a result of the fires of the last two months, but what we do see is as we have assets in areas where the risk of fire is higher than it was previously, that’s going to create challenges in the insurance and indeed the operations front that over time are likely to put upward pressure on prices,” he said.

 

Indigenous leadership required to manage bushfire risk

2.45pm, Friday 24 January

“Stronger, fairer collaboration” between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people is needed to manage bushfire risks and the Australian landscape more broadly, writes Vanessa Cavanagh in The Conversation.

“As an Indigenous person, researcher and parent (including as an Auntie within a large family) I want us to take better care of our Mother Earth. Future generations need Indigenous leadership, in this space and many other spaces, right now,” she writes.

 

NSW Nats focus on hazard-reduction

2.00pm, Friday 24 January

While acknowledging the impact of climate change on worsening bushfire conditions, National Party MPs say hazard-reduction is one of the “vital factors” in recent bushfires in a recent letter to party members, writes Lisa Visentin for The Age

“Innovative solutions to reducing fuel loads also need to be considered, including grazing, traditional cultural burns, and introducing a whole-of-land-management (nil tenure) approach,” the letter reads.

As posted yesterday in this blog, recent analysis by ABC Fact Check finds hazard-reduction burning has in fact roughly doubled in NSW in the last decade.

NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons says “our biggest challenge with hazard-reduction is the weather and the windows available to do it safely and effectively”.

 

Australia’s climate wars

1.19pm, Friday 24 January

SBS’s Nick Baker takes a look at the history of Australia’s climate politics, from John Howard’s opposition to the Kyoto Protocol to the current bushfire crisis. ANU Crawford School of Public Policy’s Dr Siobhan McDonnell (one of our expert panel on last week’s Policy Forum Pod) says climate and energy politics became “entrenched” in Australia’s Liberal Party once Malcolm Turnbull was toppled as prime minister in 2018.

“It became the defining issue for the [Liberal] leadership, it was like, you can only hold the leadership if you’re not prepared to take any meaningful steps in relation to climate change,” says Dr McDonnell.

 

BIS report a wake-up call: Crawford School economist

12.30pm, Friday 24 January

A recent Bank of International Settlements (BIS) report warning of the risks of climate change is “a very important wake-up call for governments,” ANU Crawford School of Public Policy’s Professor Warwick McKibbin tells ABC Radio. He points to climatic events linked to climate change, like Australia’s bushfires, and the possible collapse in value of carbon-intensive assets, such as coal-fired power stations, as key risk areas.

“Governments have not appreciated the extent of risk involved with climate change,” he says.

 

Scientist “horrified” to see his 1987 predictions come true

11.45pm, Friday 24 January

Dr Tom Beer, author of the first-ever research on the link between climate change and worsening bushfires, is “horrified” to be seeing his predictions coming true, writes Maani Truu for SBS. Then working at Australia’s CSIRO, Dr Beer authored the 1987 report, ‘Australian bushfire danger under changing climatic regimes’.

“Time has made our warnings a terrible reality. Without urgent action to deeply reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it is only going to get worse,” he says.

 

Australia and the Doomsday Clock

11.00am, Friday 24 January

Australia has been singled out for climate inaction by speakers at the ‘Doomsday Clock’ event in the United States, writes Matthew Knott from the Sydney Morning Herald. Run by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, the Clock indicates how close the group believes a global, man-made catastrophe is to occuring. At the event, the group moved the hands “closer to midnight than at any point in its 73-year history because of the growing risk of climate change, nuclear war and disinformation,” writes Knott.

Executive Director of the group and former California Governor Jerry Brown strongly criticised the Australian government for being in “utter and absolute denial” of the climate threat.

“Under its current leadership, Australia is fostering denial in an incredibly mendacious way,” he said.

 

ANU Climate Update

10.14am, Friday 24 January

How is our climate changing and what can we do to respond? Join us at the ANU Climate Update 2020 to engage with the latest climate research and discuss the way forward in a low-carbon future.

Hosted by the ANU Climate Change Institute, the event will take place at The Australian National University on Wednesday 12 February. More details are available via Eventbrite.

 

NEW PODCAST | Climate change – policy perfect vs policy possible

9.35am, Friday 24 January

Australia’s federal government is coming under increasing pressure to change course on its climate policies, but will it lead to tangible policy change? This week on Policy Forum Pod, our expert panel – Professor Frank Jotzo, Professor Quentin Grafton, Dr Tayanah O’Donnell and Meegan Fitzharris – take a look at how the events of the last couple of months have shifted public views and how that might, or might not, translate into policy change.

 

Welcome back!

9.04am, Friday 24 January

Welcome back to our live blog of bushfire analysis and opinion for another day.

Get in touch with me if you see quality pieces of analysis and opinion on the bushfires. You can email me directly at angus.blackman@anu.edu.au or join the conversation on Twitter via @APPSPolicyForum. More to come.


 

Thanks for joining us!

5.00pm, Thursday 23 January

Thanks for following along again today – we’ll be back again at 9am (AEST) tomorrow.

If you see any analysis and opinion you think we should cover, reach out directly at angus.blackman@anu.edu.au or join the conversation on Twitter via @APPSPolicyForum.

 

Logging fire-ravaged forests

4.59pm, Thursday 23 January

Logging operators in New South Wales and Victoria are hoping to extract millions of tonnes of burnt wood from fire-ravaged forests across the two states, writes Noel Towell in The Age. However, if the operators don’t get to the burnt softwood trees within three months and hardwood trees within two years, the material will become unusable, he writes.

Australian National University Professor David Lindenmayer recently told AAP that logging forests can make them more vulnerable to bushfires by making them drier and generating flammable debris.

 

Protecting homes from fire

4.11pm, Thursday 23 January 

With thousands of homes lost in this bushfire season, residents looking to rebuild are reconsidering building designs to make them more bushfire-resistant. While it’s possible to design safer buildings, completely bushfire-proofing a house is not possible, CSIRO bushfire adaptation expert Justin Leonard tells the ABC.

“You can do all these wonderful things with your design but if you miss one or two key details, more or less those weaknesses will determine how your house burns down,” he says.

Many people don’t have enough insurance to cover the true value of their homes in the event of a disaster, writes Emily Stewart from the ABC. Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows 1.8 million households have no home insurance, while up to 80 per cent of households could be underinsured, she writes.

 

More families struggle to access support

3.32pm, Thursday 23 January

Despite losing their Mallacoota home to the fires three weeks ago, the Girvan family hasn’t been able to access financial support from the Red Cross or the Gippsland Emergency Relief Fund, according to Michael Fowler from The Age. The Girvans have applied for both, but haven’t heard back and have been given no timeline for payments to be made, writes Fowler.

New South Wales state parliamentarian Andrew Constance has criticised charities like the Red Cross, St Vincent de Paul and the Salvation Army for not getting support to bushfire survivors quickly enough.

“The money is needed now, not sitting in a Red Cross bank account earning interest so they can map out their next three years and do their marketing,” he said.

 

Nature blasts Australian leaders for “wasted decade”

2.45pm, Thursday 23 January

In the wake of the bushfire crisis, renowned research journal Nature has published an editorial criticising Australia’s inaction on climate change. Despite having evidence suggesting climate change will make bushfire seasons longer and more severe, the journal says Australia “has repeatedly prioritized the coal industry’s needs over the planet’s”.

“The country’s politicians delayed meaningful action through a wasted decade of arguments over whether human activities are causing climate change — in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence that they are,” writes Nature.

Medical journal, The Lancet, described the bushfires as a “health crisis” in an editorial last week. The journal went further, saying “a planetary health crisis is unfolding” as a result of climate change and criticised Australian politicians for failing to deal with the “underlying issue of the fossil fuel industry’s stranglehold” in the country.

“Australia is one of the few Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries still building new coal mines, and the continuing damage that this does to Australia’s human and planetary health is in plain and tragic sight.”

 

NEW POST | Tipping points and the Earth System

2.24pm, Thursday 23 January

The Australian bushfires represent a tipping point, writes Australian National University climate expert, Professor Will Steffen. In a new piece for Policy Forum, Professor Steffen says other subsystems in the Earth System can also undergo abrupt shifts, accelerating the rate of climate change and threatening to make human interventions irrelevant.

“Without rapid and deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, a global tipping cascade could drive the entire Earth System on an accelerating trajectory towards a ‘Hothouse Earth’ state. In essence, such a cascade would take the system out of human control,” he writes.

 

Prescribed burning in NSW has doubled this decade

1.15pm, Thursday 23 January

Many have pointed the finger at a lack of prescribed or hazard-reduction burning as a reason Australia’s fire season has been so severe. However, hazard-reduction burning has in fact roughly doubled in NSW in the last decade, find ABC Fact Check.

The Australian National University’s Professor Philip Gibbons told the ABC it is “wrong to castigate state agencies” for not reaching prescribed burning targets as the drought makes such action dangerous. Prime Minister Morrison recently told Sky News Australia he wants to introduce a national system of reporting on hazard-reduction to create greater accountability.

 

Australia’s Pearl Harbour moment?

12.30pm, Thursday 23 January

Ross Gittins, Economics Editor at The Sydney Morning Herald, describes the bushfire crisis as Australia’s “Pearl Harbour moment” – the moment at which the country stops viewing climate change as a distant threat and starts seeing it as a present reality. Not only has it served as a wake-up call for Australia, but for the entire world, with the fires receiving extensive coverage in international news. In response, Gittins calls for greater leadership from the Prime Minister, drawing parallels between this moment and the Port Arthur massacre, when John Howard strengthened Australia’s gun control laws, despite considerable resistance within his government and its constituencies.

“What we need is a leader great enough to seize our Pearl Harbour moment and turn it into a Port Arthur moment – the moment when a prime minister exercises true leadership and uses the horrible reality of death and destruction to win public support for big changes to stop such things becoming regular events,” he writes

 

A journey through post-bushfire Kangaroo Island

12.00pm, Thursday 23 January

The team at Guardian Australia have interviewed a series of people on the ground who have been working to save wildlife on Kangaroo Island. Erica Martin, CEO of Humane Society International Australia, described the devastation she saw upon arriving on the island.

“It’s almost as if you’re walking into a world of black and white…The earth doesn’t event seem to be there, it’s just coated in thick grey ash…then you have these charred remains of animals that are lying everywhere,” she said.

In terms of responding to the crisis, she calls for more from legislators.

“We have to have environmental legislation that genuinely protects animals. We have to be looking after this habitat. We have to be taking what may be tough decisions now, but that will eventually secure what we have left,” she says.

 

How schools can help students cope

11.02am, Thursday 23 January

Schools can play an important role in helping students cope with the bushfires, providing “a sense of familiarity, routine and security among chaos”, write researchers Rachael Jacobs and Carol Mutch. Schools and teachers can help students adjust by allowing greater flexibility in classroom activities, providing creative outlets for students to express their experiences and working with parents to support students who have experienced trauma.

“Eventually, a school in recovery will settle into the routine of a new normal, in which students become a little more used to their changed lives and continually changing world – although they may have occasional emotional or behavioural wobbles,” they say.

 

PODCAST | Managing bushfires

10.20am, Thursday 23 January

If you haven’t already don’t forget to check out part one and part two of our special new episode of Policy Forum Pod, ‘Managing bushfires’.

In part one, we get personal and policy reflections from experts on Australia’s terrible bushfires, and take a look at what comes next.

In part two, our panel look at future policy beyond quick solutions – from physical and mental health implications to the role of a royal commission.

This week’s pod will be out on Friday morning with an expert panel of Professor Frank Jotzo, Meegan Fitzharris, Dr Tayanah O’Donnell, and Professor Quentin Grafton taking a look at the policy perfect versus politically possible of measures to tackle climate change. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Android, or wherever you get your pods and it’ll be waiting for your morning commute on Friday.

 

“Bushfires are foreign affairs”

9.30am, Thursday 23 January

Australia’s bushfires have impacted people well beyond its national borders, writes Australian Foreign Affairs editor Jonathan Pearlman. Not only have they dominated headlines around the world, but bushfire smoke has clouded the far-off skies as far away as South America. While doing more to tackle climate change would help Australia address the bushfire threat, he says it would also have diplomatic benefits.

“As Australia adjusts its aid program to focus on Pacific countries and reduces funding across Southeast Asia, international collaboration on climate change could help to replace the role that development programs have played in improving Australia’s regional ties,” he says.

 

Share your favourite analysis!

9.00am, Thursday 23 January

As we welcome you to another day of our live blog of bushfire analysis and opinion, we invite you to share your favourite pieces of analysis and opinion on the bushfires. You can email me directly at angus.blackman@anu.edu.au or join the conversation on Twitter via @APPSPolicyForum. More to come.


 

See you tomorrow!

5.00pm, Wednesday 22 January

That’s all for today – thanks for joining us! We’ll see you again tomorrow on our live blog of bushfire analysis and opinion.

Just a reminder that if you see any analysis and opinion you think we should cover, reach out directly at angus.blackman@anu.edu.au. You can also join the conversation on Twitter via @APPSPolicyForum.

 

NEW POST | Tackling climate change in a ‘post-truth’ world 

4.43pm, Wednesday 22 January

More on this: Climate change in a ‘post-truth’ world
In a new piece for Policy Forum, Professor Quentin Grafton and Professor Tom Kompas argue it is illogical and contrary to self-interest for Australia not to do more to reduce its emissions and support global action.

“If we want Australia’s children to be optimistic, or to even have a future, Australia (and the world) has no choice but to undertake effective action to avoid catastrophic climate change. The alternative is unthinkable,” they write.

 

Fires changing faster that ecosystems can adapt

4.15pm, Wednesday 22 January

While bushfires are a feature of the Australian landscape, the pattern of fires in recent years has changed so significantly that native flora and fauna are struggling “to adapt and survive”, writes The Australian National University Associate Professor Cris Brack. Despite having adapted to fire, many species are finding it difficult to cope with the more severe fires that have resulted from Australia’s warming and drying climate, he says.

In response, he calls for an active fire management system, including having trained professionals on the ground, creating refuges for wildlife and clearing forest biomass that would otherwise become fuel for fires and converting it into biochar to replenish soil damaged by fire.

 

Black Saturday survivor says trauma leaves lasting scars

3.37pm, Wednesday 22 January

“You just don’t get over it…it doesn’t go away, it just stays with you,” says Isabella Laudisio, survivor of Victoria’s 2009 Black Saturday bushfires.

Isabella lost her father and friends in the fires, and tells Tom Stayner from the SBS that the recent fires brings back memories of that day. The federal government announced a $76 million mental health package in response to the bushfires, but Associate Professor Lisa Gibbs from the University of Melbourne tells Stayner that supporting the long-term needs of survivors is crucial.

“There will be a significant minority who will struggle in the longer term and that’s what we need to be conscious of…providing support for those people,” she said.

In a recent piece calculating the economic costs of the fires, Dr Paul Read and Dr Richard Denniss said it is very difficult to put a value on the “intangible” costs like the subsequent mental health impacts on bushfire survivors.

 

More concerns for wildlife

2.59pm, Wednesday 22 January

Wild horses may have to be culled in order to protect native species after the bushfires, says Australian National University PhD student Renee Hartley. The horses have had their habitat dramatically reduced as a result of the fires and are now competing with other species for space in the NSW highlands, writes Peter Hannam in The Age’s report. This is putting pressure on native species, like the endangered Alpine she-oak skink, according to Ms Hartley.

“Controlling those animals will give native species a much better chance of recovery,” she said.

As posted earlier in the day, this comes after recent reports the NSW government is planning the state’s largest-ever predator cull to protect native species made especially vulnerable after the bushfires.

 

Treasurer wants “balanced” approach to climate risk

2.27pm, Wednesday 22 January

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has rejected the assertion in a Bank of International Settlements (BIS) report that national central banks may have to buy-back high emissions assets like coal mines in order to dramatically reduce emissions. Instead, the Treasurer has argued for a more “balanced” approach to managing climate risk, write Andrew Tillett and Mark Ludlow from the Australian Financial Review.

As posted on the live blog yesterday, the BIS report warns climate change could lead to the next global financial crisis in a new report and called a global carbon tax a “first-best solution”.

 

Hazard reduction as important as tackling emissions, says PM

2.05pm, Wednesday 22 January

Prime Minister Scott Morrison described hazard reduction as a “more practical” way to ensure people’s safety than reducing emissions in a recent television interview.

“There’s been plenty of chat around emissions reduction and that’s fine, hazard reduction though is the thing that is going to take a more practical effect on how safe people are in future fire seasons,” he said.

He also flagged a national system of accountability for hazard reduction burns.

Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott played down the link between climate change and the bushfires in a recent speech in the United States, writes Matthew Knott in The Sydney Morning Herald.

“Everything associated with an extreme weather event these days is taken as proof of climate change,” he said.

 

Could regional neglect be Australia’s downfall?

12.30pm, Wednesday 22 January

Australia needs to shift its attitude towards regional areas, says Vice-Chancellor of CQUniversity, Professor Nick Klomp. While regional Australia will suffer most as a result of climate change, “perpetual neglect of our regions is eroding the security we once enjoyed as a resilient and prosperous nation,” he tells the ABC.

“The need for a national, war-like pivot to arming the regions with the resources and workforces required to meet our looming climate challenges is patently obvious to me,” he says.

 

Get in contact!

11.45am, Wednesday 22 January

Share your favourite analysis and opinion pieces with us! Reach out directly at angus.blackman@anu.edu.au or join the conversation on Twitter via @APPSPolicyForum.

 

Predator cull on the cards

11.00am, Wednesday 22 January

An estimated one billion animals have been killed by the bushfires, but those that have survived may still be under increased threat from feral predators, according to this report by the ABC. In response, the NSW government is planning the state’s largest-ever cull of feral animals. Jess Abrahams from the Australian Conservation Foundation said this is an important step to protect native species after the fires.

“The habitat has been damaged and wildlife literally don’t have a place to hide. And cats and foxes in particular can have a big impact right now on animals that are really struggle to eat, to find water if they need, and to have habitat to hide in,” he said.

 

Rain a helping hand, but fires could worsen again

10.19am, Wednesday 22 January

While recent rain hasn’t extinguished fires burning in Australia’s southeast, it has made conditions more favourable for firefighters in containing blazes, Ben Shepherd from the NSW Rural Fire Service told The Guardian

“They are by no means out. But we have seen a reduction, and it has given some crews a chance to take a break before we see the possibility of fire activity over NSW increasing,” he says.

Conditions could still worsen though, he says, with fire conditions likely to return later in the week.

 

Surplus in doubt

9.36am, Wednesday 22 January

The government’s promised May budget surplus may be in doubt due to the bushfires, according to a report by Greg Brown at The Australian. Treasurer Josh Frydenberg told reporters it was too early to say what impact the fires would have.

“I’m not in a position to give a firm answer to that question because the full economic impact (of the bushfires) is still uncertain,” he said.

Writing for Guardian Australia, Greg Jericho says the fires have been a hit to consumer confidence. While government spending on bushfire relief may provide some boost, it is “likely to be at best enough to counter the economic hit rather than provide a level of stimulus that was needed even before the fires,” he says.

 

Welcome back to our live blog

9.02am, Wednesday 22 January

Thanks for joining us again on our live blog of bushfire and analysis and opinion!

Just a reminder that if you see any analysis and opinion you think we should cover, reach out directly at angus.blackman@anu.edu.au. You can also join the conversation on Twitter via @APPSPolicyForum.

Don’t forget to check out our In Focus section on the bushfires as well. This week we’ve published new pieces on the role of the Australian Defence Force in disaster relief, environmental crises and the economy and part two of our special episode of Policy Forum Pod, ‘Managing bushfires’.


 

Thanks for following!

5.09pm, Tuesday 21 January

That’s it for today for our live blog of bushfire analysis and opinion – join us again tomorrow morning for more updates!

If you see any analysis and opinion you think we should cover, reach out directly at angus.blackman@anu.edu.au. You can also join the conversation on social media via @APPSPolicyForum on Twitter.

 

Global institutions issue climate warning

4.47pm, Tuesday 21 January

The Bank of International Settlements (BIS) has warned climate change could lead to the next global financial crisis in a new report. Owned by 60 central banks from around the world including the Reserve Bank of Australia, the BIS called a global carbon tax a “first-best solution”, according to Michael Roddan from The Australian

The International Monetary Fund has also downgraded its global economic forecasts, warning of the growing threat posed by climate change.

 

Bushfire victims struggling to access assistance payments

4.24pm, Tuesday 21 January

Some bushfire survivors are struggling to access support, according to this report by Alex Turner-Cohen for news.com.au. NSW south coast resident Rae Harvey lost her home in the fires. She tried twice to access the government’s $1,000 relief payment, but said red-tape got in the way both times.

“They want me to provide bank account details from when I last received a government assistance payment over 25 years ago,” she said.

 

Australian weather makes international headlines

3.49pm, Tuesday 21 January

Australia’s summer weather has continued to captivate audiences overseas, with yesterday’s freak hailstorm in Canberra making headlines abroad. Large hailstones wreaked havoc through Australia’s capital city, resulting in around 11,000 insurance claims for damaged cars and property.

The BBC has also produced an interesting visual guide to the bushfires, with imagery showing the extent of the fires, the impact of the bushfire smoke and Australia’s changing climate.

 

Donations not enough to cover damage

2.55pm, Tuesday 21 January

Despite bushfire relief donations reaching $250 million, that is probably not enough to cover the damage caused by the bushfire crisis, said the head of charitable organisation St Vincent de Paul. Despite that, Jack de Groot told the ABC he has been overwhelmed by the response of those who have donated.

“I’ve never seen this sort of generosity for a bushfire appeal across multiple states,” he said.

University of Queensland economist John Quiggan recently said the total damage bill could reach $100 billion, a figure seconded by Dr Paul Read and Dr Richard Denniss.

 

Ex-fire chief blasts “appalling” leadership failure

2.00pm, Tuesday 21 January

Former commissioner of Fire and Rescue NSW Greg Mullins has written a scathing assessment of the federal government, saying proposals for more resources and national coordination were “ridiculed”. Writing in The Guardian, he called on the government to take “urgent action” to address the “climate emergency”.

“There has been an appalling failure in national leadership from Canberra. Failure to recognise and prepare for what was coming. Failure to accept briefings from experts. Failure to understand and accept the government’s national support role to the states and territories. Failure to provide funding certainty for critical equipment requested by fire agencies in a detailed business case but stalled in Canberra since May 2018.”

 

NEW POST | From smog to smoke to sustainable wellbeing

1.15pm, Tuesday 21 January

More on this: From smog to smoke
The fires and smoke affecting Australia are a wake-up call to change course, writes Crawford School’s Professor Robert Costanza in a new piece for Policy Forum. While the bushfires signalled a bleak start to the new decade, environmental crises have changed the course of history for the better before, and they can do so again, he argues.

“Ultimately, we need to shift our societal goals to a broader conception of sustainable wellbeing in order to finally resolve these issues and overcome our current addiction to fossil fuels and mindless GDP growth that benefits only the top 0.1 per cent,” said Professor Costanza.

 

Reach out!

12.47pm, Tuesday 21 January

Don’t forget to reach out and share your your top analysis and opinion pieces on the bushfires.

You can contact me directly at angus.blackman@anu.edu.au or join the conversation on Twitter via @APPSPolicyForum.

 

Firefighters union chief says no to royal commission

11.39am, Tuesday 21 January

Peter Marshall, National Secretary of the United Firefighters Union of Australia, has said a royal commission into the bushfire disaster will duplicate state inquiries triggered by fire-related deaths. In addition, he called on the federal government to learn lessons from previous inquiries rather than establish another royal commission into bushfires.

“We must seriously think through any reasons for a federal royal commission before we subject career and volunteer firefighters and community members to such an emotional process,” he said.

Speaking on the latest Policy Forum Pod, Professor Stephen Dovers from The Australian National University echoed these sentiments.

“A quasi-judicial inquiry often re-traumatises both responders and others. It [can become] more adversarial and blame-seeking,” he said.

 

Bowen calls for climate change health strategy

11.00am, Tuesday 21 January

The Opposition health spokesperson Chris Bowen has called for a “national climate change health strategy” in an op-ed in The Sydney Morning Herald. Mr Bowen pointed to efforts being made to understand the impacts of climate change on health in the United States, the United Kingdom and Europe as examples of what is possible.

“We need the impact of climate change to be much higher in the health policy agenda. We are significantly behind comparable countries in this regard,” he said.

 

Seasonal workers and the bushfires

10.13am, Tuesday 21 January

Nearly 50 ni-Vanuatu seasonal workers were forced to evacuate from Batlow in the New South Wales Riverina when fires threatened the town. While all were evacuated safely to Wagga Wagga, The Australian National University’s Dr Rochelle-Lee Bailey said more research is required to understand the impact of the disaster on the workers. In Australia on the Seasonal Worker Program, the workers were well received and even raised funds for the victims, wrote Dr Bailey on Devpolicy. But while all are safe, the disaster will put financial pressure on the workers, many of whom will have only just paid off debt they accrued as part of participating in the program.

 

Endangered species

9.27am, Tuesday 21 January

Fire has seriously impacted the habitat of 25 critically endangered species, according to experts from the University of Queensland. Michelle Ward told the ABC she and her colleagues compared NASA imagery of the bushfires and existing maps of threatened species to come to the figure. Critically endangered species are those that are “considered to be facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild”, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

As a little aside, the ABC has shared some outstanding photography of the aftermath of fires, taken by Brendan Esposito.

 

Welcome back to our live blog

9.00am, Tuesday 21 January

Welcome back to our live blog of bushfire and analysis and opinion!

In the face of disaster, misinformation can move quickly, and solutions can be hard to come by. As part of our mission to bring you relevant, fact-based, policy-focused debate on crucial issues, Policy Forum is covering analysis and opinion on Australia’s bushfires.

If you see any analysis and opinion you think we should cover, reach out directly at angus.blackman@anu.edu.au. You can also join the conversation on social media via @APPSPolicyForum on Twitter or in our Policy Forum Pod Facebook group. More to come.


 

Thanks for joining us today!

5.07pm, Monday 20 January

Thanks for following our live blog today! We’ll be back again tomorrow morning. In the meantime, if you’re looking for a podcast for your trip home, you can listen to part two of our special new Policy Forum Pod episode on managing bushfires now. Part one is also available.

Don’t forget you can also share your favourite pieces of analysis with us. Reach out to me directly at angus.blackman@anu.edu.au or join the conversation on Twitter via @APPSPolicyForum.

 

Should we rebuild in fire zones?

4.33pm, Monday 20 January

After the royal commission into Victoria’s Black Saturday, a buy-back scheme was introduced for some with properties in bushfire affected areas. University of Melbourne bushfire expert Associate Professor Kevin Tolhurst told ABC Radio a compulsory buy-back scheme should be introduced.

“There’s a massive legacy there of people living in indefensible locations. So we need to recognise that there were some mistakes made from a planning point of view,” he said.

 

Small business lifelines

3.51pm, Monday 20 January

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a series of measures to support small businesses in bushfire affected areas. Among the measures are grants of up to $50,000 for business and not-for-profits that sustained damage from the fires and concessional loans of up to $500,000 for businesses that have “suffered significant asset loss or a significant loss of revenue”.

 

The $1 trillion plan to decarbonise Australia

3.09pm, Monday 20 January

Australian entrepreneur Saul Griffiths said Australia could decarbonise for around $100,000 per household in an interview with Angus Grigg at the Australian Financial Review. The process would take around two decades and involve a similar rate of spending undertaken by Australia during World War II, he said.

“Australia could be the first nation on earth of significant size to go completely carbon free,” he told the AFR

The Australian National University’s Professor Frank Jotzo said Griffith’s plan represents the “gold standard”, but decarbonisation could actually be done for much less.

 

Send us your favourite analysis

2.15pm, Monday 20 January

Don’t forget to share your your top analysis and opinion pieces on the bushfires with us!

You can contact me directly at angus.blackman@anu.edu.au or join the conversation on Twitter via @APPSPolicyForum.

 

Fears for critically endangered honeyeater

1.36pm, Monday 20 January

Fires in the Blue Mountains could have a major impact on many species living in the region, said University of Sydney’s Dr Aaron Greenville. Fires in the region have burned 80 per cent of the region’s protected wilderness, he said. One species likely to be impacted is the critically endangered regent honeyeater, said The Australian National University’s Ross Crates. The honeyeater is limited in terms of where it can breed, so with the fires damaging large swathes of wilderness, they are likely to have a major impact on the population.

“This will reduce the number of potential areas where they can nest and could have a significant impact on their breeding productivity over the next few years,” he said.

 

NEW POST | Defending Australia from future catastrophe

12.55pm, Monday 20 January

More on this: Defending Australia from future catastrophe
Some people have been calling for the Australian Defence Force (ADF) to take a greater role in responding to disasters like the bushfires, but The Australian National University’s Professor John Blaxland has an alternative proposal. Rather than risk overstretching the ADF, Professor Blaxland called on the government to introduce an ‘Australian Universal Scheme for National and Community Service’.

“This could include a mix of full-time and part-time service in the Navy, Army, Air Force, Border Force, state or federal police forces, ambulance services, state emergency and rural fire services and Australian Aid abroad, akin to what was known as the United States ‘Peace Corps’,” he said.

On 7 January 2020 Federal Member of Parliament and army colonel Mike Kelly also called for a national ‘Civil Defence Corps’ that could be mobilised in the event of major disasters.

 

Australia’s costliest disaster

12.15pm, Monday 20 January

With weeks of the fire season still to come, this year’s fires will be Australia’s most costly natural disaster “by far”, according to Dr Paul Read and Dr Richard Denniss. Writing in The Conversation, the pair say the “tangible” cost of the disaster could total $100 billion. However, that figure doesn’t include “intangible” costs, such as “the social costs of mental health problems and unemployment and increases in suicide, substance abuse, relationship breakdowns and domestic violence.

 

NEW PODCAST | Managing bushfires (part two)

11.15am, Monday 20 January

Do we need a royal commission? Is there a more extensive role for the Australian Defence Force? How do we prepare for health challenges as climate change makes disasters more frequent?

Listen to part two of the special new episode of Policy Forum Pod, where we discuss the best way to respond to Australia’s bushfire crisis.

 

Building costs to rise in bushfire zones

10.46am, Monday 20 January

Tougher standards in bushfire-affected areas are will lead to increased costs for those seeking to rebuild, the NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons told Deborah Snow at The Sydney Morning Herald.

“So if you are going to rebuild, you are not building the same $100,000 house that you built 30 years ago, it’s going to be a more expensive house, and then on top of that, those bushfire protection measures. So there are some real challenges when it comes to everyone contemplating their rebuilding prospects,” he said.

On climate change, the state fire chief said the RFS has been factoring in climate science for over a decade.

 

Economist calls for no post-bushfire rate cut

10.13am, Monday 20 January

Former Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) board member, Professor Warwick McKibbin, has urged the central bank to resist cutting official interest rates, despite the bushfire crisis causing significant economic losses. Professor McKibbin, who is now based at ANU Crawford School of Public Policy, told Patrick Commins at The Australian that rate cuts are losing their effectiveness as they are already very low.

“Once rates get to a certain level, the effects start to disappear quickly. There’s a balance between­ cheaper credit and making people concerned that there is a serious problem. There are much better policies to stimulate growth than cutting rates,” he said.

 

Welcome to week two!

9.03am, Monday 20 January

Welcome back to our live blog of bushfire and analysis and opinion!

We’re bringing this blog to you as part of our In Focus section on Australia’s bushfires, where we’ve also published a number of original pieces by experts in health, climate science, land management, international relations and more. We invite you to check them out.

Don’t forget you can follow us on Twitter via @APPSPolicyForum. If podcasts are more your thing, you can join our Policy Forum Pod Facebook group. More to come soon.


 

That’s all for this week!

5.00pm, Friday 17 January

Thanks to everyone for following along with our live blog this week. We’ll be back again on Monday morning with more analysis and opinion on Australia’s bushfires.

Don’t forget, if you see any high quality analysis of the crisis over the weekend you can email me on angus.blackman@anu.edu.au or join the conversation on Twitter via @APPSPolicyForum. Wishing everyone a safe and enjoyable weekend!

 

Emissions to rise when drought ends?

4.47pm, Friday 17 January

Emissions from farm animals is likely to significantly increase when the drought in much of Australia eventually breaks, said Professor Mark Howden, Director of the ANU Climate Change Institute. After rains hit, farmers are likely to build-up their breeding herd quickly and grow their animals’ feed intake, he told The Sydney Morning Herald. This could lead to an increase of as much as 4 million tonnes of emissions per year, he said.

 

Logged forests more vulnerable to fire

3.57pm, Friday 17 January

While the changing climate is the main driver of increasingly intense bushfires, logging forests can make them more vulnerable, said ANU Professor David Lindenmayer. Logging forests make them drier and provide flammable debris, making them susceptible to more intense fire, Professor Lindenmayer told AAP. Researchers observed logged forests burned more intensely during the 2009 Black Saturday fires.

“It’s not a profitable industry. It’s adding dramatically to the fire risk. This is crazy,” said Professor Lindenmayer.

 

Our climate’s “moment of crisis”

3.21pm, Friday 17 January

Sir David Attenborough has told the BBC we have reached a “moment of crisis” in terms of climate change. In the interview, he described the Australian bushfires a “major international crisis” and said they have been driven by rising global temperatures.

 

Germany to phase out coal

2.26pm, Friday 17 January

The German government has announced a plan to phase out its coal-fired power stations by 2038. The deal struck between the central government and regional leaders included €40 billion (AU $64.6 billion) in compensation for four German states most impacted. The move will make Germany the first country to move away from both nuclear and coal-fired power, Environment Minister Svenja Schulze told the BBC.

Could Australia follow suit? On Twitter Crawford School’s Associate Professor Llewelyn Hughes has pointed to a paper written by Professor Frank Jotzo back in 2015 which details a way the country could do the same.

 

NEW POST | The policy problems of fleeing disaster

1.13pm, Friday 17 January

More on this: Fleeing disaster
Australia’s fires have revealed the need to be prepared for the effects of displacement, says Scientia Professor Jane McAdam from the University of NSW’s Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law. Writing for Policy Forum, she said policies must be put in place to protect those forced to move.

“No matter what action is taken globally to address anthropogenic climate change, we are set on a course that means some degree of disaster displacement is inevitable. However, we can reduce its scale and impact if we develop, fund and implement well-attuned policies now that spare others the upheaval and loss faced by those displaced by this summer’s bushfires,” she wrote.

 

NEW PODCAST | Managing bushfires (part one)

12.41pm, Friday 17 January

The new year has been anything but happy for many people in Australia. With 27 lives lost, and more than 1600 properties destroyed in this terrible bushfire season, many have started to seek answers to how we can better manage fires in the future. In part one of a two-part Policy Forum Pod episode, presenters Dr Paul Wyrwoll and Martyn Pearce speak to Professor Janette Lindesay, Dr Siobhan McDonnell, Professor Stephen Dovers, and Dr Liz Hanna about their personal experiences with the fires, and the role climate change plays in making these kind of disastrous events even more severe.

 

Royal Commission: yes or no?

11.15am, Friday 17 January

On Sunday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a bushfire royal commission to review the response to the crisis. While the proposal still has to be approved by Cabinet, some have questioned whether it is necessary. 

Firefighter unions are split on the proposal, writes Maani Truu for SBS. Kevin Tolhurst, fire ecology and management expert from the University of Melbourne, expressed his doubts, having personally given evidence at seven previous bushfire enquiries.

“Rather than using time and resources on inquiry No. 58, we should instead commit to fully implement the recommendations of all the previous inquiries, reviews and royal commissions we have already held,” he wrote.

Paul Barnes, head of the risk and resilience program at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, argued the royal commission can be valuable despite the risk of duplicating previous bushfire reviews.

“Great national benefit can be gained from the various reviews, including options for more proactive federal government activity and support during disasters,” he wrote in The Strategist.

 

Marsupials struggling in hot weather

10.06am, Friday 17 January

It’s not just people who feel sluggish in the hot weather, marsupials might also be struggling, according to new research by ANU PhD candidate Phillipa Beale. The research shows marsupials like koalas, possums and gliders are forced to change their eating habits in hot weather because of the toxins found in Eucalyptus leaves.

“Processing the toxins generates body heat, which is obviously not ideal when it’s hot,” said Ms Beale.

“The animals compensate by eating less, which means they have less energy for everything else – including reproducing.”

 

Good morning!

9.30am, Friday 17 January

Good morning everybody! Welcome back to our live blog of bushfire analysis and opinion. Don’t forget to send through your favourite pieces to angus.blackman@anu.edu.au

You can also check out all of the original pieces we’ve published in our In Focus section on the bushfires. We’ll also be releasing our first Policy Forum Pod for 2020 on fire management today, so stay tuned!


 

That’s it for today, see you again tomorrow!

5.00pm, Thursday 16 January

Thanks for joining us on the live blog today! Don’t forget to share your favourite analysis of the bushfire crisis with us. Contact me directly at angus.blackman@anu.edu.au or join the conversation on Twitter at @APPSPolicyForum.

 

Ready for change?

4.52pm, Thursday 16 January

Criticism of Australia’s emissions reduction efforts has been growing in recent times, but has this crisis become a turning point for the country’s climate policies? The Lowy Institute have regularly surveyed Australians about their attitudes towards climate change since 2006.

In 2019, but before the bushfire crisis, 61 per cent of respondents agreed that “global warming is a serious and pressing problem” and that we “should begin taking steps now even if this involves significant costs”. This statement received the second highest response since they started polling on the issue.

Speaking to CNN, ANU Crawford School of Public Policy’s Professor Frank Jotzo said “the overwhelming majority of Australians see climate change as a real problem, see climate change as a man-made problem and say that something should be done about it.”

While Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison once brought a lump of coal into parliament and praised its importance to the Australian economy, Swati Pandey from Reuters reports there has been a change in tone from his government since the bushfires.

“I think we want to have a high level of confidence that as a nation we are improving our resilience and our adaptation to respond to the reality of the environment in which we live,” said the PM on Wednesday.

 

Animal species under threat 

3.59pm, Thursday 16 January

A Victorian state government report has concluded 54 species of wildlife are under threat as a result of fires in the state. Obtained by HuffPost, the report said 13 amphibians, two bats, eight mammals, 11 birds, seven reptiles and 13 aquatic fauna are at risk.

This report comes after footage circulated of authority air-dropping carrots and sweet potatoes to help feed wallabies in New South Wales.

 

What do donors want?

3.21pm, Thursday 16 January

PayPal is fast-tracking the delivery of $51 million to the NSW Rural Fire Service from Australian comedian Celeste Barber’s fundraiser on Facebook, writes Dannielle Maguire for the ABC. However, Associate Professor Michael Eburn at The Australian National University said some people appear confused about where the money will go.

“The only concern, reading the comments of the donors, is that some don’t understand who or what they have donated to,” he told the ABC.

While there have been calls for the funds to be distributed to a range of organisations, Associate Professor Eburn said the RFS trust deed makes it “impossible” to direct the money elsewhere without an Act of Parliament or the approval of the NSW Supreme Court.

 

Saving the “dinosaur trees”

2.17pm, Thursday 16 January

Firefighters in New South Wales pulled off a miraculous mission to rescue the world’s only remaining wild Wollemi pine grove north-west of Sydney, Peter Hannam writes in The Sydney Morning Herald. Associate Professor Cris Brack at The Australian National University, said fossil evidence suggests the species have been around for between 100 to 200 million years. The effort included dropping water bombs, fire retardant and winching specialist firefighters into the area to establish an irrigation system on the ground. The mission was described as a “military-style operation” by the NSW Energy and Environment Minister Matt Kean.

 

NEW POST | With crisis comes opportunity

1.38pm, Thursday 16 January

More on this: With crisis comes opportunity
Australia’s fires are a chance to have global influence on climate policy, writes Tom Swann from The Australia Institute. In a new post for Policy Forum, Swann called on the Australian government to reject the use of carry-over credits and stand together with Pacific Island nations at this year’s Pacific Islands Forum in Vanuatu.

“Pacific Island countries know a climate crisis when they see one. They now stand in solidarity with Australia. It is time Australia stood in solidarity with the Pacific, and all people facing rising climate impacts,” he wrote.

 

2019 the second hottest year globally

12.45pm, Thursday 16 January

Last year was the Earth’s second hottest on record, capping off the planets hottest decade, according to this piece in The New York Times (NYT). Data from NASA and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration in the US shows a clear trend of increasing global temperatures since the middle of the 20th century, according to the report.

“The surface temperature record tells us that the last decade was more than 1 degree Celsius higher than the late 19th century and we know that this has been driven by human activities,” Gavin A Schmidt, director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, told the NYT.

 

Concerns for river systems after fires

12.07pm, Thursday 16 January

There are serious concerns about the health of Australia’s river systems after the bushfires. At New South Wales’ Warragamba Dam, authorities have installed curtains and booms to prevent silt and ash from the bushfires from contaminating the water supply, according to Kathleen Calderwood from the ABC. Professor Stuart Khan from the University of NSW told the ABC the dam’s regular filtration technology would struggle with such a large amount of silt and ash surrounding it and rain forecast.

Researchers from CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency, have expressed concern about the health of the already-strained Murray-Darling Basin after the fires. Writing in The Conversation, the three water scientists said that sediment, ash and other debris “may decimate aquatic life” in the crucial river system once rains hit.

 

Top medical body praises bushfire smoke research funding

11.19am, Thursday 16 January

President of the Australian Medical Association (AMA), Dr Tony Bartone, has praised $5 million in funding for research on the health impacts of bushfires and bushfire smoke announced by Health Minister Greg Hunt. In a statement on the AMA website, Dr Bartone said the medium and long-term impacts of exposure to bushfire smoke are not well understood.

“General practitioners are treating people in fire-ravaged areas and other communities, and seeing first-hand those affected by the physical conditions and mental health consequences of ongoing exposure to hazardous air,” said Dr Bartone.

“However, the lack of clinical and public health research evidence about the long-term impacts of the kind of exposure to hazardous air we have seen in the last few months makes public education challenging,” he said.

 

Expert calls for “World War Zero” on carbon emissions

10.35am, Thursday 16 January

Dr Bjorn Sturmberg from ANU College of Engineering and Computer Science has called on the government to fund a range of initiatives to reduce Australia’s emissions in an op-ed in The Canberra Times. Among his recommendations for government were: support carbon sequestration by farmers, increase the supply of renewable energy, encourage the decarbonisation of the transport sector and put an economy-wide price on carbon.

“Our plans and actions may not be perfect – they never are for wicked problems – but as in times of war, this is no excuse to defer. We must act as if what we do now makes a difference, because it does,” he wrote.

 

Send us your favourite analysis

9.41am, Thursday 16 January

Don’t forget to share your top analysis and opinion pieces on the bushfires with us!

You can contact me directly at angus.blackman@anu.edu.au or join the conversation on Twitter via @APPSPolicyForum.

 

Funding for early warning system research

9.12am, Thursday 16 January

The Australian Research Council (ARC) has granted over $500,000 in research funding to academics from the Western Sydney University (WSU) and The Australian National University (ANU) to develop an early warning system for bushfires. Led by Dr Rachael Nolan (WSU) and Dr Marta Yebra (ANU), the research project will engage with key experts and industry partners and be part of the NSW Bushfire Risk Management Research Hub.


 

That’s a wrap, back again tomorrow!

5.00pm, Wednesday 15 January

Thank you all for following our coverage of bushfire analysis and opinion throughout the day. Don’t forget, if you see quality analysis related to the crisis and you’d like us to feature it, reach out directly at angus.blackman@anu.edu.au or join the conversation on Twitter via @APPSPolicyForum.

We’ll be back again tomorrow at 9am AEST.

 

Cutest fundraiser EVER!

4.50pm, Wednesday 15 January

As British six-year old has raised £2,000 (AU $3,775) for the Salvation Army Bushfire Relief fund, according to the BBC. Keira Markides shared letters with houses in her neighbourhood to get the word out about her lemonade stand, with over 100 people turning out in support. In addition to the lemonade, Keira set up an online fundraising page. Her parents also put in the hard yards, staying up until 2am GMT to make enough lemonade for everybody!

The Australian government has announced an additional $50 million for the charity sector to help them respond to the crisis, according to Sarah Martin from The Guardian.

 

Bushfire smoke to circumnavigate the planet

4.32pm, Wednesday 15 January

According to NASA, smoke from the bushfires will do a lap around Earth and return to the continent, wrote Ashleigh McMillan for The Sydney Morning Herald yesterday. The fires spewed smoke over 17 kilometres into the atmosphere, according to NASA.

In a tweet earlier today, NASA said some smoke has already made the full journey and has returned to Australia.

 

Climate denial a waste of time, says Science Minister

4.00pm, Wednesday 15 January

Australia’s Science Minister Karen Andrews has called on those debate whether or not climate change is real to stop wasting time, according to Mike Foley in The Sydney Morning Herald. “Every second we spend discussing if climate change is real is a second we don’t spend addressing these issues. Let’s move on and get over this,” said Minister Andrews.

The minister’s statements are “another step in the Coalition’s recent shift in rhetoric over climate change,” according to Foley.

 

Australia to miss emissions target

3.19pm, Wednesday 15 January

While Australia will meet one of its Kyoto Protocol emissions reductions targets, it will miss another by a large margin, according to Professor Stephen Howes from The Australian National University. Australia’s pledge to reduce emissions by 5 per cent by 2020 relative to 2000 levels has fallen by the wayside, said Professor Howes, pointing to a December report released by the Department of the Environment and Energy. The report indicated Australia’s 2020 emissions are likely to be only 1.6 per cent below their 2000 levels. The 5 per cent by 2020 target was the minimum recommended by the 2008 Garnaut Climate Change Review, according to Professor Howes, who worked on that report.

“No doubt the government will say that the multi-year target was ‘legally binding’ whereas the single-year 5 per cent-by-2020 one was just a ‘pledge’,” he wrote.

“This argument is technically correct, but irrelevant. Both commitments are there, in black and white, in the amended Kyoto Protocol. If we didn’t want to be held to the 2020 5 per cent target, we shouldn’t have signed up to and ratified a treaty in which we explicitly committed to it.”

 

Authorities confirm fifth bushfire death in Victoria

2.51pm, Wednesday 15 January

David Moresi, who was working on the Gelantipy fire in East Gippsland died in a traffic incident in late November. Victorian authorities confirmed his death was fire related, according to the ABC.

“Our thoughts and condolences go to David’s widow, Judy, and family, given this tragic set of circumstances for someone who was working to keep our community safe,” said Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp.

 

Reach out!

1.31pm, Wednesday 15 January

Don’t forget to reach out and share your your top analysis and opinion pieces on the bushfires.

You can contact me directly at angus.blackman@anu.edu.au or join the conversation on Twitter via @APPSPolicyForum.

 

NEW POST | Smoke and mirrors: Health and the impact of climate change in Australia

12.45pm, Wednesday 15 January

More on this: Smoke and mirrors
Australia’s healthcare system is not prepared for climate change, according to cardiologist, physician and clinical lecturer at The Australian National University, Dr Arnagretta Hunter. Writing for Policy Forum, she argued “climate change is the most significant health threat the nation faces”, with vulnerable groups to be among the most affected. In addressing climate change, health and wellbeing must be front-and-centre in the conversation, she said.

“The healthcare sector can lead on this, by providing policymakers and the public with a better understanding of the health risks of continued climate change,” she wrote.

 

An unprecedented year

12.09pm, Wednesday 15 January

Climate change is leading to extreme weather events in Australia in a way never seen before, according to The Australian National University’s Joelle Gergis and Geoff Cary. While some commentators point to other severe fires in the nation’s history, they argue this recent crisis is different. As evidence, they list the enormous geographic spread of this seasons fires, the absence of El Niño conditions typically associated with severe seasons and Australia’s record low rainfall and high temperatures in 2019.

“Climate change is making extreme events even more severe, resulting in unprecedented conditions that are rewriting our nation’s history,” they wrote.

 

Bushfires a huge problem for insects

11.42am, Wednesday 15 January

Experts hold serious concerns for the future of rare insect species after the bushfires. According to Associate Professor Michael Braby from The Australian National University, many species may go extinct, especially those with specialised requirements such as specific host plants. This is not just an issue for insect population, but entire ecosystems.

“They are food for many other animals, and contribute to processes like pollination, decomposition, nutrient cycling and soil aeration, which is vital because if the flowers of certain plants are not pollinated they can no longer reproduce,” he said.

 

Pacific Island countries respond

10.43am, Wednesday 15 January

Usually an international aid donor in the Pacific, Australia became a recipient of support from Pacific Island countries in the wake of the bushfires. Not only have the governments of Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu donated money to those impacted by the crisis, but local grassroots organisations have also been raising money to help those in need, according to this report by the ABC’s Brendan Mounter.

As noted in our Policy File on the bushfires, Pacific Island countries have been vocal about what they see as Australia’s climate policy failures. After Australia disappointed Pacific Island countries by failing to endorse climate commitments at the 2019 Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), Vanuatu’s Foreign Minister Ralph Regenvanu called on Australia to earn its seat at the 2020 PIF by coming prepared with strong commitments.

Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama echoed these sentiments in the wake of the bushfires. “If we choose inaction, we will only be fanning the flames of this crisis for future generations,” he wrote.

 

Air pollution: legal responsibilities for employers

9.55am, Wednesday 15 January

With poor air quality persisting in much of south-eastern Australia as people return from the Christmas and New Year break, there has been significant concern about staff health and safety. Alex White, secretary of UnionsACT, called the bushfire smoke a “worker health and safety crisis” in this op-ed for The Canberra Times. In the piece White proposed a range of measures, including updating building codes so that public spaces are urgently retrofitted with air purifiers.

Associate Professor Nancy Cushing from the University of Newcastle said bushfire smoke is currently excluded from air quality legislation because it was considered outside human control. This exemption, she wrote, is no longer valid.

“It is time that corporations, governments and societies which contribute to global heating be held to account for more frequent, intense and widespread bushfires, and the smoke which billows from them,” she wrote.

Dr Elizabeth Shi from RMIT University looked at the legal responsibilities for employers in The Conversation. Dr Shi analysed the Model Act, a piece of legislation intended to harmonise the unique occupational state and territory health and safety laws.

 

GDP takes a hit

9.08am, Wednesday 15 January

Economists from multinational investment bank UBS said the bushfires could reduce Australia’s annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth by up to 0.2 per cent, according to this report by Gerard Cockburn in The Australian. While they suggested that it is too early to know the full economic impact, they also said the fires make it “more likely” the Reserve Bank of Australia will cut official interest rates in February. 

In case you missed it yesterday, Professor John Quiggan from the University of Queensland suggested the damage bill as a result of the bushfires could reach $100 billion.


 

That’s a wrap: day two

5.22pm, Tuesday 14 January

Thanks for following along with our live blog of bushfire analysis and opinion. Don’t forget you can send through your favourite pieces to me directly at angus.blackman@anu.edu.au or join the conversation online on Twitter via @APPSPolicyForum.

We’ll be back again tomorrow at 9am Australian Eastern Standard Time with more coverage.

 

Telecommunications failures

5.00pm, Tuesday 14 January

There are serious concerns about the effectiveness of the Australia’s telecommunications infrastructure during major disasters, according to this report by Jess Davis at the ABC. One family was forced to use their landline phone, which uses the soon to be decommissioned copper network, when the National Broadband Network (NBN), local ABC radio signal and mobile reception all failed. While the NBN told the ABC they inform customers their service won’t function in a power outage, over 100 mobile phone towers were also impacted during the bushfires.

“If the fire had come through a month later, the copper network would have been disconnected as part of the NBN rollout,” wrote Davis.

 

NSW fire service creates first all-Indigenous firefighting crews

4.04pm, Tuesday 14 January

The New South Wales Rural Fire Service has established the state’s first all-Indigenous firefighting crews, according to a report by the ABC’s Jessie Davis. The crew members were selected by elders from Bourke and Brewarrina in the state’s west and will be responsible for fighting remote fires and protecting sacred sites.

“If this type of model was rolled out right across New South Wales it would contribute greatly to closing the gap,” said Indigenous elder Jason Ford from Brewarrina.

 

The cost of bushfires on children

3.08pm, Tuesday 14 January

Children can be among the worst affected by trauma stemming from natural disasters, according to Nicola Palfrey from The Australian National University. However, shielding children from bad news may not always be the best approach.

“Children need honest, simple, and age-appropriate information about what happened, focusing on the effort that is being taken to help others,” said Ms Palfrey.

Ms Palfrey was part of the team that developed the freely-accessible Community Trauma Toolkit to help support adults and children before, during and after bushfires.

 

Share your favourite analysis

2.29pm, Tuesday 14 January

Don’t forget you can share your favourite pieces of analysis and opinion on the bushfires! Reach out directly to me at angus.blackman@anu.edu.au or join the conversation on Twitter via @APPSPolicyForum.

 

NEW POST: Living with fire demands a long-term perspective

1.53pm, Tuesday 14 January

Policymakers must learn from Indigenous people when it comes to fire management, write Leslie Schultz, Jessica Weir and Helen Langley on Policy Forum. They argued Indigenous people have always had long-term interests in mind when it comes to protecting the landscape.

“Working together places us in the strongest position to help look after all that we value,” they wrote.

 

Reduce emissions gradually

1.10pm, Tuesday 14 January

Professor Warwick McKibbin from ANU Crawford School of Public Policy has called for an economy-wide, market-based mechanism to reduce emissions. Quoted in The Australian today, Professor McKibbin mechanism said Australia should put a price on future carbon and encourage gradual emissions reduction.

“The key is to have something that will lead to reductions in Australia that can be leveraged on the global stage to demonstrate to the world that even a carbon-­intensive economy like Australia can actually decarbonise relatively cheaply,” he said.

 

Caught lacking?

12.20pm, Tuesday 14 January

Dr Andrew Hughes, lecturer in marketing at The Australian National University, argued both federal and state political leaders were caught out in the crisis in an op-ed in The Canberra Times. He said we increasingly expect leaders to do more than just the basics of their job – we want them to lead.

“And if they don’t, as happened early on in this bushfire crisis, we feel disappointed, frustrated, and failed that we don’t have another leader as our own,” he wrote.

 

Garnaut on emissions reduction and the economy 

11.18am, Tuesday 14 January

Author of the Garnaut Climate Change Review under the Rudd government, Professor Ross Garnaut, spoke to Tom Tilley on the ABC’s RN Breakfast. Professor Garnaut said he was “very pleased” the Prime Minister signalled his government’s climate change policy will evolve.

“It’s really important that Australia be part of the international community that’s seeking more ambitious outcomes rather than a drag on the global effort. We’ve been a drag in recent years and that’s not in our national interest,” he said.

 

Bushfire damage bill

10.30am, Tuesday 14 January

This one is a few days old, but Professor John Quiggan, Australian Laureate Fellow in Economics at the University of Queensland, called for a ‘fully-fledged national organisation’ to deal with future disasters. Writing for CNN Business on the economic cost of the disaster, he described the federal government’s $2 billion relief package as a ‘drop in the bucket’, suggesting the damage bill could be as high as $100 billion.

 

Wildlife recovery

9.30am, Tuesday 14 January

Professor David Lindenmayer from The Australian National University said fire-damaged trees and half burnt logs left behind by a fire are valuable habitat for recovering wildlife. “Wanting to do something constructive, people and organisations may sometimes feel an urge to clean these up, but resisting this urge can be one of the best things people can do for wildlife,” he wrote.

“Of course where something is a hazard, like a dead tree close to a road, the hazard needs to be managed, but this could involve felling the tree and leaving it onsite for the benefit of wildlife.”

 

Live blog: day two

9.15am, Tuesday 14 January

We’re back for day two of our live blog of bushfire analysis and opinion. If you see any great pieces and you’d like us to share them, reach out directly to me at angus.blackman@anu.edu.au or let us know on Twitter via @APPSPolicyForum.


 

Payment bungle

4.45pm, Monday 13 January

The Department of Human Services has issued an apology to residents on the New South Wales South Coast who were refused a $1,000 disaster relief payment. Residents of Mogo whose houses were impacted alleged Centrelink staff were using out-of-date maps.

“Being told my home and business aren’t in a fire-affected area hurts a bit at the moment,” said one resident, according to this report in The Sydney Morning Herald.

 

Bushfire relief efforts

4.40pm, Monday 13 January

Bushfire relief efforts continue apace. Australian and international music acts, including Queen and Adam Lambert, Alice Cooper, Jessica Mauboy, and John Farnham will all appear at the Fire Fight Australia concert, according to the ABC. The concert will take place at Sydney’s Stadium Australia on 16 February.

Cricket Australia will raise money for the Red Cross Disaster Relief and Recovery Fund during three matches, all to be held on Saturday 8 February. The fixtures include the Bushfire Cricket Bash, featuring some of Australia’s cricketing greats who will come out of retirement for the special event.

 

The new normal?

4.30pm, Monday 13 January

Many people are reporting feelings of anxiety and despair in the current crisis. In the Australian Capital Territory, many residents have been forced inside due to hazardous air pollution from bushfire smoke.

Associate Professor Fiona Jenkins, convener of the ANU Gender Institute, reflected on her personal experience over recent weeks in The Canberra Times. She described the inability to exercise due to air pollution, even inside, increased screen time and anxiety about the future.

“I suppose it is normal, feeling paralysed by this maybe climate-tipping point,” she wrote.

 

Health implications

4.20pm, Monday 13 January

Canberra Hospital has seen 120 patients for respiratory issues since 31 December, probably the result of bushfire smoke, according to Daniella White at The Canberra Times. In the same report, Associate Professor Brian Oliver, expert in respiratory biology at the University of Technology Sydney, said more research is needed to better understand the health impacts of extended exposure to bushfire smoke.

“People being exposed to bushfire smoke for more than one or two days is a whole new phenomena,” he said.

Senior figures from a leading Australian public health organisation have called on the federal government to take stronger action on climate change in the interest of public health in the wake of the crisis. David Templeman and Dr Peter Tait from the Public Health Association of Australia said the government should “adopt a leadership role in advocating for global action to reduce warming”.

“A rapid transition here and around the world is not just good for economies – it’s good for public health,” they wrote.

 

Wildlife

4.15pm, Monday 13 January

Australia’s ecosystems has suffered significantly as a result of the bushfires. According to Professor Chris Dickman, ecologist at the University of Sydney, it is likely “well over a billion” animals have died as a result of the fires. “The loss of life we’ve estimated for NSW is 800 million terrestrial animals, including birds and reptiles. But that figure doesn’t include frogs, fish, bats and invertebrates,” he told Emma Elsworthy from the ABC.

The federal government has committed $50 million to protect wildlife. David Littleproud, Minister for Water Resources, Drought, Rural Finance, Natural Disaster and Emergency Management, called this pledge “the first tranche” on ABC Radio.  “Obviously there’ll be a longer term program in restoring the habitat, but there are animals out there now that can be saved and we need to try and save them,” he said.

 

Causes of the bushfire season

4.15pm, Monday 13 January

Why has this bushfire season in Australia been so severe? Graham Readfearn examined the underlying causes of the crisis in this explainer in The Guardian. Extreme heat and dryness are key influencers of fire, he wrote, and in 2019, Australia experienced its hottest and driest year on record.

Readfearn pointed to two weather patterns that played a role in creating these conditions, the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD), and the Southern Annual Mode (SAM).

According to Professor Nerilie Abram, climate scientist at The Australian National University, positive IOD and SAM events are becoming more common as a result of climate change.

“Even from my perspective, I am surprised by just how bad one degree celsius of warming is looking,” she said. Previously, Professor Mark Howden from the ANU Climate Change Institute pointed to the impact of climate change. “It’s very clear that greenhouse gas emissions are changing the radiation balance of the Earth. Other contributors are minor in comparison,” he said.

 

Policy Forum live blog: bushfire analysis and opinion

4.00pm, Monday 13 January

Welcome to our live blog! 

In the face of disaster, misinformation can move quickly, and solutions can be hard to come by. As part of our mission to bring you relevant, fact-based, policy-focused debate on crucial issues, over the coming weeks Policy Forum will cover analysis and opinion on Australia’s bushfires.

Don’t miss a beat right here. If you see any analysis and opinion you think we should cover, reach out directly at angus.blackman@anu.edu.au.

You can also join the conversation on social media via @APPSPolicyForum on Twitter or in our Policy Forum Pod Facebook group.

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