25/03/2020 |

The Bushfires in Australia and Military Spending

By Denis Doherty, Independent and Peaceful Australia, Australia Anti-Bases, GCOMS member.

While the bushfires have subsided in Australia with many areas getting some good soaking rain and world attention has turned to the corona virus it is well to remember that a few weeks ago in December and January the world watched hopelessly as large parts of Australia burned. 

Australia had an unprecedented start to the bushfire season.  Normally it starts around late November and goes through to March.  This year it started in late August and went on till the soaking rains of the monsoons which were late, around late January.  The fires started in the northern state of Queensland and burnt areas that had never burnt before – including to everyone’s shock rainforest. The fires then spread south through New South Wales, Victoria and finally into South Australia.  The bushfire season is not over yet and there are still some places that have missed out entirely on the rain and are still deep in drought.

Here are some statistics so you can appreciate what we are battling.  The fires burnt 6 million hectares of land, destroyed 9,000 buildings including 3,000 homes, and killed 34 people, some of whom were volunteer fire fighters. They are estimated to have killed 1 billion species of wildlife including kangaroos, possums and koala bears. 

Sydney, a large city of 4-5 million people, was shrouded in smoke for days, making breathing very difficult and causing major health problems.  Other major cities including Canberra, Melbourne and Adelaide were also enveloped in smoke for days.  The pollution level in our capital cities was 10 to 15 times above safe levels for days.

All this followed on from a 4-5 year drought which did not seem to be ending soon.  During the worst part of summer here we had heatwave conditions with many days above 40 degrees. 

Our government is dominated by climate change deniers. It insists that the fires are natural, that Australia has always had droughts and bushfires. It claims the fires were started by arsonists. Fire authorities say dry lightning strikes were the major cause.  The Murdoch empire’s print and TV outlets kept up a constant flow of climate change deniers. Greenies were blamed falsely for not allowing controlled burning to reduce the materials for burning. 

We have been pressurising the Government to use military equipment to help in firefighting. However, the Government still relies on the volunteer fire service and special aircraft despite our air force having state of the art (C17s) transport planes. Army vehicles and troops are not used for fighting fires.

We have been campaigning to draw attention to how the military contributes to global warming and to get the Government to see the defence force not as a killing machine but a community service for all people.

The crisis was so great that eventually the Government was forced to call in some help from the military for rescue and logistic support and in an ironical twist it claimed a lot of credit for doing so.  In one case the Navy had to be used to rescue a whole holiday area (Mallacoota) which had only one road in and out and was besieged by fire.  The whole town’s population of permanent and holiday residents were shipped out and taken to safety in Melbourne.

The following opinion piece in the Sydney Morning Herald on 7 December 2019 gives a sense of what we faced:

There was an intelligent proposal from an independent MP.  In the only question on firefighting in the four question times sessions of the week, Andrew Wilkie asked Morrison (the PM) to adapt some specialised RAAF capability for firefighting.

Wilkie made the point that aircraft from the US won’t be as readily available now that the northern and southern hemisphere fire seasons overlap.  Australia’s C17 (Globemaster), C-130 Hercules and C-27 Spartan could all deploy roll-on, roll-off tank systems for water bombing.  Wilkie said Prime Minister, as the country deals with a shocking bushfire season, will you direct Defence to develop a heavy firefighting aircraft capability?

Morrison and Littleproud (Minister for emergency services) amid a flurry of compliments and thanks to the RAAF and the firefighters, said no.  The reason was the fire chiefs had advised they had enough assets already.

Wouldn’t you at least ask the air force to make preparations for such a contingency?  Or explain the other backup plans your government might have in mind?  No, its easier to pretend its situation normal. … The country is in crisis and the national government is in denial……

We have always campaigned for dual use military equipment but the Australian Government and military specialise in equipment that will fit in easily with the US military to allow coalition wars at the whim of US presidents and corporations. Australia obediently has upped its military expenditure to two per cent of GDP to conform to orders from the Trump Whitehouse.