A heart-warming remembrance

The National Day of Mourning for those affected by the February 7 bushfires in Victoria has been crowned this morning by a moving heart-warming event at Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne.  With Ian Henderson of ABC Melbourne TV as the dignified MC, the service proceeded faultlessly through music, song, speech, vision and touching gesture to a final poignant address by our PM, the singing of We Are Australian led by singer Bruce Woodley, and the song Touch led by Michael Paynter, which invited everyone to reach out to those in need.  Everyone did.

The event was brilliantly organized and superbly choreographed, everyone who spoke did so from the heart; no one was forgotten.  It was an event that any who witnessed it will never forget.

Politics were set aside; no doubt with the resumption of Federal Parliament tomorrow, hostilities will resume.  Pity.

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Sir Ian Crisp

22/02/2009At times like this we think of what might have been. What would the situation be today if, instead of Mr Rudd rushing to sign the Kyoto Protocol which enabled him to be a bona fide attendee at the Bali climate conference, he looked in his in-tray instead? Sitting there in a manila folder was a report on the successful trial of an early warning system aimed at preventing calamities like bushfires. All it lacked was funding which was put at AUD$20 million. There’s plenty of dosh about. We dispatched AUD$2.5 billion to Indonesia (August 2008). What would the situation be today if our PM made great haste in December 2007 and funded the early warning system and delayed signing the Kyoto Protocol? What would the situation be today if Mr Brumby, upon accepting the baton from Smiling Steve Bracks, opened the top drawer of his desk and read his duty statement? He might have found, to his amazement that the Premier of Victoria is responsible for everything that falls within that state’s borders. Transport, ports, law and order, road construction, state revenues et al. Such a duty statement would also include the correct management of the forests. I wonder if the duties of a Premier entered the mind of Mr Brumby as he picked his way through the charred remains of what once was verdant forest. Just in case we didn’t know who he was he wore that fetching yellow jacket with ‘John Brumby Premier of Victoria’ emblazoned on the breast pocket. The jacket looked a lot like a fire-fighter’s jacket but let’s not confuse Mr Brumby with the brave fire-fighters. I wonder if Victoria’s impeccant Premier, a picture of sartorial elegance at the National Day of Mourning, should have had his name and rank emblazoned on the breast pocket of his Ermenegildo Zegna suit. The fires have claimed the lives of 209 people, some who have survived are horribly scarred; 1800 homes have been destroyed as well as schools and businesses and we can only guess at the amount of fauna and flora lost. A very high price for inaction.

Ad astra reply

22/02/2009You sound cynical Sir Ian. I'm unaware of the early warning system to which you refer. Can you please give us a reference so we can take a look at it. No one in the media seem to have picked up on this one

janice

23/02/2009SIC, Premier Brumby has called a royal commission to examine this tragedy. I've heard many already accusing both the state and federal governments, the RFA and local councils in an attempt to lay blame. There are opinions out there that an early warning system would have helped and others who say no system would have done any good in this particular instance. Premier Brumby has stated on several occasions that the Royal Commission will examine every detail and will be open to hear the views of all who care to speak out. IMO, this tragedy is one where mother nature triumphed over us mere mortals and the pain will not be alleviated by pointing the finger and finding a scapegoat. By the way, Ad astra, how have you fared personally? I must apologise for neglecting to ask and I do hope all is well with you, yours and your friends.

Sir Ian Crisp

23/02/2009Ad Astra, why not ask the bosses at Sussex Street to move you from the 1st floor to the 11th floor. I'm told the view is more encompassing on the 10th floor. I'll give you a day to catch up on the issue and then I'll post a link. You may have to put Kev's essay aside while you catch up. Me cynical! Not cynical but disgusted for what passes as leadership in this country. Janice, a Royal Commission was conducted into bushfires in 1939. Recommendations were made to better manage the forests with the hope of avoiding any repeat of the devastation that happened during January 1939. Can you link to any legislation that says something like...This Bill Bars the current (1939) and any future Premier of Victoria (ALP of Lib-NP)from reading the recommendations of the 1939 Royal Commission conducted into the bushfires of 1939? If you are aware of any such Bill please inform the debate.

Ad astra reply

23/02/2009Janice, thank you for your concern. We're bracing for another bad day today. I have a son and his family in the Yarra Valley at Powelltown, high timber country that's threatened today. He was not affected on Black Saturday. He's well prepared but it's still a frightening situation. And Friday is shaping up to be worse. We'll breathe easier when the fire season is over and we get some rain; we've had only 3mm this year. We could do with some of the rain falling up your way. Sir Ian, I'm a long, long way from Sussex Street. As you can discern from my writings, I give credit to the Rudd Government when it's due. There are enough knockers in the media. And I'll give credit to the Coalition and other parties when that's due. It's hard to find much to give the Coalition credit for after its performance last week. In a piece I'll post soon, you can read my views on how the Coalition might become more electable than it currently is. As janice points out there is a Royal Commission into the 7 February fires. Although you may not find it as easy to believe as I do, I feel confident that John Brumby and Bernard Keane will insist on a full enquiry that addresses all issues, including early warning mechanisms, and will implement the recommendations that are financially and logistically feasible.

janice

23/02/2009SIC, 1939 is a long, long time ago and there can be no comparison between then and now. Governments come and go as do the finger-pointers who, it seems, must find a scapegoat upon which to lay all the blame. Some lessons were learned after past bushfire tragedies, some recommendations were put in place and some were not. I have always been terrified of fire and in that regard I am not very brave. Therefore, had I been in any one of those areas where there was more than a very remote chance of being in the line of fire, I can tell you I'd have been out of there with my tail between my legs on Friday the 6th Feb. Bushfires such as those that have wiped out so much of Victoria's beautiful forests and communities cannot be compared with any others, nor can blame be placed anywhere but with mother nature. The combination of years of drought, extremely high temperatures and abnormally strong winds made the inferno that occurred. There are many who say there was a gross neglect to reduce the fuel on the forest floor, that roads ought to have been wider and cleared 100m on either side and that all communities and hamlets be surrounded by at least 100m clear land. A bit ridiculous IMO since along with all this would go the 'leafy, bush landscape that drew the people there in the first place. I have no doubt that there will be strict regulations laid out for building communities in these fire-prone areas and there will be a lot of noise when it is realised that these fire safety measures cost big bucks to both government, councils and the land owners themselves. It will be interesting to see how many governments are chucked out of office because it will be necessary to lift taxes and/or run budget deficits as they attempt to provide not only bushfire safety, but to hand out needed help when either the drought continues or breaks with the flooding Q'land are experiencing, a tornado or a tsunami.

Sir Ian Crisp

23/02/2009Cover-up exposed of early warning system CANBERRA and the states baulked at the $20 million cost of a telephone-based alert system that would have given early warning of the deadly Black Saturday bushfires, a secret report shows. The confidential review for Victoria's State Emergency Service in December 2007, obtained by The Australian, reveals that the technology to bombard mobile and fixed phones with danger messages had been trialled successfully for the agency. While the test run of Telstra's Community Information and Warning System was for flooding, the Victorian SES found it would work "for all types of hazard", including bushfire. Despite this, the system was not introduced because the Howard government and the states bickered over the expense. The internal report for the Victorian SES concluded: "Apparently governments are baulking at ... their contribution to the $20 million cost." The Australian revealed yesterday that the federal Government was fast-tracking legislative changes to give emergency services in the states access to a national database of phone numbers so people could be warned on mobile and fixed phones of bushfires and other natural disaster threats. The official death toll in the horrifying bushfires that ripped through communities north and east of Melbourne remains at 181 but is expected to rise to 300 as police, soldiers and emergency crews continue the search for bodies in the ashes of more than 1000 homes. A spokesman for Premier John Brumby confirmed last night that Victoria "has been very keen" to set up a national telephone alert system. "It did stall for many years," he said. It is understood that NSW and Western Australia opposed the Telstra scheme, and that the then federal Coalition government was also cold on introducing it. Western Australia has been pushing for national expansion of its own version of the "electronic doorknock" system, which is cheaper than Telstra's. But the Victorian SES concluded that the WA service was inferior because it was limited to residential numbers listed in the White Pages. Phone alerts could not be sent to mobile phones or through company switchboards. The report by consultants Molino Stewart for the Victorian SES said the Telstra system had been tested successfully in Stawell, northwest of Melbourne, and Mount Evelyn, east of the city. "Would be a good system for all types of hazard alert," it said. "This has the advantage over the current systems, which need opt in and need to keep numbers updated." However, the Telstra model failed to provide "the opportunity to keep the community educated about the system". The report to the Victorian SES noted this was mitigated by "having a single system for all hazards across the state or even the country". West Australian Emergency Services Minister Rob Johnson yesterday wrote to federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland urging him to fast-track changes to the Telecommunications Act during the next sitting of parliament to give state emergency services access to the national database of phone numbers. Otherwise, Australia-wide introduction of a phone alert system would be held up for a further six months. "I know governments are often criticised for going at a snail's pace, but we've seen the tragic events in Victoria and I want to avoid a similar event happening here," Mr Johnson told The Australian yesterday. "This is something that can give our community the earliest possible alert of fires raging towards them, floods and terrorist attacks, through phones, SMS messages, fax or email. "It's absolutely essential, in my view." Mr McClelland last night said there had been no possibility a phone system could have been introduced ahead of last Saturday's bushfire tragedy in Victoria, the nation's worst. "Our target will be to have it up and running by the next fire season," he said. Western Australia's StateAlert system had been offered to the other states and territories for free, yet none had taken it up as some were interested in Telstra's more costly Community Information and Warning System. Western Australia has spent $460,000 developing StateAlert, which automatically calls all phones in a designated area, as well as mobile phones that are registered via a website, at a rate of 40,000 messages every 15 minutes. The running costs would be $300,000 a year. Telstra's system - which would automatically call and text-message every mobile and landline phone within a selected area - has been costed at $40million to $66 million to introduce nationally over five years, with ongoing costs of $1.7million to $2.6 million a year. "Some states may want to go with the Telstra system but in Western Australia we believe we can do it at less cost financially to the community," Mr Johnson said. He said all states and territories wanted some form of emergency alert. "All that's holding it up is the ability to have access to people's telephone numbers," he said. "I have urged the federal Government to speed up the process. They could probably do (the legislative amendment) in one page ... I would like it done in the next few weeks. I am personally disappointed it's taken so long." Mr Johnson said his predecessor had written six months ago to the Attorney-General as well as to Communications Minister Stephen Conroy, asking that they expedite changes to the Telecommunications Act. In his letter to Mr McClelland yesterday, Mr Johnson said the Act was the only impediment to Western Australia using StateAlert this bushfire season. A Telstra spokesman last night refused to comment on the cost of its system, citing commercial-in-confidence discussions with the states. http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,25047619-601,00.html "The Political Sword is aimed at politics and the media in Australia."????? Ad Astra, Crikey isn't the only source for news.

Ad astra reply

24/02/2009Thank you Sir Ian for taking the trouble to send the reference to bushfire alerting, which I missed despite looking several times a day at 30 RSS news feeds, over and above [i]Crikey[/i]. Yesterday I heard on the radio, confirmed by your piece, that action is now being accelerated. I feel that this time, with all the tragedy we’ve seen, there will be a sound conclusion. You query whether ‘The Political Sword is aimed at politics and the media’. Your contributions via ‘comments’ can make the aim more accurate. They will always be welcome.

Ad astra reply

24/02/2009Of relevance to an emergency warning system is Robert McClelland’s media release today [i]Telephone-based emergency warning systems[/i] http://www.alp.org.au/media/0209/msag230.php

Sir Ian Crisp

24/02/2009Thank you Mr McClelland. Just a few sobering figures for you Mr McClelland: The fires have claimed 209 lives So far 2000 homes and properties have been lost An additional 2200 houses damaged To date, 7000 residents are homeless The number of firefighters involved is 5000 The fires left 3000 trees in danger of falling Can you tell us Mr McClelland why Mr Rudd didn't introduce the early warning system in December 2007 and put on hold his trip to Bali?

Ad astra reply

25/02/2009Sir Ian, I don't expect Robert McClelland or Kevin Rudd himself could answer your question in a way that would enable you to absolve them of guilt in this matter. You seem to have made your judgement already. Whatever might or should have taken place earlier, I believe we will see action now.

Sir Ian Crisp

25/02/2009National Constitution of the ALP • Objectives • The Australian Labor Party is a democratic socialist party and has the objective of the democratic socialisation of industry, production, distribution and exchange, to the extent necessary to eliminate exploitation and other anti-social features in these fields. • To achieve the political and social values of equality, democracy, liberty and social cooperation inherent in this objective, the Australian Labor Party stands for: P. elimination of discrimination and exploitation on the grounds of class, race, sex, sexuality, religion, political affiliation, national origin, citizenship, age, disability, regional location, economic or household status; S. the use, conservation and enhancement of Australia's natural resources and environment so that the community's total quality of life, both now and into the future, is maintained and improved; http://www.alp.org.au/platform/chapter_17.php#17objectives I think that the ALP manifesto, if it’s worth anything, compels members to eliminate discrimination and exploitation on the grounds of regional location. That might be achieved by the enhancement of Australia’s natural environment so that Australia’s citizens might enjoy total quality of life. Citizens are owed a duty of care and dereliction of duty by an ALP government ― be it state or federal ― would seem to be a great offence according to the ALP manifesto. Ad Astra, Mr Rudd and Mr McClelland might want to consult the ALP manifesto and see if they have done their best by the manifesto.

Ad astra reply

27/02/2009Sir Ian, I wonder how closely Kevin Rudd, and indeed many of the parliamentary Labor Party adhere strictly to the ALP manifesto. It seems to me that the old politics - left/right, conservative/liberal, and so on, no longer apply as once they did. I think both Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull are re-shaping the political landscape; Turnbull is having rather more difficulty doing this than is Rudd, at least at present.

Ad astra reply

3/03/2009Sir Ian, I'm sure you'll be pleased at the roll-out of 5 million text messages sent yesterday to warn of the extreme fire connditions in Victoria. A small and imperfect start, but a foretaste of what's possible. I feel confident that when John Brumby reports on this at COAG, State collaboration will be forthcoming.
I have two politicians and add 2 more; how many are there?