What a situation:: a bushfire season like no other. No-one can recall anything like it. To be sure, Australian trees like fire and every summer we have bushfires, but never like this. The fires began in September (way earlier than usual) and by now thousands have burned across eastern Australia.
Some statistics might begin to tell the story:
12 million hectares burnt.
Half a billion animals killed, some species to extinction.
1600 houses destroyed.
23 people killed directly by the fires.
And we have not even reached the peak of the fire season, which has already been underway for months. It will most likely get worse. Already the fires are so fierce they cannot be contained. Flames leap 50 metres in the air, turn the sky black, yellow and red, create their own tornadoes and even weather systems.
By now you can see that a state of emergency is somewhat limp in light of these developments. Indeed, a couple of days ago, the state of Victoria declared a ‘state of disaster’. This is the new normal.
But there is another disaster behind all of this: the disaster of neoliberal policies over the last four decades. Coupled with the fact that Australia is a pariah state due to its regime’s denial of climate change, it is also one of the last holdouts for neoliberalism, since most of the rest of the world has turned its back on such an approach. Let me put it this way: many of the fires are ‘fought’ by volunteers. Yes, volunteers. We have catastrophic fire conditions and a state of disaster and volunteers are expected to front up. Even more, there is so little government support for such ventures that the firefighters have to crowd source for face masks and safety equipment.
Further, the infrastructure has proven completely inadequate, as have the few government services left after all the cuts. Australia has terrible phone converage, so text messages sent out by the fire service cannot always be guaranteed to arrive on your phone. People have had to bunch around radios to find out the latest emergency warnings. Supplies are running short and fuel is scarce. Roads in many areas are inadequate, so people ordered to evacuate cannot do so. In the end, the navy has had to sail in with a couple of humanitarian relief vessels to evacuate people from the water’s edge in the southeast. Finally and on the other side of the volunteer firefighters, they and those stranded by the fires are now relying on donations of food, clothing, water, and so on to get by.
It can be different. I have been discussing this with comrades in the local CPA branch. Countries like China with a socialist system immediately mobilise the massive government resources during times of natural disaster. Communist party officials are at the forefront, getting into the area, overseeing relief efforts and rolling up their sleeves. Ah yes, you do need a socialist system for such an approach. Or at least one that has turned its back on neoliberal dogma.