Dear Deputy Prime Minister,
The bushfires in the eastern states are distressing to all Australians and our hearts go out to all who are suffering and to the heroic firefighters; however I must say that I was disturbed and deeply distressed by your words on ABC Radio National this week, for they represented the antithesis of the future needs of Australia.
As a doctor I know that the human harm and suffering from the devastating bushfires will continue for months and years. Medical help for depression, anxiety, and personal and occupation loss will be considerable.
This is a public health issue, and as with all health issues my profession has a duty to speak out fearlessly on behalf of individuals and communities who suffer.
When a mother tragically loses a child to infection with measles or meningococcal, her concern for others in the community leads her to warn that children must be vaccinated. The same goes for public health doctors, as they know this is the best time to stimulate action. This is the time for community concerns to be expressed, and for governments to listen and act.
I do not agree that debate about fire should be abandoned during this fire emergency which may last for months. The debate should be on needed reform, and not the vindictive blame game conducted in the Senate this week.
It is unconscionable that concerned rural communities who ask for government leadership on the ravages of climate change be dismissed. It is unacceptable that expertise offered by Emergency Leaders for Climate Action results in a questioning of their integrity. Presumably emergency hospital physicians struggling with a surge of heat stroke cases in climate-change-induced heat waves will be dismissed when they wish to relate their experience?
This dismissal of evidence extends to your government's disregard of countless scientific reports. This year's Brown to Green report from the scientific organisation Climate Analytics on the climate mitigation performance of the G20 countries places Australia in the bottom three. This leads chief executive Bill Hare to say Australia is exposed "economically, politically and environmentally". Most scientists and analysts of the data would agree with Hare's view that "the leadership of the country is effectively telling lies about their performance, and contradicting their own government's information".
The greatest concern over your RN statement was the use of the nuances so prevalent in those who deny climate change, for example "raving inner city lunatics". Statements about the environment from Greens parties become part of a leftist or socialistic conspiracy, a "front for something else", to undermine the system that they support ideologically - language reminiscent of that used by Trump in his demolition of US environmental policies.
However, let us put this aside and recognise that whatever you do to reduce emissions the main task of government is to defend Australia from the consequences of a likely three-degree rise; it is a monumental task perhaps equivalent to the task of the Defence Force.
Minister, I am sure you would agree that the fundamental issue is the future sustainability of Australia, which resides with regional and rural communities as they produce our food and are the custodians of our land.
These communities should be our priority.
They complain they are not listened to and that there are no defined policies to sustain them.
The National Rural Health Alliance reports on the deplorable state of their members' health, which in the words of John Menadue indicates that "country electorates have the most disadvantaged people, the poorest health and inferior health services. But the National Party does very little about it".
It would be important to hear of your achievements on their behalf over the past six years, and the policies to sustain them and Australian agriculture.
In terms of reform, I suggest you and your party consider as essential reading the recent report from the Food and Agriculture Organisation, a comprehensive report from agricultural experts, scientists and farming interests. It has over 500 pages, but there'd be no better way to use your parliamentary break.
Also highly relevant is the recent IPCC Special Report on climate change, desertification, land degradation, sustainable land management, food security, and greenhouse gas fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems.
Then you could look at examples of wealthy, stable, efficient and well-governed countries like Switzerland, which in 2012 approved a policy entitled Adaptation to climate change - Goals, challenges and fields of action.
This Swiss national policy co-ordinates action on natural hazard management, water management, agriculture, forestry, energy, tourism, biodiversity management, health, and planning. It is vital to the future of Switzerland's agricultural communities, which like those in Australia are challenged by difficult terrain.
You don't have such a policy; it is left to the states, some of which have done little. An adaptation or sustainability policy - call it what you will - would be vital in fire crises to ensure co-ordination of planning and standards, nationally available and adequate aircraft support, and water storage specifically for fires and emergency services.
It is important to talk reform now. Time and tide waits for no man.
- Dr David Shearman, AM PhD FRACP, is Emeritus Professor of Medicine at the University of Adelaide.