The headline said it all: "Arming Ukraine: 17,000 Anti-Tank Weapons in 6 Days" (The New York Times, March 6, 2022).
The US government, recognising the urgency of the situation, in six days delivered hundreds of tonnes of weapons across a contested border into a war zone, before it could be cut off.
In the same time frame, with deadly floods in NSW and Queensland, the Australian government did little: no state of emergency declaration, a delayed and inadequate Defence response, no rallying of state or volunteer agencies, and different policies for different electorates.
Residents had to organise their own helicopter rescue and relief services, and still face a barrage of excuses from two levels of government on the lack of preparedness.
There is so much wrong with this picture that it's hard to react calmly.
At the political level, we are witnessing an utter failure of government - again - to undertake its most basic function, to protect its people.
It's appalling, but it's also just another signpost on the continuum of a deliberately gutted NBN, inadequate Defence planning, poor bushfire preparedness, flawed quarantine measures, a bungled vaccine rollout, and short-sighted RAT testing procurement.
Partly, the flood response stems from climate change denial, despite the clear evidence in Australia's land and water systems. However, it also meshes with the conservative philosophy that all government is bad, and things work best when you're on your own.
Viewed through this lens, the incompetence is deliberate.
Meanwhile, in Australia's right-wing press, commentators are now proclaiming "Aha! - the Ukraine war proves us right - climate change is a hoax/low-order priority, and now is the time to sell more coal and gas/fight Putin and China."
No, deniers, that is just not true. Dictatorships are a problem, and climate change is a problem - and we have to address both.
Risks cannot be parcelled neatly into left-wing and right-wing boxes, with one side ignored. They must all be addressed, and indeed will combine in unpredictable ways in the future.
The now-dual crises of war and climate change offer a few take-home messages.
Firstly, in conservative circles it is now popular to advocate centralised electricity generation as the best alternative, by coal, natural gas or perhaps even nuclear energy.
The Ukraine war - with millions now hostage to power cuts and radiation hazards - demonstrates the utter folly of this position. Centralised power is, in fact, a highly Soviet notion, and a serious weakness. Distributed energy systems are much harder to hack, damage or shut down en masse, and so are more robust to natural or human hazards.
That's lesson one: decentralised electricity is resilient electricity.
Yes, Australia will sell fuels to a needy Europe, but have no doubt that the European Union and the Americans will exert every effort to exorcise the fossil-fuel demon, for reasons of both climate change and energy security.
Which means the second lesson is that renewable energy is clean, equitable and also dictatorship-free.
Thirdly, the policy of degrading Australia's technical institutions has now really borne fruit. Non-sexy tools like rainfall-runoff models, flood models, climate-impact models and risk-mitigation frameworks are not trivial nor cheap, but must be built and maintained through years of sustained personnel and funding (as my now-retrenched colleagues across the universities and CSIRO can testify).
That's lesson three: the anti-science culture wars are real wars, and cause serious - arguably, treasonable - damage to Australia's technical capabilities.
Circling back to government, is anyone else astonished by the volte-face, not of Germany, but conservative commentator Greg Sheridan, on the Australian government's mismanagement of major Defence contracts throughout its tenure (The Australian, February 20 and March 10)?
These problems lie in such a litter of failed policies - including fuel reserves not being held in Australia, an inability to make urea, and the Gonski failure - that a comedian would weep. No doubt Greg will capitulate, but in the meantime - welcome to the real world!
On the Zelensky scale of government leadership, which includes preparedness, courage and resolve, could anyone rank Australia's government more than 0.5 out of 10? The alternative Labor government has not been tested, but - with its John Curtin wartime legacy and pressure from media commentators - would it really be worse?
This leads me to the final point - my greatest fear - that Australia is now so hollowed out, so ScoMoed, that it is becoming unfixable, even with a change of government.
Our political class, media, agencies and institutions (even my own university) now seem so captured by the fluff - the press releases, the photo ops, the announceables (decades into the future), the values statements, the thoughtless decisions, the endless orbit of forms and procedures - that there is nothing left.
Australia: the land where nothing is done, and nothing can ever get done.
I sincerely hope I am wrong, but if not, it is up to us - not unlike Ukraine - to demand our nation back.
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