In 2 years, 1 month, and 6 days Victorian’s will go to the polls. But in just over two months it’ll be summer – a summer tipped to be the worst in three years. For all Australians summer is inexorably linked to heat, swimming, summer storms, and bushfires.
For Victorians this last is particularly vivid – I still remember the Ash Wednesday bushfires of 1983: I was thirteen, and if I close my eyes I can still see the sky red and smoky even though I was in Melbourne and the closest flames were over an hour away.
47 Victorians and 28 South Australians died in those fires, including 14 Country Fire Authority and 3 Country Fire Service volunteers. It was the highest bushfire death toll in our nation’s recorded history. Until Black Saturday.
Better, more informed writers than I have addressed those fires, and the aftermath that continues. My grief and horror is all second-hand – time has done little so far to dim it, and I have admiration for the strength and resilience of survivors, whose losses are incalculable.
Here’s the thing – the scope and scale was so significant that the then-Premier called for a Royal Commission. For those from overseas, that’s a major inquiry into important, often controversial events, headed by a Commissioner with greater power than a judge, though curtailed by the parameters of the investigation.
The Commission was tasked with two primary issues: how did the “stay or go” policycontribute to deaths, and should there have been more burning off int he lead up to the worst bushfire season on record?
Most importantly, in terms of my focus, are the recommendations of the Commission: I’ve read them carefully several times, and see nothing there about slashing $66 million from the combined Metropolitan Fire Brigade and Country Fire Authority’s budgets. Yet, as I’ve written previously, Premier Baillieu has decided to reduce funding for these essential services, as well as failing to implement several key recommendations.
These men and women risk their lives for us, every day. 97.5% of CFA members are volunteers – protecting their communities, and those of the rest of the state (and interstate) for the public good. This is, indeed, service – to so shabbily treat the men and women who risk their lives to protect ours, our livestock, our homes and land is a disgrace. Regardless of what happens this summer, the price of cost cutting is too high. If one person dies this bushfire season, one person dies in the city, who could have survived with better funding, the blame can be laid at the feet of this government and their policy of short-term surplus at the expense of long-term community interests.
For more, and updated information about what’s happening see Protect the Protectors on Facebook.