They have learned nothing and forgotten nothing
28 May 2020 at 8:47 am
We must remember, writes David Ritter.
In his speech to the nation on Tuesday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison showed that he has learned nothing from our spring and summer of fire and the trial of the pandemic, and forgotten nothing of his record of inaction when it comes to our national reckoning with the climate emergency.
Not once did the prime minister mention climate change and not once was he questioned why he is squandering the opportunity to relaunch the economy down the safe and secure pathway to a clean energy future.
In these days of attention spans splintered by hyperlinks, fractured with clickbait and subjected to the whirligig of the (fake) news cycle, focused memory is an act of political duty.
We, the Australian people, must remember, even as the distractions come at us. Even as our prime minister implies that democratic scrutiny doesn’t matter.
We must remember, as our prime minister measures the life and soul of our nation against the standards applied by three men talking about an elite yacht race. We must remember, as our prime minister tells us that speed is everything and the economy comes first. We must remember that this is wrong at its foundations; that both our prosperity and our humanity come from our society, and that the purpose of our economy should be the wellbeing of people and the flourishing of our living world.
We must remember what was done and not done. How some people – artists, entertainers, university lecturers, international students – were treated as disposable. How school cleaners, transport workers, community nurses, aged care workers were heroes – but that they have insecure work conditions and low pay.
We must remember the Dirty Power.
We must remember that our prime minister packed the National COVID-19 Coordination Commission (NCCC) with ex-fossil fuel executives with direct links to the fossil fuel industry and chemical manufacturers with questionable interests, which he did not see fit to ask them to disclose. That the recovery body made decisions for our nation’s future in secret, with no public input, representation or reporting, and were not accountable to the Australian people.
We must remember that in the dark days when the fires raged, the prime minister was in Hawaii; and that in the fearful first weeks of COVID-19 the parliament abandoned their democratic responsibilities in the moment of crisis.
We must remember that COVID-19 exposed the inequalities that already exist in Australia. Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) CEO Cassandra Goldie stressed that “while no one is immune to this crisis, it’s clear that people on low incomes, younger people and women are bearing the brunt of job losses.” We must remember that the money is there to remedy social ills and that it is possible to have free and universal child care for all.
We must remember that, since 2013, the Australian government received at least 18 peak-level expert warnings that rising emissions would lead to catastrophic fire conditions, all of which were ignored by Prime Minister Morrison and his predecessors.
We must remember – for those of us fortunate enough to have kept our jobs and to live in safe homes through the pandemic – that it was precious to have more time; to garden, to bake, to read, to care for our loved ones. We must remember that speed is not everything and that the over-valorisation of speed means that human lives are worth nothing.
We must remember our shared effort.
We must remember – 80 per cent of us who experienced the direct impacts of the spring and summer of fire, that this is what severe climate damage feels like. And we must remember that our current prime minister once held up a lump of coal – the greatest driver of global warming which worsened the catastrophic fire conditions – and said there was “nothing to be afraid of”.
We must remember, that as the Great Barrier Reef suffered its third and most extensive mass bleaching in March 2020, that our prime minister and his cabinet stayed silent, in complicity not elegy, and despite our promises to the world.
But we must also remember, that when the skies went dark with smoke, we Australians looked out for each other.
We must remember that during the fires and the pandemic, the decency of most Australians twinkled like so many lamps on a twilight street. We will remember that we are not narrow self-maximising homo economicus, but members of a social species bound together in a community of fate.
And we must remember the power of government to do good because it is our government. That during the fires and the pandemic, the dedication of public servants and the enabling power of government guaranteed our safety. It was firefighters and other emergency workers, public health experts, nurses, doctors, the ABC, the police, and the ability of the state to step in and act, to secure borders, to take public health measures, to act to save jobs, that gave the safety net for all.
And what if when the skies cleared of pollution during COVID-19, we knew we would have sweet air forever because we had politicians who believed in our recovery for the common good, free from vested interests?
Maybe we will be able to remember that this was the start of the great realisation. That 2020 was the moment that we seized the unprecedented period of change as an opportunity to reshape society for the better: an Australia Remade, with clean air, clean water, clean and cheap energy, nature in recovery and an economy for all.
Maybe we will be able to remember that wise governments spend money to invest when it is in the national interest to do so.
And how much we value the universal provision of child care for all and that as a nation we afforded to keep this in place.
And that extraordinary things were made possible with bipartisan cooperation, taking wise notice of the science, and putting people first, prioritising the interests and the health of the community, not the interests of polluting corporations.
Then, we could remember that when our darkened skies finally cleared, it was human decision making that kept them so.