Former fire chief reflects on the award that gave him ‘vindication’ in a time of need
26 October 2021 at 8:00 am
“The overwhelming feeling I had was of vindication and encouragement to keep going because I was copping a lot of political flak”
When former Fire and Rescue NSW commissioner Greg Mullins AO AFSM found out he had been named an Impact 25 award winner, he was busy putting out fires – both real and political.
On the one hand, he was battling the devastating blazes from the 2019–20 “Black Summer” bushfire season as a volunteer for the New South Wales Rural Fire Service.
On the other, he was appearing frequently in the media to push for strong climate action, warning political leaders about the need to address the link between the bushfires and climate change.
For their advocacy efforts, Mullins and his fellow Emergency Leaders for Climate Action (ELCA) found themselves in the firing line of conservative politicians and sections of the media.
Then deputy prime minister Michael McCormack labelled the group “time wasters”, and derided those linking bushfires with climate change as “the ravings of some pure, enlightened and woke capital city greenies”.
“The overwhelming feeling I had was of vindication and encouragement to keep going because I was copping a lot of political flak,” Mullins said.
“The Murdoch press weren’t happy. There were a lot of personal attacks. And it was hard to keep the energy levels up.
“I felt very honoured because when I saw the other names of nominees and award winners, I just thought ‘really? I’m thought of that highly by some people?’ That really gave me a shot in the arm.”
Mullins continues to advocate for climate action as a councillor on the Climate Council, and believes it is vital social sector leaders continue to make their voice heard on the issues that matter.
He said he was often discouraged from speaking out during his career, and that’s why he formed ELCA in 2019.
“Some governments, particularly the federal government, don’t want a conversation about climate change because their record is just so bad,” he said.
“And now you’ve got other groups like Farmers for Climate Action that point out what’s happening with climate change in their sphere.
“It’s really vital these subject matter experts are there telling the truth because sometimes politicians appear not to tell the truth or don’t understand what the actual truth is.”
Mullins has recently published a book, Firestorm, which tells his story of fighting fires over 50 years – beginning when he was just 12 while with his father.
He said his Impact 25 win actually partially served as motivation to write the book, because it led to so many people asking him to share his knowledge of bushfire behaviour and fire seasons.
Nominations for Pro Bono Australia’s 2022 Impact 25 Awards are now open until 3 November and Mullins is encouraging people to nominate those in the community making a difference.
He said similar to his experience, nominating a local hero would give them a much needed boost.
“Often people who are nominated for these awards are working in areas where the need is relentless or there’s political resistance everywhere,” he said.
“It’s really hard work and it can be quite demoralising, and this just gives that lift and makes them feel like it’s all worth it.”
You can nominate someone for Pro Bono Australia’s 2022 Impact 25 Awards here.
This year’s awards are sponsored by Equity Trustees.