State of emergency declared as record heatwave fuels bushfires near Sydney

State of emergency declared as record heatwave fuels bushfires near Sydney


A policeman talks to a young girl during a protest outside Kirribilli House in Sydney
A policeman talks to a young girl during a protest outside Kirribilli House in Sydney

Credit:
STEVEN SAPHORE/EPA-EFE/REX

A 13-year-old Australian girl was threatened with arrest at a climate change protest outside the Prime Minister’s home on Thursday, in an incident which has gone viral.

The demonstration outside Kirribilli House occurred as anger grows over the government’s handling of climate change amidst a bush fire crisis and nationwide heat wave.

The girl, known as Izzy, was there with her parents and cried after being confronted by the police. The incident was captured in a video by a journalism student.

Michael McCormack, the deputy prime minister, later confirmed that Mr Morrison is still out of the country, believed to be on holiday.

The record average maximum temperature of 40.9C degrees set on Tuesday was broken within 24 hours, with a national average of 41.9 recorded the next day. 

Ten protesters were arrested at Mr Morrison’s Sydney home, including New South Wales MP David Shoebridge. 

“It’s about time that politicians got away from the special interests that trap them in parliament and got out and engaged with the community to fight climate change,” he told SBS News after his release. 

Mr Shoebridge will face court on Jan 16 for allegedly failing to comply with a police order to move on.  The protesters had vowed to camp outside the prime minister’s official residence until he returned.

Rumours have abounded that Mr Morrison is in Hawaii, which his office denies.  At the demonstration, a police officer read the girl her rights: “I warn you that should you fail to comply with my direction, you may be arrested. Force may be used,” he said. “Do you understand, Izzy?”

“Yes,” she replies.

The girl moved away from the house with her father, but later called the police “cowards”.

“We weren’t doing anything wrong – they’re being cowards,” she said. “Scott Morrison isn’t even here to say anything, he’s escaped the country.”

While demonstrators were arrested outside Kirribilli House, on the outskirts of the city at least 20 homes were destroyed by fire.

A maximum temperature of 42.4C was recorded at Sydney airport, and the hot dry weather has made the job of tackling more than 100 fires even harder for the more than 2,000 fire fighters deployed in New South Wales alone.

Fifty of those 100 fires are still uncontained, and smoke has blanketed Sydney. Meanwhile, 69 bush fires raged in Queensland.

Northern New South Wales and southern Queensland have suffered severe drought for months. 

On Thursday, the New South Wales Rural Fire Service confirmed that two volunteer firefighters died tonight near Buxton, in south western Sydney.

In a statement the RFS said the deaths occurred following a vehicle rollover earlier in the evening during firefighting operations.

“It is believed the vehicle, while travelling in convoy, hit a tree before rolling off the road. Another three firefighters have received injuries as a result of the accident.

“This is an absolutely devastating event in what has already been an incredibly difficult day and fire season.”

The government has faced criticism for ignoring warnings from former fire chiefs that the country was unprepared for the weather and was not doing enough to tackle climate change.

Polling this year found 77 per cent of Australians acknowledge that human-made climate change is happening – up from 66 per cent in 2013 – and 64 per cent think the country should be aiming for net-zero emissions by 2050. 

The same research, conducted by the Australia Institute, found that only 18 per cent of people cited coal as one of their top three preferred energy sources, and 20 per cent gas, compared to 76 per cent solar and 58 per cent wind. 

Smoke from a bushfire approaches the Old Hume Highway near the town of Tahmoor, NSW

Credit:
Rex

Lowy Institute research in 2018 found that 84 per cent of Australians believe the government should focus on renewables, even if it means more expenditure on infrastructure to make the system more reliable. 

While carbon emissions fell significantly under the carbon price system introduced by the former Labor government, since its abolition by the Liberal-National government in 2014, carbon emissions have risen steeply.  

Eighty per cent of Australia’s electricity comes from coal and gas. 

The government has consistently supported coal, approving the controversial Adani coal mine in Queensland, and pursuing new laws to seriously penalise people engaged in anti-fossil fuels protests and boycotts. 

Between the start of financial year 2012-13 and the end of financial year 2017-18, the coal, oil and gas (including fracking) industries donated more than A$5.27 million (£2.76 million) to the Liberal-National coalition, A$3.55 million (£1.86 million) of which was from coal. In the same period those industries donated A$2.94 million (£1.54 millon) to Labor.

Mr Morrison while treasurer waved a lump of coal at the opposition in parliament in 2017, saying: “It won’t hurt you”. Former Liberal-National Prime Minister Tony Abbott said “coal is good for humanity”, and on another occasion government MPs chanted “coal is good” in parliament. 

Early in the current fire crisis, which has killed six people and destroyed more than two million hectares and 700 homes in New South Wales alone, deputy prime minister Mr McCormack said people linking the crisis to climate change were “disgusting”. 

Government figures refused to discuss climate change and didn’t commit to increasing resources for fire-fighting.

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