It’s time to listen to the science and the experts
Despite the warnings of experts backed by overwhelming scientific evidence, politicians left us unprepared and vulnerable to the fires that have ravaged our country. There are parallels of this modus operandi to be found in health and aged care.
What can I say about the calamity that has devastated our country?
The human, ecological and material costs of this spring and summer’s bushfires are staggering.
Twenty-eight people dead. Ten million hectares of our natural heritage incinerated. The homes of 2000 families obliterated. Over a billion animals burned to death.
The sheer scale and intensity of this carnage is barely believable.
But through it all there is also the uplifting, inspiring human response.
What stood out for me was the courage, commitment and selflessness of our emergency workers – firefighters, nurses, volunteers and others.
And one can only admire the resilience and solidarity of the communities who have been devastated by these unprecedented infernos.
The immediate dangers of some fires may now have passed with the onset of rain but the health consequences will persist for a long, long time.
Studies from previous bushfires, in Australia and elsewhere, show that the physical and mental health consequences endure for years.
There are many lessons to be learned, and it is imperative that they are learned, out of this catastrophe.
A positive lesson is that Australia still has a sense of community, solidarity and altruism that can get us through the worst of times.
But we can’t skate over the glaring deficiencies that the bushfires have exposed in the way Australia is governed.
We deserve better from our governments
As a country we were unprepared for the scale of these fires despite the alarm that had been raised by any number of experts: scientists, climatologists, firefighters and health clinicians over many, many years.
It is unconscionable that their advice was not just ignored but often ridiculed by a significant and powerful faction of our political class and media.
The lies, distortions and obfuscations that have been peddled about our changing climate have now been exposed as grossly irresponsible and a gigantic folly.
The natural logic of this denial or scepticism, in the face of overwhelming empirical evidence, is the lack of preparedness that we have seen and the exposure of the Australian people to nature’s wrath.
It is unacceptable that we have a government that only appears capable of acting after the fact and even then, only with reluctance and only when pushed.
As nurses and midwives, maybe this should not surprise us. In health we know first hand how expertise, experience and insight from those who actually know what they are talking about can be ignored, sidelined or contested by politicians or vested interests with their own agenda or by bean counters who fail to factor in the costs of inaction.
Which brings us to aged care.
In the fields of climate change and the environment we are used to the political art of doubling down in the face of a growing cataclysm.
The privatisation of Aged Care Assessment Teams by the Morrison government is another example of this way of operating.
Late last year, the Royal Commission into Aged Care delivered an interim report, which described the aged care sector as “a shocking tale of neglect”.
The commission heard countless, heart-rending tales of neglect and abject systemic failure and a lack of transparency and accountability by commercially driven facilities.
Yet even before the royal commission has delivered its final report, the federal government is handing over these public sector assessment teams to a private sector with a rank record of failure.
What point do we have to reach before there is a reckoning on this form of governance that ignores the advice and analyses of experts, and doubles down on failed policies when catastrophes are staring us in the face?