With 4 dead, scores of injuries and 451 homes burned to the ground, there
were bound to be recriminations. Canberra is a city of politicians - both the
elected parliamentary types and the non-elected public servant
types. Successful politics
is about taking taking credit for other's successes, while blaming others for
your mistakes, so it came as no surprise that the blame-game started while the
corpses were still smoldering.
Should the government have done more?
Should they have spent more
money on fire prevention? Was it the fault of the ACT government for not
spending more on back-burning? Was it the commonwealth's fault for mismanaging
the pine tree plantations which burned with as much savagery as the native
'The government should do something' is
the mantra which naive citizens have been trained
into, especially in Australia's Public Service
city. Consequently all of the recriminations are based on what more the
government should have done.
There have been the usual media ghouls interviewing
people who have just lost their homes, asking them questions carefully designed
to produce tears, but the strongest testimony from these people after
ferocity of the fires, is the fact that the authorities failed them.
Interviewee after interviewee said that they expected the authorities to
come and tell them when it was unsafe and they had to leave. They waited and
waited, and the authorities never came. These people were tax-payers, they had supported
their government, their government was supposed to protect them during
disasters. The decision had to be made whether to fight or flee - and the
government was supposed to make it for them. And the government never came.
Four people are dead, and we may never know how many people realized too late
that the government wasn't coming; that the government was overwhelmed; that
in times of true emergency, the best judge of danger is the individual. When
your home and your life are both threatened, only you can make the decision.
What could the government have done? Perhaps a better question is what could
the government not have done.
If the government had not forced these people to pay the
exorbitant stamp-duty on these homes, the people would have been free to use
the money on prevention. If
the government had not discouraged (or even banned) water tanks, they may have
had enough water to put out the fires. If the government had not passed
legislation preventing people from cutting down trees on their own land, they
may not have been there to explode in fire. If the government had not passed
legislation effectively banning the recycling of gray water, people would have
been able to water their gardens during the water restrictions, keeping them
alive, moist and less likely to burn.
But none of these things will be done even now. Already governments are
promising new laws, rights to
force people from their homes, greater regulation and more restrictions on
people's lives, to live up to the promise of ever-growing government.
All these government initiatives have to be paid for somehow. Is that smoke
haze over Canberra, or just the lack of clarity which precedes another