You were warned: Emergency chiefs want action on climate change

Former emergency services bosses have blasted the Morrison government for failing to act on warnings ahead of this year’s deadly and devastating floods in NSW and Queensland, echoing the lead-up up to the catastrophic Black Summer bushfires.

Mar 14, 2022, updated Mar 14, 2022
The 2022 floods had a huge impact on Queensland business
(AAP Image/Darren England)

The 2022 floods had a huge impact on Queensland business (AAP Image/Darren England)

Emergency Leaders for Climate Action want the federal government to cut Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions by 75 per cent by 2030 and set a net zero by 2035 goal.

In their joint letter released on Monday they say the federal government was warned of the flood risks in October and better preparation for natural disasters is needed.

“The federal government’s fumbling of this flood disaster is Black Summer all over again,” former Fire and Rescue NSW chief commissioner Greg Mullins said.

“Last October, charity leaders met with the federal government and were warned of massive flooding this summer.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been under intense criticism for the slow rollout of assistance and aid for flood-affected areas across NSW and Queensland.

“The Morrison government was missing in action – not listening,” Mullins told ABC News on Monday.

“It’s their job to prevent this getting worse and into the future while the emergency services get on with the response.”

The group is calling on the government to take action on climate change to prevent more frequent and severe disasters in the future.

“Those of us who do hold hoses know just how dangerous climate change has become,” Mr Mullins said.

“Australia is under-prepared, and Canberra has no answers to how it will rapidly slash emissions this decade.”

Meanwhile the NSW and federal governments are at odds about the timing of requests for defence force assistance during the floods.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the state first requested the federal government send in the defence force on February 27, before the full extent of the disaster hit northern NSW.

The state did not receive confirmation from the federal government on troop numbers and the ADF was also caught off guard by the announcement on March 5 that 5000 troops were ready to help, the Herald says.

Resilience NSW commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons says he had no confirmation about troop numbers – hearing potential figures through a journalist and failing to receive clarification from the NSW ADF Brigadier.

But Emergency Management Minister Bridget McKenzie told the Sydney Morning Herald as the federal government can’t deploy ADF into the states, it was up to the state government to decide where they should go and when.

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet has flagged a review into the floods in his state would look at how long it took defence forces to help, saying he’d have preferred them in disaster zones sooner.

It comes as NSW and Queensland begin an immense clean up effort in the wake of the devastating and deadly floods.

Nearly 7500 defence personnel are expected to be helping with aid and recovery efforts by the end of Monday.

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The group of 37 emergency services leaders includes Mr Mullins, former Queensland Fire and Emergency Services head Lee Johnson and former ACT Emergency Services Authority chief commissioners Peter Dunn.

They say if the federal government had acted on the findings of the Royal Commission into Natural Disaster Arrangements called in the wake of the 2019-20 bushfire season, the flooded communities would have been better prepared.

This would have meant more prepared first responders, reinforced critical infrastructure and stronger telecommunications networks, the group said.

“The disasters of today are not like the disasters of the past,” Mr Johnson said.

“The records keep tumbling. This is climate change in action and we’re all in danger.”

Former NSW State Emergency Services boss Chas Keys said terms such as “one in 500-year” flood were “meaningless” to the people repeatedly experiencing disasters.

“We need the federal government to take climate change seriously by cutting back drastically on the mining and burning of fossil fuels,” Mr Keys said.

“We also need to reset the way we manage disasters … there is no more manageable hazard in Australia than flooding.”

The ACT’s Mr Dunn said he was part of a group of ex-emergency services chiefs Mr Morrison ignored ahead of the Black Summer bushfires.

“More than two years after Black Summer and many Australians are still living in tents. Are the victims of these floods to expect the same?” Mr Dunn said.

“As climate change escalates these disasters, history cannot continue to repeat itself.”

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