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Helping others is something we’ve dedicated our lives to.
We are 37 former senior Australian fire and emergency service chiefs, who have directly responded to countless extreme weather events dating back as far as the 1970s. We not only appreciate but personally understand the efforts of all emergency responders doing their utmost in extremely challenging circumstances. We have been there, alongside the people directly impacted, helping communities come to grips with the heartbreak and the loss.
So many Australians are hurting right now, and the suffering will be felt long after the waters recede. They need everyone’s support, but they also need us to speak up so that other Australians do not keep suffering the same fate.
Unprecedented is no excuse for being unprepared.
We know extreme weather events are increasing in both intensity and frequency. Climate scientists have been warning us for decades of catastrophic disasters, and unfortunately we are experiencing those now – and more often.
This is climate change – something we’ve known about for decades, and should have been acting on early and urgently. The intense rainfall and catastrophic floods are taking place in an atmosphere made warmer and wetter by climate change. In effect, these worsening disasters are being fuelled by the burning of coal, oil, and gas. Labelling them as “natural” might be politically expedient, but it conveniently ignores the fact that decision-makers could have been choosing to improve our situation. Instead, they are actively choosing to take decisions that actively make things worse.
Make no mistake, we are in a new era of disaster management. What was adequate over the past decades when it comes to resourcing, and approaches is no longer enough.
Right now, we’re dangerously unprepared for impacts of accelerating climate change.
This was clear in the lead up to the Black Summer bushfires of 2019/2020, and it is still the case today.
The lessons are there – but no one is learning them. If state and federal governments had implemented all the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Natural Disaster Arrangements this flooding disaster could have unfolded very differently.
Communities would have been told to expect historic flood lines to be broken, and could have made informed decisions to keep themselves and their families safe. National multi-agency exercises would have been practised to ensure first responders were better prepared. Critical infrastructure would have been reinforced. Telecommunications would have been strengthened and remained operational enabling people to get the help they needed when they needed it. Community refuges would have been well signed, accessible and appropriately stocked with mattresses, food and fresh water. Ultimately, the impact on people would have been less severe and the response would have been faster. More lives and livelihoods may have been saved.
In no way should this be read as commentary on the response of emergency services. They work with the resourcing they are provided with at any given time. This is criticism directed squarely at the Morrison government which is tasked with coordinating our national response and was in a position to begin enacting every recommendation of the Royal Commission over 500 days ago.
As emergency leaders we know it’s only a matter of time until the next big disaster hits. Emergency services will continue to respond courageously but they are ill equipped to address the scale of the crisis that we are facing.
At this point, truly transformative climate action is required. This means reducing greenhouse emissions by 75% by 2030, and reaching net zero emissions by 2035. Both this, and adequate preparation is the job of the federal government.
It’s time they stepped up to the plate, realise the cataclysm that’s already before us and prioritise our safety. Any less is a dereliction of duty.
Andrew Lawson AFSM – Former Executive Director, Country Fire Service
Bob Conroy – Former Fire Manager, NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service
Campbell Darby DSC, AM – Former Director General Emergency Management Australia
Chas Keys PhD ESM – Former Deputy Director General, NSW State Emergency Service
Chris Arnol – Former Chief Officer of the Tasmania Fire Service.
Craig Hynes AFSM – Former Chief Operations Officer. WA Fire and Emergency Services Authority
Craig Lapsley PSM – Former Victorian Emergency Management Commissioner, former Victorian Fire Services Commissioner, former Deputy Chief Officer Country Fire Authority Victoria
Darryl Pepper AFSM – Ex-Director, NT Fire, Rescue, and Emergency Services
Dave Prince AFSM – Former Chief Officer ACT Fire & Rescue
David Templeman – Former Director General Emergency Management Australia.
Ewan Waller AFSM – Former Chief Fire Officer, Department of Sustainability & Environment, Victoria
Frank Pagano AFSM, ESM – Former Executive Director, Emergency Management Queensland, and former Deputy Commissioner, Queensland Fire & Rescue Service
Grant Lupton AFSM – Former Chief Fire Officer, SA Metropolitan Fire Service
Greg Mullins AO, AFSM – Former Commissioner Fire & Rescue NSW. Former President of the Australasian Fire & Emergency Service Authorities’ Council. Former Deputy Chair, NSW State Emergency Management Committee. Former Director, International Fire Chiefs’ Association of Asia. Chair, NSW Ambulance Service Board. Climate Councillor. One of Australia’s longest serving fire chiefs and a serving volunteer firefighter.
Greg Newton – Former Deputy Commissioner NSW SES
Jeff Godfredson AFSM – Former Chief Fire Officer. Melbourne Metropolitan Fire Brigade
Jim Hamilton AFSM – Former Fire Rescue NSW Deputy Commissioner
Jim Smith AFSM – Former interim Commissioner NSW SES and former Deputy Commissioner Fire & Rescue Nsw
John Anderson AFSM – Former Chair, NSW State Emergency Management Committee and former Deputy Commissioner NSW Fire Brigade
John Gledhill AFSM – Former Chief Fire Officer. Tasmania Fire Service
Ken Thompson AFSM – Former Deputy Commissioner Fire & Rescue NSW
Lee Johnson AFSM – Former Commissioner Qld Fire & Emergency Services. Former President of the Australasian Fire & Emergency Service Authorities’ Council. Board Member: Bushfire & Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre
Malcolm Connellan AFSM – Deputy Commissioner of Fire & Rescue NSW
Mary Barry – Former CEO Victoria State Emergency Service
Mike Brown AM, AFSM – Former Chief Officer Tasmania Fire Service. Former Chair of the National Aerial Firefighting Centre
Murray Kear AFSM – Former Commissioner NSW State Emergency Service and former Assistant Commissioner Fire & Rescue NSW
Naomi Brown – Former CEO. Australasian Fire & Emergency Service Authorities Council
Neil Bibby AFSM – Former Chief Executive Officer Country Fire Authority Victoria, former Deputy Chief Officer Melbourne Metropolitan Fire Brigade
Major General Peter Dunn (Ret) AO – Former Commissioner, ACT Emergency Services Authority,
Peter Akers – Former CEO of the Melbourne Metropolitan Fire Brigade and former Chair of the Victorian SES Board
Phil Koperberg AO, AFSM, BEM – Former NSW Minister for the Environment. Former Commissioner NSW Rural Fire Service. Former Chair, NSW State Emergency Management Committee.
Rosemary Milkins PSM – Former Deputy Chief Executive, Fire & Rescue NSW, Former Deputy Commissioner, NSW Police, and former Deputy Director General, NSW Dept of Premier and Cabinet.
Russell Rees AFSM – Former Chief Officer VIC Country Fire Authority
Steve Rothwell AFSM – Former Chief Officer NT Fire & Rescue Service
Steve Sutton – Former Executive Director Bushfires NT
Tony Blanks AFSM – Former Fire Unit Manager Tasmania National Parks, and former Fire Manager Forestry Tasmania
Wayne Gregson APM, OAM – Former Commissioner WA Dept of Fire & Emergency Services