Vol­un­teers and pure vic­tim­hood

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - WORLD -

It couldn’t have been starker this week. Play­ing out on the news each night, we saw two Aus­tralias on dis­play: the Aus­tralia of duty and ser­vice; and the Aus­tralia of anger and dis­rup­tion. I’m re­fer­ring to the com­mu­nity vol­un­teers, the fireys who have been fight­ing the mas­sive blazes dev­as­tat­ing north­ern NSW and south­ern Queens­land, plus the Salvos, the CWA and all the other helpers who keep them in the field. And the con­trast with the so-called Ex­tinc­tion Re­bel­lion pro­test­ers caus­ing huge dis­rup­tion all be­cause the gov­ern­ment won’t in­stantly close down the coal in­dus­try to fight cli­mate change.

The pro­test­ers’ claim that cli­mate change is caus­ing the bush­fires, caus­ing the drought, and that we should shut down min­ing, shut down agri­cul­ture, stop fly­ing by air­craft, driv­ing cars and eat­ing meat is of course, com­plete rub­bish. Aus­tralia has al­ways been a “land of drought and flood­ing rain”. Bush­fires have al­ways been a fact of Aus­tralian life, in­deed in­dige­nous peo­ples used fire from early times to man­age the fuel load. Yet the pre­dom­i­nance of Greens on lo­cal coun­cils has meant we’ve ar­guably made things worse by our mod­ern re­luc­tance, on en­vi­ron­men­tal grounds, to al­low more reg­u­lar hazard re­duc­tion burns; not­with­stand­ing the sorry re­al­ity that many re­cent bush­fires have in fact been de­lib­er­ately lit. Pro­fes­sor Andy Pit­man, head of the Aus­tralian Re­search Coun­cil’s Cen­tre of Ex­cel­lence for Cli­mate Ex­tremes, re­cently con­ceded “as far as cli­mate sci­en­tists know, there is no link be­tween cli­mate change and drought.”

It was the clash of two na­tions on dis­play last week — who we are, and who we might end up be­ing, if we lose the ethos that’s made Aus­tralia what it is to date. To me, the spirit of the vol­un­teer is what makes Aus­tralia spe­cial, or used to. It’s all the peo­ple who, in­stead of com­plain­ing, or blam­ing oth­ers, do what they can in­di­vid­u­ally and col­lec­tively to make things bet­ter. When I was younger, our towns and sub­urbs had a mul­ti­tude of ser­vice groups — Li­ons, Ro­tary, Apex clubs, Zonta and oth­ers — plus the vol­un­teer fire-bri­gade, the hospi­tal aux­il­iary, school P&Cs and the SES. As we’ve all got busier, and in some re­spects, more in­su­lar, many of these clubs have folded.

Will we still be a na­tion that vol­un­teers in years to come?

What sort of Aus­tralia are we be­com­ing? Is the ser­vice ethos deep­en­ing; or are we be­com­ing a na­tion of an­gry fa­nat­ics, where rea­son and fact have no place in the de­bate?

And what at­ti­tudes are be­ing in­cul­cated in our schools: are young peo­ple learn­ing that the only way to get a fair go is to give a fair go too; or are they be­ing brain­washed that Aus­tralia is an in­her­ently il­le­git­i­mate, pro­foundly un­fair coun­try, that’s ru­in­ing the planet by min­ing coal, driv­ing cars and eat­ing meat?

To me, there’s no doubt which group of Aus­tralians rep­re­sent our best selves. It’s the grimy, sweaty he­roes, of all ages and both sexes, emerg­ing from the fire lines af­ter many hours of back­break­ing work. It sure isn’t the pro­test­ers who this week looked like most could do with a good bath and a scrub. If you throw in their de­mands for open bor­ders and more wealth dis­tri­bu­tion within coun­tries and be­tween coun­tries, this is noth­ing more than just the hard left and some dupes cam­paign­ing for so­cial­ism in the guise of sav­ing the planet.

It’s ut­terly un­ac­cept­able that a few hun­dred ac­tivists are ready rou­tinely to dis­rupt the lives of hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple. Stronger ac­tion is over­due — jail, no wel­fare, and end to mass-dis­rup­tion pre­tend­ing to be peace­ful protest.

If our so­ci­ety is not pre­pared to as­sert it­self against those who make our lives worse, then those try­ing to make our lives bet­ter might de­cide it’s no longer worth the ef­fort.

A vol­un­teer fire­fighter in north­ern NSW. Pic­ture: Ja­son O’Brien

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