Why was Australia’s government so ill-prepared for the bushfires?

Jan 09, 2020

“A FEW BAGS and the cats” were all Brett Viewey could take when he fled his house in Kangaroo Valley, a small town in New South Wales. On January 4th he retreated to a bowling club in Nowra, a few hours south of Sydney, as a fire coursed towards his home. He is among tens of thousands of people who have moved out of the way of bushfires that are raging all across Australia, and especially in Victoria and New South Wales. So far the flames have burned across 11m hectares, larger than the area destroyed by recent fires in the Amazon and California combined. At least 26 people are dead and around 2,300 homes have been destroyed. And there are still several weeks of summer to go.

Fire-damaged towns have received Scott Morrison, the prime minister (pictured), with hostility. During a recent walk around Cobargo in New South Wales, angry locals called him an “idiot”. When two people refused to shake his hand, he forcibly took theirs. At a press conference on January 5th Mr Morrison said that “blame doesn’t help anybody” and that “over-analysis” is “not a productive exercise”. But Australians want to know how this extraordinary fire season could have been better handled. The rest of the world dares to wonder if it will prompt any acceleration of the country’s laggardly climate policies.

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