There is one thing above all else that we as a nation expect our elected leaders to do, is lead.
Sounds pretty obvious right? And yet when faced with a Fire emergency of previously unheard of proportions our Leaders were too busy being politicians to act. I’ll leave the opt ed about what they did wrong and what their choices were. But I can right of the bat come up with a few things they need to think about next time round.
One: it becomes painfully obvious there is no national disaster response plan. None. Even if its dusty and sitting at the bottom of a filing cabinet surely good governance would see this revisited once in a blue moon so that people know there is one. Chain of Command, pathways for logistic, communication, coordination and potential actions should be laid out clearly. Even if its an info graphic like you get on the back of doors in Hotels in Thailand, “In case of tsunami, run like hell and get to higher ground (arrow points to nearest safe zone)”
It’s all very well to say, “but its a state responsibility”. But sometimes it can affect all states, the whole country, federally in fact, so wouldn’t we expect the federal government with its federal dollars, and ability to coordinate across states, step in and provide whatever support the states need? I would have thought so. But apparently the only coherent response is: if the going gets tough, the tough go to Hawaii. So once the ash settles, I would expect a real brainstorming session of the COAG (update: or the national cabinet) to set this up for future, if god forbid we need such a coordinated response. The recently commissioned and resourced National Bush Fire Recovery Unit is a good start but for the future here are some ideas I gift to you ScoMo, as you seem to be in need of some.
1: Set up a national emergency response and coordination organisation. Their remit is to coordinate logistics, communicate options and help ensure that resources are directed as needed upon liaison with the states and their own Emergency response efforts.
2. Resource them properly, including freedom from political appointees to head them. (The Arabian Horse Breeder who G W Bush set up as head of FEMA did not do well when Katrina struck. Under Trump, no one even knows what FEMA are doing except tying up respirator supplies in the case of COVID-19)
3. Ensure the ADF is part of this response and deployed as soon as practical. they and the A-Res train for these sorts of things, especially the quartermaster and engineering arms.
4. Pay attention to some of the modelling and science about challenges we may be facing, and have a risk mitigation strategy and response plan.
5. Central fundraising coordination. Initially, hundreds of little efforts popped up, some less than legit, as no one knew where to donate to except for the NSW Bush Fire something… I don’t watch much TV so I don’t know if there was national advertising about where to donate, but I had to wait until an Australian Actor living in Byron Bay (whose name rhymes with Lemsworth), put up a page with a link to all the states Volunteer bush fire donation points, the red cross, and various animal charities as a vetted and legit list. That way your preferred option of getting someone else to pay for things, instead of it coming off the budget surplus, can be maintained but you look good doing it.
6. Pay the poor buggers. Not every time, but in these sorts of extended situations. Have a clear framework and have it kick in automatically.
7. And make disaster relief cash easier to get. Go to centrelink you said:
Centrelink: What’s your new address
Victim: XYZ town
Centrelink: I’m sorry that is not on the list of towns affected
Victim: I know that you Cockwomble, My house and everything burnt down so I have to live with my Granny.
Conversation degenerates past this point.
8. Provide logistical support for food, shelter and clothing, evacuation centres, and coordinate people offering free accommodation with people looking. There was a private initiative set up (in one instance) for people to register both and it was very useful too. I know the government prefers to outsource that sort of thing, but if you had outsourced it already, then the chances of poor buggers being taken for a ride would be less. Or you could have reached out to the owners of the Air BnB website to ask them for help. so many ways this could have been done… except it wasn’t.
9. Have in place a plan to mobilse the ordinary citizenry, busing them from the unaffected areas and getting them to help with containment lines, or sandwich making, or even acting as runners. Fuel for farmers who bring their tractors and front end loaders to help bulldoze tracks. They don’t have to be put into harms way, but having them do drone stuff, means the more experienced guys can be deployed elsewhere.
10. learn from this and do better. Remember, Prior preparation and practice prevents piss poor performance.