Albanese Says It's 'Fiction' That The Bushfire Crisis Couldn't Be Predicted
Claims that Australia's "black summer" bushfire crisis was unforeseeable is "fiction" and the country is at "a turning point", said Labor leader Anthony Albanese as federal parliament mourned the fire victims.
"This is not business as usual. This is not even fire as usual. We can no longer fall back on the poetry of Dorothea MacKellar and comfort ourselves with the thought that it's always been like this, that this is the price we pay for living on a beautiful but sometimes harsh and unforgiving continent," Albanese said.
"Nor can we soften reality with the fiction that we had no way of predicting this. We have no choice but to turn to face the harsh new reality -- the scale and intensity of the fires has been unprecedented."
His reference to Dorothea Mackellar -- the Australian poet who penned the famous 'My Country', containing the line "of droughts and flooding rains" -- came after some Coalition politicians cited the poem to claim the fire crisis was not unprecedented.
"I see the current bushfires as the sort of thing that we are always going to be prone to in a country such as ours... The land of droughts and flooding rains as the poet [Dorothea Mackellar] said all those years back," former PM Tony Abbott said in a speech in the United States earlier this year.
Another former PM, Malcolm Turnbull, invoked the same line in 2018.
Once the Nationals and Greens had wrapped up their surprise leadership votes on Tuesday morning, the parliament's first sitting day of 2020, politicians turned their attention to what they were actually meant to be doing in Canberra.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Albanese had agreed to turn over the entire first day to condolence motions and speeches on the ongoing bushfire crisis, which has claimed dozens of lives and thousands of homes across the nation in recent months.
It comes after Canberra itself choked under smoke haze for much of the parliamentary break, with huge fires burning on the outskirts of the nation's capital, seeing sporting matches cancelled.
The PM opened the day just after 12pm, acknowledging the loss of 33 lives and more than 3000 houses, sending "deepest sympathies" to victims and families of the dead, and noting special gratitude for firefighters who had lost their lives on the job this season.
Morrison's motion proposed the parliament "commits itself to learning any lessons from this fire season", and also announced he would ask the state governments to support a federal Royal Commission into the bushfire crisis, to be chaired by former Chief of the Defence Force Mark Binskin.
"In past times, when Australia has been tested by fire, we have given the fires a name, based on the name of the day or locality. Black Thursday, in 1851, Black Friday in 1939, Ash Wednesday in 1983, the Canberra bushfires of 2003, and Black Saturday in 2009... This is the Black Summer of 2019-20," Morrison said.
"This year, we have faced, and we are still facing, a terrible season of fires national in scale... fires where days became night, and the night sky turned red, fires that raged into the heavens as clouds of fire. With it all, a merciless smoke that lingered across our cities."
Morrison praised "an army of angels" who volunteered time, energy, food, support and money to help those affected, noting wildlife volunteers, restaurants, and kids who donated pocket money.
The PM said 70 foreign nations offered assistance in the response and cleanup, including Indonesia, Malaysia, Korea, Singapore, Japan, Papua New Guinea and Japan, with more than 300 firefighters coming from the United States, Canada and New Zealand.
"Our summers are getting longer, drier and hotter. That's what climate change does. That requires a new responsiveness, resilience and a reinvigorated focus on adaptation," Morrison said.
Albanese also praised the firefighters, paid tribute to those who died, and again flagged his recent push to financially compensate volunteers working in the fire zones.
"Yes, fire is part of who we are. Our recorded history is heavy with its grim poetry. Ash Wednesday, Black Friday, Red Tuesday, Black Saturday, " Albanese said.
But we are at a turning point. This is not business as usual. This is not even fire as usual.
"I also pay tribute in conclusion to all those extraordinary men and women who have, in the face of incredible danger to themselves, have put their fellow Australians, their communities and their nation before their own interests," Albanese said on Tuesday.
"We thank you. We praise you. We honour you."
The parliament will continue to hear condolence motions and speeches from federal politicians for the rest of Tuesday.