Toxic neoliberalism and charity – Australians demand sufficient response to the wildfires

Tens of thousands hit the streets in Australia after resorting to charity fundraising for fire services and wildlife while the neoliberal government lets the country burn. Grace Crisara reports.

Drawing of Scott Morrison Australian prime minister, with a koala on fire crawling on his head.

We are yet to see Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison choke as the country turns to smoke in what has been described as ‘Australia’s profit-driven apocalypse’. The smoke from the bushfires lingers heavily in the air, with people unable to leave their homes (if they haven’t already been lost) without breathing in toxic fumes. Emergency services have warned residents of hazardous air quality in several regions. This didn’t stop the tens of thousands of people who hit the streets today in a battle to save the country. 

Indeed, the impacts of the fires haven’t been confined to Australia’s borders, with reports of increased cases of asthma attacks in parts of New Zealand and Chile. Picture the London Eye. Flames are taller than its peak, as they spread across over half the size of England, impacting all mainland states.  It is a stark reality of what are the country’s largest fires ever to be recorded. Researchers have estimated that more than a billion animals have now been killed as a result, and 28 people proclaimed dead. Over 10 million hectares have been burnt so far with no sign of immediate relief, temperatures are soaring to over 50 degrees celsius in some towns. 

Climate anxiety amongst the general public is one of the many symptoms of alienation caused by the tragedy. What is the damage of corporations, has now resulted in working-class people carrying the burden of cleaning up the mess. This includes low-income earners voluntarily giving their time to fundraise money for fire services and wildlife conservation.  A trending marketing strategy has also been rolled out with businesses across Australia offering profits from sales to go towards aid. The solidarity demonstrated by the working class has resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars raised, revealing the generosity and cooperation of the general public, which contradicts the idea that people are inherently selfish. 

This comes against the contrasting and callous behaviour demonstrated by Scott Morrison throughout the emergency. Videos are circulating of the Prime Ministers failed attempt to shake the hands of affected people and unpaid volunteer firefighters’ after his international condemnation for his reprehensible leadership and inability to act. While thousands were suffering the consequences of their communities being burnt down, The Prime Minister was holidaying in Hawaii showing little sympathy.

Over the past decade, thousands of climate change activists protested the approval of Australia’s investment into the expansion of the coal industry, fighting the approval of the Indian owned Adani group’s Carmichael coal project. In 2019 Adani received the federal government’s go-ahead to begin work in Queensland with expectations to produce 10 million tonnes of coal in its first stage. In Australia, large reserves of coal seam gas (methane) currently exist in geological basins in the East, with the majority located in Queensland and New South Wales. In 2018, the International Trade Centre recorded Australia as the world’s No.1 leading coal exporter, with its coal export value reaching over US $47billion for that year alone, making up over 37% of the world’s coal exports. Former Labor Party Leader Bill Shorten remained ambiguous on his plan for the Adani project in the last election, leaving activists furious in what is now a bipartisan project.  The Institute of Energy Economics and Financial Analysis estimated over AUS $4 billion of taxpayer dollars will be subsidised for the project which will add an estimated 4.6 billion tonnes of carbon pollution to the atmosphere according to Stop Adani. It is inherently transparent that the Coalition will not be pulling back on its subsidising into coal mining with further projects to be rolled out in the future. 

In a further sign of the Coalition’s heavy export interests,  Australia has struck up 10 free trade agreements with countries including China, Japan and South Korea. Due to its high-quality standards, the country is a major exporter of meat and livestock to over 100 countries. According to the Australian government website for agriculture, nearly two-thirds of the country’s agricultural produce is exported overseas. Meat & Livestock Australia reported its value for the fiscal year ending in 2019 as AUS $4.7Billion making it one of the top 5 largest beef exporters in the world with the methane produced from its agriculture industry making up for approximately 16% of Australia’s total greenhouse gas emissions. 

Student unions across Australia are taking matters into their own hands with lack of trade union support and only very few workplace walk-offs amongst construction, electrical and maritime workers so far.  Uni Students for Climate Justice amongst other groups including Extinction Rebellion have used the opportunity to empower the public with tens of thousands of people occupying the streets. Their call for action included demands to sack Scott Morrison for his shameful negligence in leadership and failure to act throughout the catastrophe so far, along with other demands, including a call for funding the thousands of unpaid volunteer firefighters, demands for a rapid transition into renewable energy and further compensation for affected communities. The Australian department of human services state that the disaster recovery payment offered to the affected is a meagre AU$1000 per adult and AU$400 per child compared to the $1198 per person benefit that the fossil fuel companies receive from the government every year. 

The obvious lack of aid and the continued grief motivated an enormous response from people on Facebook to click attending or interested in protests in their major cities or towns. In a tactical play to stop people from attending, Fairfax media released a statement on behalf of the Victoria police earlier this week urging ‘fair-minded’ Australians to stay away from protests as they would be occupying police resources that could be better used elsewhere in the current crisis. This is emblematic of the intentions of the Australian government who are renowned in using fear-mongering techniques to control the Australian public. Late last year, the Victorian Police in a dramatic public display, arrested over 50 climate change activists peacefully protesting outside of the International Mining and Resources Conference in Melbourne, exhibiting its transparent priorities of protecting its corporate partners. 

Among those arrested were revolutionary students who were involved in the organising of this week’s protests around Australia. Many have stated this week that they will be drawing inspiration from the French general strikes of 1968 for encouragement and motivation for the actions to come. It is obvious that further student-led protests, national workplace strikes and walk off actions will need to unfold for the public to fight the oppression and austerity faced with aims to seize the attention of their conservative powers. All while mourning the loss of possible animal extinctions from the fire’s damage. Global solidarity protests will be taking place this week to support Australia’s demands. 

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