Asia Minute: Australia Fires Fan Political Flames

Dec 12, 2019

This has been another week of devastating fires in parts of Australia—including around the country’s largest city, Sydney. And there are also growing protests against what many see as a lack of response from the government to issues behind the fires.

The air’s been thick in Sydney this week. Sky News reports that in some parts of the city, pollution has soared to 11 times the level health officials consider “hazardous.” That’s worse than the usual readings in urban areas of China or India — and it’s even more severe in some areas outside the city.

Fires have been burning since October, an earlier than usual start to Australia’s fire season, and an extension of the worst drought the country has seen in decades.

In the states of New South Wales and Queensland, government officials say flames have burned through more than 11,500 square miles. That’s nearly twice the size of the state of Hawai’i.

Several thousand protestors moved through Sydney Wednesday criticizing a lack of a coordinated national plan to deal the fires, and a reluctance of the central government to connect them with climate change. The administration of Prime Minister Scott Morrison has blamed many of the fires on arson – leaving much of the response to state governments.

But even some conservative lawmakers are calling for more action by the government on deeper causes — including the Environment Minister of New South Wales — a member of the same party as the Prime Minister.

Speaking of the fires, the heat and the drought, the Environment Minister told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation this week: “this is climate change.”