Burning issues for Tony Abbott

By Michael Burge Image: ABC News

CLIMATE change efforts in Australia have become a matter of simple mathematics.

With the Coalition’s Direct Action Bill in place just this week, after a deal struck with the Palmer United Party and Senate crossbenchers, Australia is now attempting to reduce its carbon emissions by 5 per cent by 2020.

It’s official: we’re trying, and we won’t have to wait very long to gauge if this policy of financial incentives for major atmosphere polluters to reduce emissions is working.

Mind you, the repeal of the perfectly good carbon tax was supposed to reduce my electricity bill. So far, it’s gone dramatically skyward, no matter how many times Environment Minister Greg Hunt assures me it has not.

Meanwhile, our television screens are replete with footage of Tony Abbott planting trees, as though fixing climate change was that simple.

The guy doesn’t like talking about climate change, it’s clear.

The first visible signs of Mr Abbott taking Direct Action against climate change as Prime Minister came a year ago, with his televised efforts fighting fires with his local Rural Fire Service (RFS).

While it’s commendable that he so visibly helped NSW volunteer fire fighters during the bushfire crisis in New South Wales in October 2013, by rolling up his sleeves and getting his hands dirty, questions were raised at the time about whether his government was doing its international climate change fighting as collaboratively.

It seemed terrible timing for the newly-minted Prime Minister to close the Climate Commission, a science-based climate authority created under Julia Gillard’s leadership, just before some of the most damaging and unseasonal bushfires were linked, by scientists, to human impact on global warming.

Although I can see why many analysed Mr Abbott’s fire fighting motives, I’d rather he just encourage his MPs to volunteer for their local RFS, and look to ways he might represent us at international climate change events. Representing us is, after all, his job.

While bushfires ravaged parts of NSW in October and November 2013, destroying homes and impacting lives, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was meeting in Georgia.

The IPCC is described as: “The leading international body for assessing the most recent scientific research on climate change”. It’s outcomes are regularly reported in the Australian media, and not just the left-leaning titles.

In November 2013, climate change talks in Warsaw came and went without an Australian delegate.

Further bushfires occurred last summer, the most damaging were those in Western Australia in the Perth Hills region in early January.

Peak-of-summer bushfires are a commonplace occurrence in Australia, so the climate change link was not so intense in the media at the time.

In September, Mr Abbott neglected to publicly explain why he missed a UN climate change summit in the United States by just one day, while attending talks on Australia’s military  involvement in Iraq.

The guy doesn’t like talking about climate change, it’s clear.

As the traditional bushfire season takes it grip nationally, it will be interesting to observe attempts to hose the climate issue down, or whether unseasonal bushfires are assimilated into the new Direct Action plan.

GETTING HANDS DIRTY Australia's Prime Minister, and local fire fighter, Tony Abbott.
GETTING HANDS DIRTY Australia’s Prime Minister, and local fire fighter, Tony Abbott.

Direct Action is the perfect solution for a local bushfire. Hazard reduction, containment lines and controlled burns are all utilised in the battle. Local RFS brigades are assisted by interstate teams when more assistance is required. On many occasions, international crews and/or equipment (such as aerial fire fighting machinery) are deployed from overseas. Bushfire fighting is an international movement which assistance to afflicted communities when there is a need.

If it’s okay to have an international fire fighting movement (the cure), what is wrong with an international community fighting the potential causes of extreme fire conditions (the prevention)?

What I hope is that the government has its eye on the issue  and someone (perhaps an elected leader?) sparks a rational debate based on the data, because surely Australia’s bushfire statistics would be of relevance to international climate change talks?

Only one person in this week’s Prime Minister’s Science Award’s audience gave Tony Abbott a loud show of applause after his speech, which seemed designed to inspire forgiveness for the Coalition’s terrible track record on supporting the concept of science.

His deft joke around the deafening silence was one thing. Whether Direct Action does what he is so confident it will, will be another.

As the Coalition is so fond of telling us: let’s wait and see.

But I suspect we’re witnessing a little of what Direct Action on climate change will consist of: getting hands dirty locally, fighting fires and planting trees, and plenty of support for coal mining in a continent perfectly designed for solar and wind energy capture, with no eyes in government on the bigger picture.

© Australian Country Life, all rights reserved.

Follow Michael Burge on Twitter @burgewords

#WoopWoop for Russia’s #LGBTearth

IT might be on the other side of the world, but Russia is not off the radar for Australians who believe in human rights.

And with the planet watching during the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, now is the time to show you care, by using the social media to shout loudly into the anticipated awkward silence on Russia’s ‘thing’ about gay rights.

On Friday, February 7, the same day as the games’ opening ceremony, UK-based website LGBTICONS is asking tweeps to do something very simple – take a photo and use the hashtag #LGBTearth.

Even if you’re not on Twitter, sharing this with your Facebook friends will help bring hope to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender social media users in a country where there’s been a marked rise in homophobic violence and a decrease in the protection LGBT are able to access from authorities.

Why? Because Russia has passed laws prohibiting the promotion of “non-traditional” relationships.

Many feel this goes against Principle Six of the Olympic Charter, which prohibits all forms of discrimination.

Founder of LGBTICONS Barry Church-Woods said of the event:

“We’ve been profiling LGBT people of significant achievement, and sharing news about LGBT communities globally, for over a year now and the more we research and write, the more depressing it gets. Coming from a position of privilege as an out gay man in the UK, it struck me that so many people are still being oppressed across the world. You need only look at the situations in Uganda, Russia and Malaysia today to realise how far behind we are, as a planet, in realising basic human rights. As such, I’m hoping that LGBTearth will offer a great showcase of exceptional people all over the world. A digital pride so to speak.

“Our last effort was a massive success, with an estimated a reach of 2.4million people on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. We hope that you’ll join us this Friday and help us shout through the noise of the opening ceremony,” Church-Woods said.

Take a photo, use the hashtag – #LGBTearth – and help start this day-long event from Woop Woop, where the world’s celebrations always begin!

© Australian Country Life, all rights reserved.

Follow Michael Burge on Twitter @burgewords

Breaking heartland in August: Osage County

UnknownSIX decades ago, great American playwrights like Arthur Miller, Eugene O’Neill and Tennessee Williams only ever alluded to addiction, sexual diversity, mental health and suicide, or portrayed them in the hands of villains who always ‘got it’ at the end.

These days, there’s a growing number of storytellers courageous enough to begin where their antecedents left-off, helped by more relaxed censorship laws and a broader understanding of the human condition.

Tracy Letts’ play, and now screenplay, August: Osage County, is one of those, and has already become a benchmark in 21st century storytelling.

There are no spoilers in revealing that Violet Weston (played by Meryl Streep) opens this film with a frank revelation of her pill popping and her mental maladies in the kind of scene Eugene O’Neill could only have dreamt about including in Long Day’s Journey into Night (published in 1956).

Streep marks out a battlefield within a crumbling, overheated Oklahoma country house, and proceeds to destroy every member of the family who steps inside it in the wake of the disappearance of her husband (played by Sam Sheppard).

With a sister, three daughters, their partners, a Native American housekeeper and a granddaughter, she has plenty of adversaries, and she goads them until they all bite ferociously back.

Just who takes it up to her, and why, is the story of this film, revealing the life changing consequences of staring-down and surviving addiction.

It’s a bitter conflict, with violence, assault, and enabling wrapped into every scene. Letts’ greatest achievement is that not one character, not even Streep’s, could be described as either purely hero or villain.

They are all as bad, and as good, as one another, an unthinkable concept in 20th century drama, where every protagonist had to battle with their equivalent antagonist, so that the audience knew who to barrack for, and who won or lost.

On this score, it’s hard to know if August: Osage County is a comedy or a tragedy.

Streep has never climbed higher in an entirely convincing portrayal, a tribute to her risk taking. It will be hard to topple this performance, which spills off the screen like vomit.

Yet Violet has grace. She has you hating her and sympathising with her in turns, never revealing anything ultimately honest, yet claiming to be the “truth teller” of the family. Nothing about Streep’s Weston is absolute, apart from her total inability to be saved.

Julia Roberts as Violet’s eldest daughter Barbara wears the family angst as a barely concealed boxing glove which she is not afraid to wield. There is little that can be said about the role and the performance which will not reveal the plot, just know this is Robert’s most controlled, and most out of control performance.

In the midst of the family intrigue, it’s easy to forget the isolation and hardship of the American heartland (and remote communities everywhere), but Letts reminds us now and again that we are not in the city, we are in dangerous country, stolen from Native Americans, fought over by settlers, and reminisced in the poetry of Violet’s husband.

This is a universally rural story about the experiences of country souls, those that escaped and those who got left behind. In the final scene, with Julia Roberts caught at an emotional crossroads, this reality becomes a painful reminder of what can go wrong when great, unsustainable dreams are created in farming regions.

August: Osage County is a heartbreaking elegy to all broken heartlands and the souls they failed to nurture.

Follow Michael Burge on Twitter @burgewords

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