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Commitment? We are living in hope more than expectation

Commitment? We are living in hope more than expectation

Four questions, no answers … at least, not yet by Trevor Moore

Well, the rains have come as perhaps we knew that would, but they have come in some quantity and perhaps not in quite the way that many would wish. But then we cannot have it all. The Currowan fire is out and, as I write, we await news that the Badja fire is also out. None of this should mean that we should be complacent about the risk of fire any more than the rain should persuade us that the drought is over. The drought is not over … indeed, it’s not a drought: it is a new pattern of rainfall (or lack of it) to which we all need to adapt. And that new pattern of rainfall will mean that it is increasingly dry and dry is good only for fire risk.

I am not, however, a Jeremiah. The climate is changing. That is a fact. You can argue about its causes (though I wouldn’t) but it’s pretty hard to see how anyone with more brain cells than an amoeba could accept that things have not been changing. There is much data to support this. Below is an example from the Bureau of Meteorology. It’s hard to look at this graph – and there are many like it – and not see that the red and blue lines are going upward.

Anomalies are the Time series of anomalies in sea surface temperature and temperature over land in the Australian region. departures from the 1961–1990 average climatological period. Sea surface temperature values are provided for a boxed region around Australia (4–46 °S and 94–174 °E). Source: State of the Climate, 2016. Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO

But I have no doubt that humanity will survive all this change: we are not, I think, about to go the way of the dinosaurs. On the other hand, it is fatuous, as I think our Prime Minister has suggested, to suppose that technology will fix it. Technology – and I am a technologist – fixes nothing. It is human ingenuity and human action that fixes problems for it is humans that develop and apply technology. It is human beings that need to ensure that there is a liveable planet.

Part of that planet is right here, right where we live in Eurobodalla. Right here where thousands of hectares of land have been burnt and hundreds of properties have been destroyed. Some of this could have been avoided and the effects mitigated had there been better planning and execution at all levels of government. The fires will be back because the drought is not going away: we are living with a new rainfall pattern and we have to adapt. We need to change. And the best and most lasting change is driven from the bottom up. We will be waiting for a long time for anything useful to emerge from the Federal Government though I wish Zali Steggall well in her attempts facilitate a conscience vote by MPs on her climate change bill.

Four questions …

Because there needs to be action at the lowest level of government, I felt moved to write to the Eurobodalla Shire Council’s General Manager about what her plans were for moving ahead following the recent climate events in the Shire. Now, while our Councillors are ultimately responsible and accountable for what happens, they delegate that responsibility to the administration. There’s a dynamic balance between the advice that the administration gives to the Council and the Council’s ability (both in terms of time, resources and capability) to consider that advice. In practice, the administration has the operational whip hand because it has the resources. So, what the General Manager thinks is quite important.

With this in mind I asked her four questions:

1. It seems that you failed to ensure that adequate emergency / disaster planning was done. The Eurobodalla Local Emergency Management Plan 2019 does not seem to have been fit for purpose (see here) and seems to have been done in a hurry. Why was this?

2. The Council website says that you are responsible (and I assume accountable) for communication. Will you let me know how you would assess the communications performance of the Council over the recent crisis?

3. What action do you propose to take to ensure that adequate emergency plans are rapidly developed and tested?

4. How will the development and testing of those plans take account of public opinion and sentiment?

In the 21st century, 10 working days is a long time.

So … is this urgent?

I emailed these at 0902 last Wednesday 5 February 2020. I immediately received the standard response to any email (also time stamped 0902) that told me that my “email will be registered in our system and will be referred to the relevant staff member. If your email requires a response, we will respond within 10 working days. “ Now, 10 working days would take us to 0901 on Wednesday 19 February 2020. In today’s digital age 10 working days is a lifetime and a pro forma email like this response was probably OK in the last century but not in this century. But notwithstanding all this I saw that the standard response also says that if my “email requires urgent attention, please phone us”. I decided it needed an urgent response; after all, it’s my email, my topic so it’s reasonable to assume that I am the judge of its urgency.

On 6 February 2020 I called the number and was put through to a woman to whom I made my case for knowing when I was going to get a response. After some persuasion, she conceded that they would “get back to me.” Knowing a brush off when I see one, I asked when. Eventually she agreed that she would call me by close of business. That’s good; that’s a specific commitment that I can deal with. Now, I am not a cynic (well, not often) so I was not surprised, though I was delighted, when she called me back at 1600 that day to say that I would have a response by close of business on Monday 10 February 2020.

But I am still waiting …

Well, there may well be cynics out there who were predicting, after reading the last couple of paragraphs, that our Council’s administration would fail to meet its commitment to me. I have always thought that “close of business” is a satisfactorily flexible term. It could mean 1700 ... or midnight. There’s usually not a lot of difference in practice between close of business one day and start of business the next.

But I have been let down. All these possibilities for “close of business” have passed. Now, I am not silly enough to realise that pressures of business sometimes get in the way of other things and that priorities change. Neither am I unaware that the administration ­ largely through its own previous inaction ­ probably busy. But the way to deal with knowing that you are going to fail to meet a commitment is not to do and say nothing.

I might have expected a note that said: “we’re really sorry but some other stuff has got in the way. Will it be OK if we get back to you on (some new date)?” And I would have been fine with that.

What I am not fine with is a failure to deliver. And I am not about to get used to that. I am now waiting for 0901 on Wednesday 19 February 2020. If the General Manager fails to meet that commitment then … well, I’ll wait and see.

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