Australia wildfires: Parliament suspended to mourn ‘black summer’ as 100 blazes still burn

Protesters outside Parliament House continue to demand urgent action on climate change

Tim Wyatt
Tuesday 04 February 2020 13:47
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Firefighters work to extinguish a fire that crossed the Monaro Highway north of Bredbo, New South Wales
Firefighters work to extinguish a fire that crossed the Monaro Highway north of Bredbo, New South Wales

Australia suspended its parliament for a day to honour the victims of its summer of devastating wildfires, as protests against the government’s handling of the crisis continued.

On the first day back after the summer recess, prime minister Scott Morrison postponed ordinary business in the capital Canberra.

Instead, he and other MPs paid tribute to those killed by the raging bushfires, which include nine firefighters and three American Air Force personnel whose plane crashed while battling a blaze in New South Wales last month.

“This is the black summer of 2019-20 that has proven our national character and resolve,” Mr Morrison said.

“These fires are yet to end and danger is still before us in many, many places, but today we gather together to mourn, honour, reflect and begin to learn from the black summer that continues.”

Although more than 100 fires continue to rage, the cooler weather means none currently posed an immediate threat, Australia’s meteorological authorities have said.

Families of some of those who had died were sat in the public gallery as the embattled leader, who was castigated for going on holiday to Hawaii at the height of the crisis in December, vowed Australia “is not and will never be overwhelmed”.

Since September, the wildfires have destroyed about 12 million hectares across the country, claimed the lives of 33 people and one billion animals, and razed 2,500 homes, according to Reuters.

Outside Parliament House as Mr Morrison spoke, hundreds of protestors gathered to attack his government’s record and demand tougher action on the climate emergency.

Members of the government have pushed back against suggestions, supported by most scientists, that the fires were exacerbated by climate change.

Australia remains one of the world’s largest exporters of coal and gas and has been ranked by international studies as among the least active among G20 nations in reducing emissions.

One environmental demonstrator in Canberra among the many gathered under a sky hazy with wildfire smoke wore a Morrison mask and carried a sign reading: “My Bushfire Plan? Hawaii!”

Rescuers use cherry picker to reach koala in tree in fire-ravaged area in Australia

Jane Baker, 65, and her friend Judith Thompson, 67, drove five hours from their hometown of Wangaratta in rural Victoria state to take part in the protest.

“We’re both frustrated at sitting on the couch and yelling at the politicians on the television, so we’ve come out to yell at them in person today – to have our voices heard,” she told the AP news agency.

On Monday, hundreds of scientists penned an open letter to the government urging it to step up efforts to cut greenhouse gases and accept the scientific consensus which connects the catastrophe with the climate emergency.

Mr Morrison announced in parliament he had written to provincial leaders across Australia to begin setting up a royal commission which would investigate the official response to the wildfires, including the role climate change played.

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