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ScoMo’s bushfire ‘thoughts and prayers’ slammed amid NSW funding cuts

(Source: AAP)

Software giant Atlassian co-founder Mike Cannon-Brookes has taken aim at the Coalition government’s lack of leadership over climate policy in a pointed tweet about Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s “thoughts and prayers” to bushfire victims.

Fatal fires across NSW and Queensland that have claimed three lives and hundreds of houses continue to ravage the east coast, with NSW yesterday declaring a state of emergency for the first time in anticipation for “the most dangerous bushfire week this nation has ever seen”.

Over the weekend, Morrison tweeted: “Our thoughts and prayers are with those who have been so directly and horribly impacted by these fires.”

But the sentiment did not go down well with the tech billionaire.

In response to Morrison, Cannon-Brookes tweeted: “Our fire fighters don’t need thoughts & prayers - they need funds.

“Our scientists don’t need thoughts & prayers - they need trust. Our climate doesn’t need thoughts & prayers - it needs action & policy.”

He also took a swipe at the political impasse that national climate policy has been stuck in for years.

“Our nation doesn’t need thoughts & prayers - it needs leadership.”

Not Cannon-Brookes’ first stoush with ScoMo

It is far from Cannon-Brookes’ first – and likely not the last – time being vocal about climate change. Last year, the tech CEO took issue with Scott Morrison’s stance on coal-powered energy, which the prime minister dubbed ‘fair dinkum power’, as “bulls**t”.

About a week later, Cannon-Brookes had reclaimed ‘Fair Dinkum Power’ as the name of a new movement designed to make climate action an issue at the top of the political agenda and pushing for ‘clean’, ‘cheap’ and ‘reliable’ energy powered by renewable resources.

He also was one of the more vocal leaders of the ‘Not Business As Usual’ alliance that granted employees leave to participate in September's student-led climate strikes held in Australia and across the world.

Cannon-Brookes also travelled to this year’s UN Climate Action Summit held in New York and announced that Atlassian would adopt a target of net zero emissions by no later than 2050.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison did not attend the summit, despite being in the US that day.

‘Thoughts and prayers’ spark backlash

Cannon-Brookes certainly isn’t the first to take aim at Morrison’s “thoughts and prayers” at a time where catastrophic fire danger warnings are in place across Greater Sydney, Greater Hunter, the Illawarra and the Shoalhaven regions. Around 600 schools and TAFE campuses have also been closed as a result.

Two days ago, editorial cartoonist David Rowe also appeared to take issue with Scott Morrison’s comments in an illustration of – presumably PM Scott Morrison – holding two pails, one emblazoned with ‘thoughts’ and the other ‘prayer’ with a folded paper shoved in the back pocket called ‘climate science’.

Many others on Twitter also criticised Morrison’s words.

Morrison’s comments did not escape the attention of one articulate student in the audience of Q&A on Monday.

“With 150 burning across NSW and the devastating loss of lives and homes, our Prime Minister has offered ‘thoughts and prayers’. As young student leaders and citizens we are more inclined for direct action,” she said.

A firefighter who was also in the audience turned the spotlight on the government and their role in funding fire services.

NSW fire services budget cuts slammed – and denied

According to the NSW State Government’s 2019-20 budget papers, funding for the Fire and Rescue NSW and the office of the NSW Rural Fire Service has been slashed by $12.9 million and $26.7 million respectively.

According to the Fire Brigade Employees’ Union state secretary Leighton Drury told 7News that Australia was suffering from too few firefighters because of budget cuts.

"We're talking cuts of $21 million every year – that's about 200 jobs, or 10 stations – and anyone who says otherwise is either misinformed or misleading," Drury said.

"There's now less permanent full time (firefighters) than there were eight years ago.

"This government knows why the overtime bill is through the roof, it's because we just don't have enough firefighters. And there's no money to go out and recruit."

But in a press conference yesterday, NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said that these claims of budget cuts were ‘misinformation’.

"Not only has our budget not been cut, we are enjoying record budgets," he said.

"We have got more money today than we have ever before in the history of the organisation."

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian also said Drury’s claims were false, Canberra Times reported.

“That is completely incorrect and wrong. In fact whenever I'm updated at RFS, the fireys, all the agencies, are working together more closely than I've ever seen,” Berejiklian told ABC Radio.

According to Crikey, the $12.9 million and $26.7 million slashed from NSW RFS and FRNSW could pay for the salaries of 488 firefighters; nearly 70 new fire engines; 115 fire trucks; almost 50,000 fire-protective helmets; 123,100 flame resistant coveralls; 10,739 gas exposure testing kits; and the annual salaries of 260 superintendents.

Twitter user Maddie McKay also hit out at what appeared to be a denied attempt by firefighters to fuel up their trucks with government funds.

“Today I watched as my local firefighters fueled up 9 trucks and 10 rfs cars, and I watched all of their government fuel cards get declined and watched these men FIGHTING TO SAVE OUR LAND pay for it with their OWN personal bank cards,” she Tweeted.

“Are you f**king kidding.”

According to a piece published in The Australian today, the number of NSW national park rangers have been slashed by a third since the Coalition came to power in 2011.

National park rangers perform hazard reduction burns, which is designed to offset the severity of spontaneous bushfires.

But earlier this week, former NSW fire chief Greg Mullins wrote for SMH: “Warmer, drier conditions with higher fire danger are preventing agencies from conducting as much hazard reduction burning – it is often either too wet, or too dry and windy to burn safely.”

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