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John Passant

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February 2009



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My interview Razor Sharp 18 February
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp on Tuesday 18 February. (0)

My interview Razor Sharp 11 February 2014
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp this morning. The Royal Commission, car industry and age of entitlement get a lot of the coverage. (0)

Razor Sharp 4 February 2014
Me on 4 February 2014 on Razor Sharp with Sharon Firebrace. (0)

Time for a House Un-Australian Activities Committee?
Tony Abbott thinks the Australian Broadcasting Corporation is Un-Australian. I am looking forward to his government setting up the House Un-Australian Activities Committee. (1)

Make Gina Rinehart work for her dole

Sick kids and paying upfront


Save Medicare

Demonstrate in defence of Medicare at Sydney Town Hall 1 pm Saturday 4 January (0)

Me on Razor Sharp this morning
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace this morning for Razor Sharp. It happens every Tuesday. (0)

I am not surprised
I think we are being unfair to this Abbott ‘no surprises’ Government. I am not surprised. (0)

Send Barnaby to Indonesia
It is a pity that Barnaby Joyce, a man of tact, diplomacy, nuance and subtlety, isn’t going to Indonesia to fix things up. I know I am disappointed that Barnaby is missing out on this great opportunity, and I am sure the Indonesians feel the same way. [Sarcasm alert.] (0)



Bushfires, arson and learning for the future

Arsonists?  Some politicians seem to think so.

Australian Institute of Criminology Research Manager Dr Judy Putt said recently that ‘around 50 percent of bushfires are deliberately lit or suspicious.’  In fact the AIC’s own evidence shows that the figure for deliberately lit fires is 13 per cent, with another 37 percent suspicious.

Suspicions are not proof.  And arrests are not convictions.

Dr Putt was basing her comments on a report by Damon A Muller for the AIC called ‘Using crime prevention to reduce deliberate bushfires in Australia’.

Muller says, in his abstract:

Based on previous research undertaken by the Australian Institute of Criminology it seems that approximately half of all vegetation fires – some 20,000 to 30,000 each year – are deliberately lit, and that arson in all forms costs the Australian community $1.6 billion annually. Although it can be very difficult to identify whether a fire is deliberately lit and even more challenging to identify who is responsible, there are still a range of strategies and interventions that may reduce the likelihood of bushfire arson occurring.

Now it may be that some people did light some of these Victorian fires. (Certainly two people in NSW were charged with bushfire arson on Monday). But as the AIC says the evidence might be hard to gather and even more difficult to use to win a conviction. Indeed there may be no evidence. So these criminals may not in fact exist in many cases.

I am wary of this rush to blame arsonists.  If some of the fires arose from natural causes, then it is not arsonists who are to blame but, just perhaps, those politicians most loudly declaiming the possibility of arsonists being involved.

While some politicians, like Wilson Tuckey, blame the Labor and Liberal Parties for ‘pandering’ to the Greens for more national parks – is he for real? – none of the mainstream politicians or media have yet made anti-muslim comments in the context of the fires.  However given the possible need for politicians to blameshift on the fires, can such comments be far away?

It would be very convenient for politicians if these fires were deliberately lit. Then they could divert attention away from global warming, lack of funding for emergency services and national parks personnel, the inadequacies or otherwise of the stay to defend or leave early advice, the failure to implement adequate planning rules for high risk areas, early warning systems, questions of burn off and so forth.

Even if arsonists did light some of the fires these issues still remain, ie arguably the fires spread because of a lack of action on global warming, inadequate firefighting and emergency services funding, outdated planning rules, better warning systems etc.

These are issues I suspect governments don’t want raised.

And blaming arsonists has a political impact too apart from diverting attention away from possible government failures.  It fuels the flames of community anger and allows some sort of satisfaction  to arise from venting that anger.

The Royal Commission into the Victorian fires should address the issues I have mentioned about global warming, planning, funding, early warning, clearing for example.  I am keen to see it explore any possible links between global warming and the increasingly unpredictable weather patterns over the last few years, patterns which may intensify in the years to come.  Why are there more and more intense heatwaves, fires and floods in Australia? (Are there?)

If the Royal Commission does look into global warming and more erratic weather, then it might be just a short step to saying that these adverse weather conditions, caused by global warming, contributed to the fires.

On another point, we seem to have our priorities as a nation skew-whiff.  The Rudd Government is committed to increasing Defence spending by 3 percent in real terms until 2018.  Yet it spends little on fire risks and bushfire prevention.

Bushfires are a threat to us.  Iraqis and Afghans and boat people are not.  Neither are “terrorists”, homegrown or otherwise.

Another point. The 2003 fires in Canberra destroyed 500 homes (including 3 in the street next to mine) and killed 4 people.   Various reports made various recommendations. Most of them failed to address the big picture issues.

But what do we find the recently elected ACT Labor and Green Government now doing?  Approving or supporting new suburbs with (tinder) box homes in the path of possible fires. They and the builders make a lot of money from these developments.  We have learnt nothing.

Putting on my ‘social dreamer’ hat – my thanks to Dallas for the description –  I think the Victorian fires and other disasters raise questions about the limited nature of our democracy and the lack of input and control we as citizens have over all things that impact on our lives. But that is a story for another day.

Enough of my ramblings. What are the issues you see as important to raise about the bushfires, and so to learn from for the future?



Comment from Denise O’Brien
Time February 10, 2009 at 4:14 am

from todas paper
Islam group urges forest fire jihad
Josh Gordon
September 7, 2008
AUSTRALIA has been singled out as a target for “forest jihad” by a group of Islamic extremists urging Muslims to deliberately light bushfires as a weapon of terror.

US intelligence channels earlier this year identified a website calling on Muslims in Australia, the US, Europe and Russia to “start forest fires”, claiming “scholars have justified chopping down and burning the infidels’ forests when they do the same to our lands”.

The website, posted by a group called the Al-Ikhlas Islamic Network, argues in Arabic that lighting fires is an effective form of terrorism justified in Islamic law under the “eye for an eye” doctrine.

The posting — which instructs jihadis to remember “forest jihad” in summer months — says fires cause economic damage and pollution, tie up security agencies and can take months to extinguish so that “this terror will haunt them for an extended period of time”.

“Imagine if, after all the losses caused by such an event, a jihadist organisation were to claim responsibility for the forest fires,” the website says. “You can hardly begin to imagine the level of fear that would take hold of people in the United States, in Europe, in Russia and in Australia.”

With the nation heading into another hot, dry summer, Australian intelligence agencies are treating the possibility that bushfires could be used as a weapon of terrorism as a serious concern.

Attorney-General Robert McClelland said the Federal Government remained “vigilant against such threats”, warning that anyone caught lighting a fire as a weapon of terror would feel the wrath of anti-terror laws.

“Any information that suggests a threat to Australia’s interests is investigated by relevant agencies as appropriate,” Mr McClelland said.

Adam Dolnik, director of research at the University of Wollongong’s Centre for Transnational Crime Prevention, said that bushfires (unlike suicide bombing) were generally not considered a glorious type of attack by jihadis, in keeping with a recent decline in the sophistication of terrorist operations.

“With attacks like bushfires, yes, it would be easy. It would be very damaging and we do see a decreasing sophistication as a part of terrorist attacks,” Dr Dolnik said.

“In recent years, there have been quite a few attacks averted and it has become more and more difficult for groups to do something effective.”

Dr Dolnik said he had observed an increase in traffic on jihadi websites calling for a simplification of terrorist attacks because the more complex operations had been failing. But starting bushfires was still often regarded as less effective than other operations because governments could easily deny terrorism as the cause.

The internet posting by the little-known group claimed the idea of forest fires had been attributed to imprisoned Al Qaeda leader Abu Musab Al-Suri. It said Al-Suri had urged terrorists to use sulphuric acid and petrol to start forest fires.

Comment from John Passant
Time February 10, 2009 at 9:30 am


There is no evidence for this seeming assertion of yours about the Victorian fires, and it, like the more general arsonist comments, merely diverts attention away from the real issues or at least questions related to planning, global warming, funding, and early warning systems for example.

Comment from dezza
Time February 10, 2009 at 11:17 am

those peace loving muslims strike again. Thank god for the Israeli Defence Force

Comment from juan
Time February 10, 2009 at 11:19 am

Here here John, fully agree with your comments/analysis of the bushfire tragedy. I am particularly interesting in the Defence budget/bushfire prevention spenditure aspect. In a weekend in Victoria we have lost more lives than we have lost over th past five years in all the wars we are involved. And when you really need the army’s equipment and expertise it is announced with great fanfarre by the government and it, at the last minute in the form of two personnel carriers posing for the TV cameras!!! Surely this is not value for money. I demand the right to have my taxes spent on more socially beneficial items such as bushfire prevention and bushfire fighting equipment. I wonder what those volunteers thought of the highly paid army barging in at the last minute to hose down the last amber?

Comment from John Passant
Time February 10, 2009 at 11:29 am

Thanks juan.

We waste so much money on Defence which means we don’t have any or much to spend on Bushfire research (although Howard set up a Centre a few years ago with $100 m.) Least of all do we have any to spend on sustainable urban/rural interface living let alone on global warming defences.

The $25 billion wasted on Defence sure could provide a lot of socially useful benefits like better school, hospitals, fire proffing communities. Not only that but we waste nearly $100 billion on grants through the tax system to companies and mainly well offs.

Dezza, not sure what you mean about the Israeli Defence Force, but I do know Marysville and Kingslake look like Gaza after teh IDF has been through.

Comment from Arjay
Time February 10, 2009 at 10:19 pm

It is just the nature of our competitive society.Those who feel rejected by society often join the volunteer fire fighters in search of social acceptance and excitement.It is often the volunteer who starts a fire.So the alienated bottom dwellers of our society then finally find power and acceptance by starting fires and heroicly putting it out.

So instead of blaming totally the individual,we have to look at the societal attitudes.The child crying in isolation in the school playground rejected by its peers can be a future pyromanic.
“Show me the boy at 7yrs and I’ll show you the man.”

However,there has to be serious consequences for those who have willful intent of destroying property and killing people.

Comment from Denise O’Brien
Time February 10, 2009 at 10:54 pm

John, why do you insist on calling them bushfires? Do you blame EVERYTHING on the former President of the United States of America?

Comment from John Passant
Time February 10, 2009 at 11:06 pm

Very funny Denise. I don’t blame Bush for everything. I’ve moved on to Obama and here in Australia little Obama – Kevin Rudd.

Actually I blame the system, then its apparatchiks.

Comment from juan
Time February 11, 2009 at 8:30 am

A propos and further to yesterday’s comments here is an item from the news of today:

Army ‘should be better prepared’ for disaster response
Destruction: There are calls for the Army to be sent in earlier in bushfire disasters (AFP: Torsten Blackwood)
A former organiser for Medecins San Frontiers says the Australian Defence Force should be better prepared to join the bushfire fighting effort.
Charles Darwin University’s Dan Baschiera has called for special ADF bushfire-fighting units to be set up and says soldiers should be on standby for immediate response during bushfire season.
He says it is not good enough for the Army to be called in to assist the fire service once fires are already out of control.
Mr Baschiera says climate change is going to bring more weather extremes and there need to be more resources to ensure speedy responses to events like the Victorian firestorms.
“What we do need is maybe a separate arm of the ADF prepared to deal with stuff like this, to deal with emergencies like this and to be able to respond immediately, and to have the legislation in place to do that,” he said.
“What I’m talking about here is preparedness on the ground to immediately move in.
“I think what we need to look at is the ability for the ADF to rapidly convert and deploy military aircraft into water-tankers and to use site-specific airstrips located in the fire zones to re-fill and re-fuel at a very efficient rate.”
Mr Baschiera says better equipping the Defence Force is a way to help save lives.
“Our environment is becoming a lot more volatile. These extreme temperatures that are occurring, we have to respond extremely fast, and the military are best positioned to do that,” he said.
“And we should restructure elements of the military to help assist us defend ourselves.”

Here here. If we must have an army then get it to work on something socially usefull, at home.

Comment from Chris Warren
Time February 11, 2009 at 1:45 pm


Isn’t it the Bible that threatens hellfire and spreads parables about a burning Bush.

Wasn’t it christians who burnt supposed witches at the stake.

Did christians burn non-christians during inquisition.

Is christianity based on ashes in reality?

Would the world be better without christians, moslems, hindus and the rest?

The atheist movement is growing – so the is hope after all.

Comment from John Passant
Time February 11, 2009 at 1:59 pm

I see Pastor Danny from the Catch the Fire Ministry ad a dream in October that Victoria would eb on fire becuase of the passage of the abortion de-criminalisation Bill. Why didn’t he warn us?

And de-criminalising abortion certainly doesn’t explain the ’39 or ’83 fires.

Can we get back to a materialist discussion of the fires? I see the Australian is running a big campaign that it is all the fault of the Greenies for not allowing controlled burn offs.

Again that doesn’t explain 39 or 83.

Comment from Abigail Petit
Time February 13, 2009 at 5:17 pm

I agree with Chris, in part.

Comment from Abigail Petit
Time February 14, 2009 at 4:33 pm

Why do we let the terrorists set all these forest fires? Are we crazy.

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