Miranda Devine

Aug 25, 2011

Pure Poison IconMiranda Devine raises an interesting subject, but comes to a different conclusion to what I would have thought obvious.

Bushfires are already raging in northern Australia, and the fire season has come early to parts of Queensland ravaged by flood after a winter of lush grass growth from all that water. …

Now comes an extraordinarily sophisticated surveillance device that can detect the whiff of smoke from as far away as 60km, and allow fire crews to extinguish a blaze before it runs out of control. …

Despite the fact the Victorian Bushfire Appeal Fund has enough money to allocate $80 million to walking tracks and bike paths, FireWatch can’t find anyone willing to stump up the $75,000 needed for further independent trials. …

The Gillard government is about to lock us into a carbon tax at a cost estimated as high as $130 billion to cut five per cent of Australia’s emissions by 2020. Here is an opportunity to cut 15 per cent of emissions for a comparatively paltry price, without the soaring electricity costs, and yet no one is interested.

Has Australia gone mad?

Let’s put aside the arguments about greenhouse has emissions for just a second and ask, who’s running the fire services in New South Wales and Victoria that Miranda is unhappy with? Is it Julia Gillard?The short answer is, of course, no. In Victoria the Minister for Bushfire Response is Peter Ryan, leader of the Nationals, while in New South Wales the Liberal’s Michael Gallacher is the Minister for Police and Emergency Services, which includes the Rural Fire Service. But do either of these politicians get a mention in Miranda’s article? That’d be a “No” too. The two men responsible for bushfire services in our most populous states don’t get a mention. It couldn’t be because they’re members of Liberal National Coalition governments could it?

Even if the Gillard government funded more trials into the FireWatch devices, even if they funded rolling them out, it would still be up to state governments to integrate the devices with their existing fire services. This is going to be the biggest hurdle if, as Miranda pointed out, they believe that;

“We don’t need technology.”

Perhaps it would be more helpful if Miranda directed her questions, and her readers, to the people who run the fire services, rather than just using this issue as another chance to complain about pricing carbon emissions? But it seems that the chance to engage in some partisanship was too good to pass up.


36 thoughts on “Who can we blame?

  1. monkeywrench

    Like Anura Samara @34, I am extremely dubious that this bright idea will make a difference in Australian conditions. It’s one thing to monitor pine plantations in Germany, where summer wind speeds are likely to be small compared with ours; it’s another to make a meaningful difference in the sort of conditions that eventuated on Black Saturday, 2009.
    On that day, in temperatures which broke almost every State record in Victoria, a gale-force Northerly moved the bushfire along in some areas at 100km/h. The FireWatch website states that their cameras scan a 360-degree field every 4-8 minutes. Let’s call it six minutes before the machine alerts someone to a fire. At just 50 km/h, the fire will have travelled 5km. By the time someone has alerted the nearest CFA units, and they have travelled at top speed to the area, another 10km will have been gobbled up. If, by this stage, the fire front will be leaping forward at 100 km/h, you might as well give up. I can imagine circumstances where this technology, far from improving matters, may well add another layer of uncertainty, where its operators make demands on an already tired and confused firefighting body, only for the result to be worthless.
    This reminds me of the recent screaming by the Coalition about DIDO wireless technology usurping fibreoptic broadband, an unproven and frankly whimsical proposal.

  2. Just Me

    Angra @ 4 said:

    Well there was a fire in a mango orchard in the NT with suitably apocalyptic descriptions in the NT News – usually a bastion of calm and objective reporting…

    “A BUSHFIRE ripped through a mango orchard in Darwin’s rural area yesterday as the fire danger index again reached catastrophic.”

    Much as I loathe the NT News, fairness compels me…

    “Catastrophic’ is the new top category in the official fire danger index, and is now used on roadside fire warning signs.


  3. Anura Samara

    Where is the evidence that failure to detect a fire early enough has led to recent catastrophes? In nearly every case I know of, fires have been detected pretty quickly but the pornlem has been deploying the right resources and enough of them to the right place. This technology does NOT prevent bush fires.

    What gets on my goat is the easy prescription of solutions from the comfort of an armchair. In the end tackling fires and hazard reduction depends on some poor mug giving up his time (work, family, leisure) to go out and do a difficult job with little praise and (mostly, apart from a core of paid firefighters) no pay. I guess it’s not as sexy to talk about how we can improve the numbers and skills of our firefighters.

    I am one of those mugs!

  4. jules

    Cheers craigy. I remember your comments after the fires actually, and the post you did for PP. I had friends in St Andrews that day, and knew people who lived all up and down the mountain when I lived in Melbourne. I visited my mate who was living on Young’s rd who had his son and his sons girlfriend visiting from up this way. I used to coach that kid and then played with him when he was too old for juniors. That bastard wind change saved their life… and I’ve sat and listened to his stories while he chokes on tears… its not right using that to score points.

    Fractrious, I agree with everything you wrote, except perhaps that in the last 18 months there hasn’t really been any chance to test anything properly. If there was merit in it, it’ll be followed up in the next few years. Last season – in the middle of fire season actually – we were helping with flood clean ups.

    This next fire season will be my 15th as a permit issuing officer for NSW RFS, including the early naughties drought. My record is ok too, touch wood, but so far I’ve done that job properly and successfully. If people light dangerous fires up here its cos they don’t bother getting a permit, which I can’t stop. I’m a greenie too, but these days even the most staunch cow cockie knows that hot burns are bad. They increase woody weed and that increases fuel loads and trashes the soil in the process. At least round here. Of course sometimes its unavoidable.

    I’m all for fuel reduction if its done right. But there’s a feedback loop between dangerous fire conditions and fuel loads and often that can mean insufficient burning for years, cos the window for safe burning is so small, and the qualifies pool of bodies to do it is limited. However even with the best fuel reduction regime, a severe fire season can add enough fuel to trigger a catastrophic fire. If there was no fuel on the ground on December 1st 2008 then Black Saturday would have been exactly the same I reckon. That summer caused enough increase in fuel load on its own and no one in their right mind would have attempted a fuel reduction burn that summer. Scarier still, in those conditions (7/2/09) it might have not made any difference anyway. IMO opinion (and its just an opinion) fuel reduction probably only makes a practical difference in conditions that are nowhere near as bad as Black Saturday. Where the ground fuel load is what takes the fire into the crown. On black saturday the entire state was fuel.


    If that technology works in Australia, and can be shown to be cost effective it’ll be everywhere in 10 years. Volunteer fire brigades get significant funding from insurance companies, if that tech really works they’ll expect us to use it. And we will. (Where we can afford it.)


    I mean why the hell wouldn’t we?

    That is what is so annoying about the sales pitch, and especially Devine’s tone.

    Yeah sure we volunteer and risk our lives specifically to make things worse.

  5. fractious

    jules @ 22, your post turned up after mine – in moderation I guess(?)

    Essentially we’re saying the same thing – the notion that fire-fighting agencies from two states and the commonwealth AND the Bushfire CRC all conspired to fail something that had the potential save lives and property is beyond anything remotely resembling truth.

    Not that that stops the credulous at Limited News publishing this bilge, nor did it stop Fairfax doing the same over 2 years ago AND mounting a defence for doing so.

    Facts and intelligent, informed comment come a distant second to deliberate provocation when it comes to selling copy these days.

  6. Craigy

    Jules, thanks for expressing my thoughts exactly. Bolt tried the blame it on the Greenies thing after the 2009 fires some might remember. Those of us who live in the burnt/burnable areas, and our CFA members, get sick of the misrepresentation of the realities of managing the risk and the ground fuel. I guess they never went to the bush during the drought?

  7. Goshome

    oops, wrong thread. sorry.

  8. Goshome

    Excellent piece on modern political journalism. http://pressthink.org/2011/08/why-political-coverage-is-broken/

    The group think of the herd described here is actually more damaging than the bias of the few.

  9. fractious

    @ Max Weber

    Sorry, but you’re barking up the wrong bushfire catastrophe tree here.

    For starters DevineRight’s spew is almost entirely based on exaggeration of the claims of a vested interest (Goodrich), right down to that interest’s view that the trial outcome was some sort of conspiracy. Even the most perfunctory understanding of bushfire control and the most minimal exposure to RFS and CFA paid and volunteer staff would have made it plain to Goodrich that if there was any real merit to FireWatch (Goodrich’s cash cow) it would have been taken up with indecent haste. RFS/ CFA units would have voluntarily trialled it at NO EXPENSE (assuming the respective state guvmints hadn’t already jumped on it).

    Ignore the DevineRight troll and its preposterous posturing (it has history in this department) for a minute. Do you REALLY SERIOUSLY think that the RFS, CFA and the NSW & Vic govts would deliberately rig a trial of a device that would potentially save lives and property? Even after the 2009 Victorian inferno?

    Let’s stretch credulity to its limits: the Bushfire CRC gets its funding from govt and private sector fire suppression/ fire management interests. Does anyone of sound mind seriously entertain the notion that those who fund research into bushfire management would dump on any invention that had any potential to save the lives of landholders, volunteer firefighters and property?

    It beggars belief.

    The rest of DevineRight’s spray is standard-issue join-the-dots hyperbolic bash-the-greenies bash-teh-left bash-anyf*cker-who-disagrees-with-me trash. Remember, this is the {Snip} who deliberately and consciously advocated (and still does advocate) that people like me be hung from a lamp post, for no other reason than that we want some sound ecological science behind hazard reduction measures.

    By all means point out unfair criticism, but it would help your case if you spent a bit more time thinking through the obvious lies and distortions that DevineRight tries to pass off as fact.


  10. quantize

    remove first ‘why’ and make the rules = ruled..makes more sense! ;-/

  11. Max Weber

    I am sorry Pure Poison, but on this one I think you are being unfair. Don’t get me wrong, Devine has written a terrible article, but its not quite as bad as you suggest.

    She does at least explain why she is directing her feeble critical skills to the Feds, the reason being the owners of the technology had already gotten a funding commitment from Kevin Rudd.

    “Former Liberal MP Fran Bailey, whose McEwen electorate bore the brunt of Victoria’s Black Saturday fires – with 169 of her constituents killed – tried to champion the FireWatch system.

    She went to Germany to see it in action, and convinced then-PM Kevin Rudd to fund Australian trials.

    But now Rudd is gone, Bailey has retired, and Goodrich says the secretary of the Attorney-General’s Department, Roger Wilkins, won’t meet him.”

    She does also touch on state fire agencies

    “Unfortunately, the trial of three fire detection systems, including FireWatch, conducted in Tumut, NSW, and Victoria last March, and endorsed by the federal Attorney-General, the Bushfire Co-operative Research Centre and the CSIRO, was set up to be a flop, Goodrich says.

    In part that was because the forest and rural fire agencies which conducted the trial, and provided the human firespotters, had a vested interest in the outcome.

    They set up the exercise as man v machine, when the point of the technology is to help humans, not replace them.”

    The company who owns the fire sensing tech appears to be focussing on the Fed’s because that’s where their funding has been coming from, and Devine’s article really feels like she’s written up a press release into a poor quality article. I think your criticism of her assumes too much originality on Devine’s part.

  12. quantize

    uh sorry about my engrish there…

  13. quantize

    [they just eat it up like deep fried sh** on a stick.]

    This is why when the Coalition should be howled at with laughter when any of them claim they’re a ‘broad church’. By default, that is the case with ANY political party…but the truth is their ‘moderate’ faction is utterly emasculated and like the Republicants, they’re rules by extremist nutjobs.

  14. hegemoniac

    This really gets my goat. I don’t know many supposedly “left” columnists who won’t bag out their own side given a good reason. Yet, these guys are soooooo goddamn blinkered it’s not funny. The worst part about this is that their readership are so blind to it, they just eat it up like deep fried sh** on a stick.

  15. jules

    Devine should shut up about bushfires. Quit while she’s behind.

    But, as ever, Australia is locked into the dramatic hero-to-the-rescue mode of bushfire management rather than the more prosaic art of bushfire prevention.

    This is just ignorant and misinformed. Or deliberately wrong. Hero to the rescue my arse. She’s just insulted every bush fire fighter in the country, implying we are more concerned about heroics than proper prevention.

    Failure to perform adequate hazard reduction of bushfire-prone areas to remove fuel has long been identified as a major factor in out-of-control conflagrations.

    This is the same bullshit she pulled a couple of years ago, trying to blame the Greens and ignoring the massive fuel load increase in the preceding months of extreme hot weather. That alone would have been enough to trigger the same fire on Black Saturday, but lets ignore that. Also, when does she expect this controlled burning to be done? In a drought? By who? This is either more ignorance or more deliberate misleading of readers.

    Fuel load has been identified as a major factor in serious fires sure – failure to perform Hazard reduction is an entirely different matter. Considering the amount of hazard that needs reducing and the dangers of hazard reduction burning when is this going to happen? Who is going to do it all? If something goes wrong who pays for the damage?

    Or is Devine suggesting someone just walks around with a driptorch all winter every winter?

    The technology, which can detect 16,384 shades of grey, needs to be implanted in opinion colunists the world over immediately.

    They have turned “FireWatch” into an early detection device for Australian bushfires which can analyse smoke data onsite and send a photograph, map co-ordinates, temperature, wind speed and direction to fire control headquarters within six minutes of a blaze starting.

    In Germany, where FireWatch was installed a decade ago in a grid network covering 2.3 million hectares of pine forest, it has helped reduce the area burned each year by a staggering 80 per cent.

    There is about 20 million acres of bushland in Victoria IIRC, 24 million in NSW, maybe 100 million in qld, and thats not including grassland.

    Goodrich thought the technology was so effective it would be embraced. Instead “there is this belief that a person with a pair of binoculars beats space technology”.

    Woo hoo, space technology. It’ll save us.

    Look she may have a point about some people being resistant to change, but not when it comes new toys and gear to play with, which this stuff essentially is. Her conspiracy between fire agencies to ignore technology that may help them is ridiculous.

    “Unfortunately, the trial of three fire detection systems, including FireWatch, conducted in Tumut, NSW, and Victoria last March, and endorsed by the federal Attorney-General, the Bushfire Co-operative Research Centre and the CSIRO, was set up to be a flop, Goodrich says.

    In part that was because the forest and rural fire agencies which conducted the trial, and provided the human firespotters, had a vested interest in the outcome.”

    This is a pretty serious allegation – fire agencies deliberately sabotaged trials for their own potential gain. Has she or Goodrich got any actual evidence? There are corruption bodies in NSW that are sposed to deal with that sort of thing.

    FWIW As a volunteer firefighter who keeps fairly up to date with this sort of thing there is no objection to this system, just reasonable scepticism – it probably does need more testing, and its not the only one. Devine’s column is just an ad and a whine.

  16. monkeywrench

    There’s not the slightest murmur of dissent in the replies in that article; one wonders if Miranda is like her good friend Caroline Overington, who brooks no opposition on her blog. You’ll be lucky to actually see any comment on Overington’s {Snip} efforts. And these people are the ones generally screeching about freedom of speech, especially when someone has the temerity to ask whether we should be allowing Murdoch the sort of control he has…..

  17. John Reidy

    If we had conservative governments – here (and possibly in the US), I think we would already have a market based emissions trading scheme – providing a nice new funding steam for the merchant banks.

    The right are opposing it as they are opposing everything.

    On the other hand, Rudd and Wong did use the ETS in first 12 months of their term as a stick to beat the opposition.

  18. confessions


    It made perfect sense to me!

  19. Rich Uncle Skeleton

    Exactly matter, except this time those protesting won’t be “Real Australians” and therefore undeserving of an opinion on the matter.

  20. ConnorJ

    Not to mention that wood fire emission don’t actually contribute to the build up of CO2 in the atmosphere because it is already a part of the natural carbon cycle.

  21. ConnorJ

    Couldn’t we have a carbon tax AND the bushfire monitoring system? Why does it have to be couched in either/or terms? 20% is better than either 15% OR 5%.

    Oh, that’s right, because we aren’t interested in the actual outcome rather the usefulmness of using an argument to beat Labor around the head with.

  22. Bellistner

    matter: it’d be exactly what Gillard did, with some important differences:

    1) Tony is allowed to use the excuse that “circumstances change”, while Gillard is not;
    2) Gillard was probably sincere, at the time, in saying she wouldn’t implement a price on Carbon, but circumstances changed ergo she lied;
    3) Abbott almost certainly doesn’t intend to price Carbon if he can get away with it, although he probably also believes whatever he saying this hour.

    Who can we blame?

    Greenies, leftists, and Labor for $100 thanks Tony.

  23. Sammy Jankis

    Rich Uncle Skeleton:

    Confessions, I suspect they know – as we all should – that Abbott will drop his policy as “too costly in the current economic climate” soon as he gets elected.

    One can only hope that when we get closer to the election people who are currently p#%&[email protected] off with the government take a good hard look at what the alternative is.

  24. The Pav

    Whenever I hear people arguing that the time is not right for a reforn =m and to wait for better conditions I am reminded of a quote I read years ago (can’t remember who by) but it was along the lines ” Can anybody recall a time when times were not tough and money not in short supply”

    The other thing is Mr Abbott said we could only trust what was written down. Well in a way that’s right. He just broke a written promise to pair Turnbull with Crean for the Olley funeral. As the promise that we could only believe what was written down wasn’t written down then technically he hasn’t broken his word has he?

    Of course we can’t expect Mr Jones to call him to account for such unprincipalled, unethical and rude behaviour can we?

  25. matter

    RUS @8

    What, Abbott supporters thinking he will say something just to get elected and then change the policy after the election. Isn’t that what they believe Gillard did? The very thing they claim to be so outraged by?

    Why is it I’m not surprised?

  26. Rich Uncle Skeleton

    Just pretend what I wrote about was actually written in English.

  27. Rich Uncle Skeleton

    Confessions, I suspect they know – as we all should – that Abbott will drop his policy as “too costly in the current economic climate” soon as he gets elected.

  28. confessions

    [Also, Government picking winners, but what ever. Consistency has never been her strong suit.]

    It’s amazing how little the tabloids (or the OO ftm) have had to say about the coalition’s carbon policy, given how they love to declare themselves for small govt and less govt interference in the market.

  29. Holden Back

    I wonder if this comes in Devine and Albrechtsen models?


  30. Eponymous

    Also, Government picking winners, but what ever. Consistency has never been her strong suit.

  31. John Reidy

    2 points come to mind

    This is a tactic (used by both the left and the right) to link a prominent program of your opponents to an unrelated issue – this was done with the BER repeatedly.

    Wow – only $75,000 for a device that might reduce carbon emissions by 15%. Why don’t we price carbon – even have an emissions trading scheme. If businesses could save money by investing to reduce carbon emissions – think of how many other technologies might become available.

  32. Angra

    Are bushfires raging in northern Australia, as La Devine envisions?

    Well there was a fire in a mango orchard in the NT with suitably apocalyptic descriptions in the NT News – usually a bastion of calm and objective reporting…

    “A BUSHFIRE ripped through a mango orchard in Darwin’s rural area yesterday as the fire danger index again reached catastrophic.”

    Wow – one mango orchard is in flames!

    This is presumably her authoritative source.

    Grab your tin-foil helmets and head for the fire-proof bunkers!

  33. dogspear

    Can’t you misty eyed lefties grasp what’s happening to our country?
    Bicycles and bushwalking are obviously the domain of the crazy Greens and we all know who runs the country, ergo the Red Queen is responsible for fires again. It’s her plan. We should have expected as much, given the Green’s hatred of science and technology, and their prediliction for BUSHFIRES OF DEATH.

  34. Lord Barry Bonkton

    She should blame the fires on ” Pastoralists ” in the Top end for planting the imported grasses , that grow higher and burn hotter ? But they are not Labor Cow Growers.

  35. quantize

    Tsk Tsk, you don’t expect Miranda to use logic when she spruiks for right wing nutters do you?

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