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'It's a climate emergency': Former fire chiefs speak out on catastrophic conditions

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Former fire chiefs from across Australia have urged the Federal Government to declare a climate emergency in the wake of the catastrophic bushfires which have roared across NSW and Queensland.

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Former Fire and Rescue NSW commissioner Greg Mullins says Australians are in a “new age of unprecedented bushfire danger”.

“We’d like to see Labor, the Coalition Government, Greens and the crossbenchers all come together and declare a climate emergency,” he told reporters in Sydney today.

Mullins was speaking at a joint press conference with former Queensland Fire and Emergency Services commissioner Lee Johnson, ex-Country Fire Authority Victoria chief executive Neil Bibby and former Tasmania Fire Service chief fire officer Mike Brown.

They form part of a coalition of 23 fire and emergency leaders from every state and territory, known as Emergency Leaders for Climate Change.

“This week’s catastrophic fires are exactly the type of disaster that emergency leaders and climate scientists have been warning about for decades and summer hasn’t even begun,” Mullins said in a statement.

“Climate change is the key reason why fire seasons are lengthening, fires are harder to control, and access to international firefighting resources like large aircraft is becoming more difficult.

“The government must respond to this urgent threat with an urgent response.”

Mullins said Australia needed to “rapidly bring down coal emissions” and transition away from coal, oil and gas.

He told reporters members of the group had disparate political views and experiences but stood united in demanding action on climate change.

“If it’s not time now to speak about climate and what’s driving these events – when?” he said.

Mullins also slammed what he saw as an unofficial gag order on speaking about climate change.

“This fire season is going to go for months, so do we just simply get gagged? Because I think that’s what’s happening,” he said.

“Some people want the debate gagged because they don’t have any answers.

“It’s OK to say it’s arsonists’ fault, or that the ‘greenies’ are stopping hazard reduction burning, which simply isn’t true, but you’re not allowed to talk about climate change. Well, we are, because we know what’s happening.”

From left to right: Former emergency services chiefs Bob Conroy, Lee Johnson, Greg Mullins, Mike Brown and Neil Bibby have spoken out today about climate change and its impact on bushfires. Photo: AAP/Dan Himbrechts

Lee Johnson, former Queensland Fire and Emergency Services Commissioner, said the bushfire season that has razed homes and hundreds of thousands of hectares of land was like nothing he’d seen in his decades-long career.

“I’m here for my children and my grandchildren, because I am fundamentally concerned about the impact and the damage coming from climate change,” he said.

“There’s something going on, and climate change are (sic) exacerbating the dry conditions we are all experiencing.”

Johnson, a member of the Bushfire and Natural Hazard Cooperative Research Centre, was among other former fire bosses calling on governments to take action to address climate change.

He warned conditions would remain extreme through the summer without significant rain.

There is no rain forecast until early next year.

“In Queensland alone, without speaking for the rest of the country, we need hundreds of millimetres of rain to bring the risk back to something like normal,” Mr Johnson added.

“So our conditions are very much abnormal and driven very much by what’s happening in our atmosphere, and that’s influenced by greenhouse gases.”

– AAP

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