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Dave’s home was almost destroyed by bushfires, now he thinks his coal town has to change


February 13, 2020 12:55:51

Dave O’Brien’s community is dependent on the coal industry, but for the first time he’s decided to start speaking up about climate change.

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Key Points

  • 64 per cent of Australians agree more should be done to address climate action
  • Dave O’Brien, a victim of recent bushfires, says he wants climate action but wants to keep voting for the National Party
  • Coalition voters tend to believe in climate change and the need for greater action on climate change, according to IPSOS polling

His home was almost completely destroyed by bushfires in what he called “a life-defining moment”.

The National Party voter lives in the town of Lithgow, which lost 20 homes to the Gosper’s Mountain mega-fire.

“The science is categorical, there’s no denying that,” he said.

“But locally here, it’s a very hard issue to broach.”

He wants to see action from the Government but is still supportive of his local National MP, Andrew Gee, who he hopes to influence.

“From what I’ve seen of him during this crisis, he’s an outstanding listener, he will listen to constituents,” he said.

While he described Mr Gee’s leadership during the bushfires as second to none, he was more critical of the Government.

“It’s appalling, it’s sickening, they’ve shown no empathy whatsoever to victims, and to downplay the role just shouts in the face of science,” Mr O’Brien said.

People across the country have a greater sense of urgency about climate change according to Jennifer Brooks, director of the polling organisation IPSOS, which has recently surveyed Australians for a forthcoming report into Australians’ attitudes towards climate change.

“We have seen over the last couple of years a growing acceptance of the role of human involvement in the causes of climate change,” she said.

“64 per cent of Australians agreed that we should be doing more to address climate change.

“That’s the highest recorded agreement we’ve had with that since we started measuring it in 2014.”

But Ms Brooks said while the survey was conducted during the bushfire season, it was hard to say whether the bushfire crisis had any affect on the growing sentiments for action in the community.

The World Today spoke to a series of Australians in Coalition electorates, like Mr O’Brien, about how the summer’s bushfire crisis had influenced their thinking on climate change.

Uncertainty about what to do

The coal industry has been in the area around Lithgow for more than 150 years, 7.5 million tonnes of coal are still mined in the region every year and the Mount Piper coal-fired power station is a major employer.

The area has been strongly held by the National Party in recent years and at last year’s election, the margin in the electorate for the Coalition grew from 11.8 to 13.3 per cent.

Phil Sparks, a blacksmith who uses coal to fuel his forge, said his priority was the survival of the community.

“For me, global warming’s happening and coal contributes to it, but my main thought is about that ability of a community to survive, there doesn’t seem to be much talk about that really,” Mr Spark said.

While there is more agreement in Australia than ever that climate change has to be addressed, Ms Brooks said Australians also felt it was difficult to decide how it should be addressed.

“I think there’s still a lot of confusion out there,” she said.

“We are finding that we still have 55 per cent of Australians agreeing there are too many conflicting opinions for the public to be confident about claims made about climate change.”

Some remain unconvinced

In September, fires ripped through the world heritage listed Lamington National Park near Beaudesert in southern Queensland.

The devastation has not changed the views of 21-year-old hairdressing apprentice Lily Russell, who grew up in the area.

“Fires always happen, it just got a bit more out of hand because farmers aren’t allowed to burn off as much as they used to, I guess,” she said.

The area surrounding Beaudesert is safe Liberal territory, with local member Scott Bucholtz holding the seat on a margin of 14.6 per cent.

IPSOS found the rate of people who would describe themselves as outright climate change deniers remained incredibly low — about 3 per cent of the population.

‘We are more alike than we differ’

On Sydney’s upper north shore, Rick, a self-described swing voter who didn’t want to use his last name, said attitudes were changing in the area.

“In my golf club, I was considered the weirdo commie,” he said.

“All of a sudden, I was having an argument at the table the other day about it and everyone was on my side.”

Rick said the bushfires had turned him from an interested bystander into an active protester.

“I joined Extinction Rebellion last year, I write a lot on social media and I post things,” he said.

“All of that is in the hope of influencing those who are less interested to become more interested.”

Financial planner and Liberal Party member Greg Cook said he remained supportive of the Prime Minister, but he believed the fires had shifted the minds of everyday Australians.

“To think some inaction by Scott Morrison in itself has created this terrible summer we’ve had is ridiculous, but nonetheless we need to get on with the necessary change over the coming years,” he said.

IPSOS research found Coalition voters did want action on climate change, according to Ms Brooks.

“We are still seeing Coalition voters as believing in climate change, wanting greater action on climate change,” she said.

“So whilst there’s maybe differences [between people who support different political parties], I think we are more alike as a community in wanting action than we differ.”

The Federal Government said it was committed to taking action on climate change while growing the economy and keeping energy prices down.

It said Australia’s 2030 target to reduce emissions by 26 to 28 per cent below 2005 levels was “responsible and achievable”.










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