Time of disaster surely time to cut people some slack

Dinah Arndt
Dinah Arndt

DINAH ARNDT says: Surely, now is not the time for the politics.

Not as the family and friends of those still missing in the bushfires wait to hear from loved ones.

Not as Tasmanians sift through the rubble of what was their beloved home or shack.

Not as farmers and other small business owners come to grips with the loss of their livelihood.

Not as children wonder where they will go to school, as workers wonder where their next pay cheque will come from or as fire-ravaged communities worry about the future.

Sadly, politics can't or won't be set aside as the state grasps the enormity of this summer's bushfire crisis.

Labor sources told this paper that Premier Lara Giddings was unaware of a minister's announcement until after his press release was issued.

Ms Giddings cut her private holiday in Scotland short to return.

Flights were difficult to secure and she returned on Monday morning with barely time to say hello to staff before attending a detailed briefing with Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Tasmania Police and Tasmania Fire Service.

Media waited for an hour for them to emerge and the press conference was cut short so the two leaders could visit the refuge at Sorell and tour the devastated Dunalley township in a police-escorted convoy.

While Ms Giddings and Ms Gillard were surveying the damage there, including the destroyed primary school, Education Minister Nick McKim issued a release promising to rebuild the school.

It was strange timing as the government was yet to make a formal announcement on its overall plan. An emergency cabinet meeting was held that morning and chaired by then-acting Premier Bryan Green as Ms Giddings wasn't back in time.

When asked why he made the announcement so quickly, Mr McKim said in a statement it was "to give the community certainty regarding long-term education provision in the area and surety to the community at this distressing time".

There is a sensitivity about everything politicians do right now.

Some residents were upset that the Premier and Prime Minister visited Dunalley when they were still waiting to access properties.

Others were very happy to meet their leaders, to see that they cared and air concerns directly to them.

Over the coming weeks and months these two politicians will be making some very important decisions about the state's recovery, so it is appropriate they evaluate the situation first-hand, and do so at the first available opportunity in order to make plans.

Seeing MPs at refuges has become a common sight over the past week, as has name dropping on radio.

No one can question their good intentions, or need to help. But just like every other Tasmanian they should consider what is the best use of their time, effort and expertise; and how that fits in with the relief effort as a whole.

There is also politics in the media's coverage, as journalists hold degrees of sensitivity when it comes to gathering footage and information.

There is always pressure to be the first to report details, but that should be balanced against what is in the best interests of those being reported on.

There was also politics in dealing with the immediate crisis.

Tasman Mayor Jan Barwick came under fire after she asked non- residents to leave by boat to relieve pressure on scarce resources.

Under severe strain, and facing a threat to her own home, Ms Barwick said: "I want you gone please, sorry. We've fed you for days, we've loved you ... and now you have to go."

Afterwards, she ran a gauntlet of angry people with a police escort.

Again, while no one would question her intentions and the fact she was trying to do what was in the best interests of her residents, those comments only inflamed an already tense situation.

There was even politics played out at the Hobart refuge where one woman had set up her coffee cart and worked long hours over several days to provide beverages to workers and those seeking help, only to have a cafe set up its cart (with advertising) nearby to give away free coffee.

There's no way to separate politics from people, but at a time like this everyone should cut each other a little bit of slack.


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