Australia

NSW emergency services minister criticised for 'stifling' climate change debate

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian (left) and NSW Minister for Police and Emergency Services David Elliott. Source: AAP

Climate change concerns raised by former fire chiefs during the NSW bushfire crisis were dismissed as "unpalatable" by the responsible minister David Elliott.

The NSW emergency services minister has been criticised by a leading scientist after dismissing the climate change concerns of respected Australian fire chiefs as inappropriate and "quite unpalatable".

A coalition of former emergency services bosses in November urged the federal government to declare a climate emergency as devastating bushfires raged across NSW and Queensland.

Emergency services minister David Elliott was asked about these concerns during an interview with the BBC over the weekend.

"As the emergency services minister, I've said that I don't think it's appropriate to use a natural disaster of this size for political gain," he told the BBC.

"I think that's quite unpalatable."

But leading oceanographer and UNSW climate scientist Professor Matthew England told AAP the Australian public was sick of "head in the sand" politics when it comes to climate change.

"I actually think it's unpalatable to stifle a discussion on climate change like this," he said.

"Here we have a group of fire chiefs with a deep experience of fire control over Australia, professionals who have seen changes over the course of many decades, and who understand the science enough to call politicians to account for their lack of action on this issue.

"This was a refreshing moment in the public discourse around climate change".

A supplied image obtained of A NASA Worldview Satellite, showing smoke from the current New South Wales bushfires.
A supplied image obtained of A NASA Worldview Satellite, showing smoke from the current New South Wales bushfires.
NASA

A recent survey released by UNSW shows a majority of Australians think it is right to discuss climate change during natural disasters such as bushfires.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has repeatedly argued against discussing the link between climate change and bushfires at the height of emergency work.

But according to the UNSW community survey released on Friday, some 53 per cent of respondents disagree.

Just 35 per cent of Australians surveyed said it's not okay.

"The Australian public clearly want this issue discussed, they are looking to our political leaders for decisive action on climate change," Prof England said.

"The last thing the Australian public wants is a head-in-the-sand approach to this pressing problem that is already having a negative impact on our nation's environment, our economy and our way of life."

Former Fire and Rescue NSW commissioner Greg Mullins in November said Australians were in a "new age of unprecedented bushfire danger" and wanted the federal government to declare a climate emergency.

Mr Mullins criticised what he saw as an unofficial gag order from federal and state governments 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.

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