It’s not exactly news that Wilson Tuckey habitually makes a fool of himself. In the House of Representatives he’s indulged as a sort of mad uncle who refuses to take his medication and yells garbled rants. He can almost be relied on to get himself chucked out during Thursday Question Times so he can get an earlier flight back to WA. He’s also an inveterate note-passer in Question Time, constantly offering suggestions to frontbenchers. Sometimes they read the note, turn and give him an indulgent nod and a smile, humouring the old duffer. Sometimes they fold it up and chuck it away. Yesterday, he was passing notes while Julia Gillard made her condolence speech. No class.

More significantly, outside Parliament he offered his view that major political parties were to blame for the fires due to their seeking preference deals with Greens candidates. The remarks were discussed in ALP Caucus this morning, but Julia Gillard told MPs now was not the time to resume politics.

Tuckey has form on this front. In 2003, the ACT fires were still burning when Tuckey decided to blame environmentalists for the conflagration that destroyed hundreds of homes and took four lives in Canberra, declaring that environmentalist-influenced forestry management practices were at fault. The subsequent inquiry revealed that appalling emergency management practices in the ACT and a failure by NSW authorities to fight the fires sufficiently early were a greater cause than fuel loads.

Yesterday Clive Hamilton argued that “the bushfires and the extreme heatwave, whose death toll when tallied will probably be in the hundreds and exceed that of the fires, are global warming made manifest in the daily lives of ordinary people.” I didn’t think that argument should have been made while the fires were still burning and we were still counting the dead. But Hamilton’s position is at least backed by science and years of warnings about the impact of climate change on Australia.

Any number of cranks have now emerged eager to use the fires to push their case that in fact environmentalists are to blame.

Germaine Greer — a sort of anti-matter version of Tuckey — declared from the UK that the fires were caused by the failure of governments to burn bushland. In particular Germs, still stuck with a “noble savage” view of indigenous Australians, blames the failure of white Australians to manage the landscape like pre-invasion Aboriginal communities.

The Australian gave space to academic David Packham, who directly blamed “outraged extremists and latte conservationists” for “perverting public policy” and defeating the efforts of “the folk of the bush” to “live a safe life”. ABC2 Breakfast gave airtime to a retired CSIRO researcher who claimed that the fires had been caused by too much fuel and the loss of “bushcraft”.

You can see their point. If there was no bush, there’d be no bushfires. But no evidence was advanced by any of them, or by Tuckey, for their claims, although the ex-CSIRO bloke said he had seen some photos from Victoria. No evidence could be advanced because there isn’t any. The damn fires are still burning. The arsonists responsible for some of them are yet to be caught. The Royal Commission is yet to commence.

There’ll be time enough to establish responsibility. The ACT McLeod and coronial inquiries took considerable time to work their way through the handling of a single fire event. The Victorian inquiry will, unfortunately, be far bigger. The demands of the media cycle, however, don’t allow for the correct response that the causes of the disaster and whether it could have been handled better are unknown and will take time to establish.

But evidence isn’t as important for some as reflexively pushing an anti-environmentalist agenda, and exploiting death and destruction in order to do so. It’s contemptible. Coming from a Federal politician, one who lives on the other side of the continent, it’s shameful. Tuckey degrades the Parliament every time he opens his mouth.

Peter Fray

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