February 28, 2015

An extraordinary February

Queensland politics continued to be extraordinary after the protracted counting of votes, the threat of a by-election even though we'd just been to the polls, and the swearing in of Premier Palaszczuk. She announced a youthful cabinet, more than half of whom are women, including her Deputy, Jackie Trad. We now have a minister for science and a minister for national parks and the Great Barrier Reef. Ms Palaszczuk has nominated Independent MP Peter Wellington as Speaker of the House, and he has already said he will allow television cameras back into Parliament. (The previous Speaker, of the LNP, banned them in 2012.)

It is as if a wave of integrity and openness is already flowing through the corridors of power in Brisbane. Words such as respect and dignity and listening are suddenly commonplace. Hope is in the air. I like that.

Other waves hit the state last weekend, in the form of Tropical Cyclone Marcia. It developed over the Coral Sea as another system formed over the Top End, a veritable 'cyclone sandwich' over northern Australia. Marcia looked harmless enough at first, a category 1, but on Thursday afternoon of the 12th she intensified through the categories with unprecedented and indecent haste. Marcia hit land, at Yeppoon north of Rockhampton, at 8 am on Friday, with devastating force, a category 5. By Rocky, just down the road, the cyclone had already been downgraded to a category 3.

When the Bureau of Meteorology, the emergency services and the politicians warn of an impending extreme weather event, they have to describe in detail how bad it might get. For two reasons. If they play it down and enormous damage ensues, they get it in the neck. They also have to protect idiots from themselves. Just hours before the landfall of this particular cyclone, there were surfer nutters catching enormous waves, children playing catch-me-if-you-can behind sea walls, and retirees routinely walking their dogs. Sometimes there is a fine line between stoical and reckless.

Marcia was a hugely unpredictable beast. At one point, it looked as though she would barrel south towards the state capital. Brisbanites queued for sandbags, cleared supermarket shelves and changed travel plans.

We didn't. We left, a few hours earlier than originally planned, admittedly, in sheeting rain about 1.30 pm on Friday to drive to Byron Bay, a long weekend booked months ago. Visibility was severely limited on the Pacific Highway for the first hour or so, but it didn't prevent trucks from hurtling past regardless.

Over the next 24 hours, there was lots of heavy rain in Brisbane, but no damaging winds to lift roofs or bring down power lines and trees. It's been the wettest February on record here. Not sudden bursts from fierce thunder storms as you might expect during the Wet, but hours of steadier rain without the light show and sound effects.

In Canberra there are talks of a different kind of spill. Few believe PM Abbott can survive a second attempt to disLodge him. But will the Liberals and the Nationals replace him with a Bishop (Julie) or old-timer Turnbull (Malcolm)? I don't really care: it would be same-old, whomever they choose. Same obsession with growth and beholdenness to resource companies, developers and foreign investors.

A couple of days ago, I went to listen to a quiet American named Bob Massie at the University of Queensland. He founded the New Economy Coalition, whose mission is 'to convene and support all those who might contribute to an economy that is restorative to people, place, and planet, and that operates according to principles of democracy, justice, and appropriate scale'. A different kind of coalition from the one we're used to in Australia. I like the idea of that, too.

He told a joke that used to be heard a lot in the US, he explained, but not so much these days. 'Out of work? Hungry? Eat an environmentalist.' I imagine that would get quite a few laughs in Canberra. Maybe not for that much longer.

No comments:

Post a Comment