Letters to the Editor – November 10 2023

Does the government know fire?

THE 2009 Victorian Bushfire Royal Commission (VBRC) recommended that at least five per cent of the forest be fuel-reduced each year to minimise the severity, size, deaths and damage from bushfires.

In 2015, the Andrews Government recklessly scrapped this cornerstone recommendation and introduced the risky ‘Safer Together’ policy that has delivered only 1.4 per cent of the forest fuel reduced each year and a 1.7 million hectare megafire.

In 2019/20, the Black Summer Bushfires killed five people, burnt 1.8 million hectares (including escapes into NSW), 739 homes, 478 sheds, 5153 livestock and millions of native fauna.

Chris Hardman, who became Chief Fire Officer in 2018/19, recently released a letter on October 23, 2023 on his outlook for the coming season.

Forest Fire Management Victoria (FFMVic) fuel reduced only 92,000 hectares last year. This is only 1.2 per cent of the forest and a failure (well below the VBRC recommendation of five per cent). It is insufficient to prevent another catastrophic bushfire with substantial loss of homes and a cruel death for those people, livestock and fauna unable to escape a fuel driven fast moving inferno.

I commend Chris’s comment “Reducing fuels like grass, leaves, bark, shrubs and fallen branches means fires are less intense and slower to spread, which helps firefighters keep bushfires smaller.”

Old unburnt surface and near surface fuels have the calorific value of more than 9000 litres per hectare of petrol and are the initial ‘accelerant’. Communities need to know why FFMVic, with 1800 personnel cannot get anywhere near the VBRC five per cent target – East Gippsland only achieved 0.6 per cent leading up to the 2019/20 bushfire.

Communities also need to know why FFMVic now, with 1800 personnel, 600 tankers, 300 other plant and 51 aircraft, failed to suppress about 10 initial lightning ignitions on November 21, 2019, given relatively mild conditions for the next 18 days.

A close examination showed insufficient fuel reduction (less than 0.6 per cent), tardy fire detection (many hours after ignition), delayed initial attack (two fires not attacked until the second and third day after ignition) and failure to mount suppression with sufficient force (personnel and equipment underemployed early and some reluctance to build containment lines). The catastrophic loss of the 2019/20 wildfire was avoidable.

No doubt people have heard the government advertisement ‘how well do you know fire’. The time has come to seriously question how well the government knows fire.

John Cameron



Lest We Forget

WHEN Australians pause for a minute silence on Remembrance Day, it’s all about respect.

Respect for the fallen. Respect for their families. Respect for the men and women who continue to serve today in wars, conflicts, peace-keeping and humanitarian missions.

It’s also about acknowledging the freedoms we enjoy today have come at an enormous personal cost to others, and we must never take that service and sacrifice for granted.

While Remembrance Day marks the moment the guns fell silent on the Western Front to end World War 1, it’s become an opportunity to pause our busy lives and think about everyone who has served in uniform.

As we come together at cenotaphs and memorials around the country to pay our respects for the 102,000 Australians who have died protecting our freedoms, we should be thankful for our good fortune to live in a comparably peaceful and stable nation.

As a former Veterans’ Minister, I have been very fortunate to visit ADF personnel on many deployments, and witnessed their commitment to service, and the sacrifices they are making for us today to maintain that peace.

Pausing for a minute’s silence on November 11 is the least we can do as a nation, to say a simple ‘thank you for your service’.

Darren Chester

Member for Gippsland



PAT O’Brien (Gippsland Times letters 24/10/23) is reading way too much into the referendum result.

While Mr O’Brien feels we are “living in the past” and “dragging coals over old grievances that have no relevance in today’s world”, all we voted against was implementing the Voice in the Constitution.

The dreadful state of Indigenous disadvantage in Australia is still there and I, for one, cannot recall hearing Senator Price, or any other ‘Noalition’ leader, outlining any methods of Closing the Gap.

The Victorian Treaty process, which commenced in 2016, is well advanced in Victoria with Treaty negotiations starting next year.

So, I am not sure how Mr O’Brien can call it divisive when we haven’t seen any details of it. Or are his prejudices showing?

John Gwyther



Fair go myth

WITH the recent crushing defeat of the ‘Yes’ campaign and referendum, it is with a certain irony that I note our two local Nationals MPs, Darren Chester and Danny O’Brien’s use of Indigenous acknowledgement and cultural practices in statements via various forms of the media.

In Mr Chester’s case it is displayed proudly on his ‘100% Gippslander’ t-shirt and Facebook page with a reference to being on Gunaikurnai country.

And in Mr O’Brien’s case, a recent article in the Gippsland Times regarding the coming fire season and the previous winter controlled burns done by DEWLP and his suggestion that Indigenous cultural cool burns be introduced as a mitigation measure. A worthy aim to be sure.

All this is a bit rich considering the political party they represent, whom were very strong advocates for the ‘No’ vote and in fact vehemently so; to which the ‘No’ vote was overwhelmingly carried and in particular, this electorate (72 per cent ‘No’). This cherry-picking of parts of the Indigenous culture to suit an argument is deeply shameful and does them absolutely no credit.

The rejection of the referendum in this electorate and Australia in general only bolsters my long held belief that we kick down in this wealthy country whether you are poor, a single parent, a refugee, unemployed, on welfare of any sort and particularly in this instance, the Indigenous population.

It confirms my conviction in the small mindedness and timidity much evidenced in this latest referendum result. The myth of the land of the ‘fair go’ is just that: a myth with greed and self-interest more important.

Congratulations good citizens, you have set back any chance of reconciliation and prospects of a Treaty for decades.

“Poor Fellow My Country” indeed!

Stephen Rawson



Devastation post ‘No’ vote

Joshua Kennedy

IT’S been four weeks since the Referendum result, where more than 60 per cent of the nation voted No.

Five days since the result came to hand were, mentally, the hardest week I had endured in my life.

My thoughts and feelings have run wild, from sadness I initially felt for myself and more importantly my kids to now turning to pure anger.

Finally, I know exactly where I stand in this country and more importantly in the community where I live. My thoughts and feelings towards people have changed forever. I have changed!

I have felt I have had to prove my worth my entire life because I’m Aboriginal. I’ve needed to go above and beyond because of the stereotypical narratives you hear, ‘they’re lazy’, ‘they can’t work’, ‘they’re all alcoholics, drug addicts and thieves’. My entire life has been spent putting up with racism. My anxiety levels go through the roof waiting for the next comment or example of hate speech.

The result of the referendum has shown me not to accept this anymore! I am clearing a path to a better future for my kids and I will not have them around this putrid behaviour any longer.

The Voice … what did we actually vote on?

We voted on finally recognising First Nations people and re-writing the Constitution (most important law book in Australia). With that came an advisory body that would have given advise to the government on policies that directly related to Aboriginal issues.
If you’re non-Indigenous, this would not affect your life at all.

If the referendum had been successful, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people would have voted on who they thought was best to advocate for their people. What I do know for sure is it wouldn’t have been Jacinta Price as she is an absolute embarrassment to her people.

The data shows that 80 per cent of Aboriginal people voted ‘Yes’ – we wanted this!
This could have been a time to finally acknowledge the past, unite as one and stop building a country on land that was regarded as Terra Nullius (vacant land). We have been here for more than 60,000 years. The fact that in 2023 the Constitution still doesn’t acknowledge we existed … that’s divisive! We needed this referendum and my people are screaming out for help and unity.

Catch cries and slogans I have heard about the vote include ‘Vote ‘No’ and stay united!’ How are we united? This is the most backward step we could’ve taken.

Another one is ‘Aboriginal people get too much funding’. If we had an advisory body in government it would have saved the country money. These people would have been out in communities talking to our people and giving advice to government on where and how money needs to be spent to close the gap.

Instead, every few years with each change of government they pull the pin on programs that are working and inject money into things they think will help. There is no consistency in this but an advisory body would have ensured consistency and money spent where it’s needed.

Another fallacy I heard was ‘They are going to take our backyards!’ The advisory body could not change laws but only give advice. This idea that white Australians fear having their land taken away from them is quite ironic though. Land grabs and dispossession is what this country was built on and the idea could have been an opportunity to have some empathy.
In the 15 years following the settlers arrival in 1788, historians say that 90 per cent of First Nations people were wiped out. After they stopped killing us, our women were raped and our men were made slaves, all the clan groups (language groups) were split up all over the country, families were broken and language was lost. Only 56 years ago we were still classified as sub human! During that 56 years, the expectation of non-Indigenous people is that we should be able to live the white man’s way without any consideration given to intergenerational trauma of dispossession, displacement, discrimination. A non-Indigenous person may receive some sort of inheritance when their parent(s) die. This is a product of intergenerational wealth. An Indigenous person is very unlikely to receive any type of inheritance which isn’t surprising when only 56 years ago we were only entitled to basic human rights.

Can you see how the gap starts?

To all the progressive ‘No’ voters including Jacinta Price – where does this leave us now? Without rightful recognition of place and without a voice! What’s next? Are we all just content with continuing to build this country on lies and racism?

Simply put, you either accept the genocide of the past and its effect on the present, see the inequity in the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People, support the need for change for a better future, or you’re happy with the status quo and don’t think the oldest living culture in the world isn’t deserving.

Where do you stand?

Joshua Kennedy is a Seaspray resident.


Reconciliation fight ongoing

Leanne Flaherty

THIS is a response to the recent referendum.

Of course nobody wants to talk about it anymore, it’s all over, the divisive idea was defeated! This is far from the truth as the campaign which wanted an end to division, ironically, was the cause of it.

Several things need to be called out for what it is … especially in this electorate.

Gippsland has been under the leadership of the National Party from when the hallowed seemingly ‘untouchable’ Constitution was dreamt up in 1901.

Most voters back then were the lucky benefactors of ancestors who colonised this region. I believe they were called ‘Land Grabs’ or ‘Squatters Rights’. Didn’t seem to matter in those days that the land was already occupied by Gunaikurnai people. The referendum result indicates that it doesn’t really matter today either.

The PR machine of Darren Chester and Danny O’Brien claim they ‘put locals first’. That maybe true but it only applied to ‘some’ of the locals when they decided to stand behind their party line of ‘No’ even before the amendment was published.

Their email responses to protest letters from constituents were just screeds of talking points trying to justify a shameful position.

I didn’t receive an answer from David Littleproud or Barnaby Joyce but it would have consisted of the same bland talking points put together by a minder.

Sadly that wasn’t what I wanted to read. I wanted to read why ‘they’ personally thought they had something to lose by recognising the original inhabitants of this country. Why they thought the minor inclusion to the Constitution was going to be detrimental? Why they thought it was unreasonable to allow a representative body advise them on future policy making regarding policies only effecting First Nations people?

After they did this, all three of our local representatives, Chester, Tim Bull (Member for Gippsland East) and O’Brien slunk back into the background and allowed their communities to let rip. They didn’t call for bipartisanship. They never corrected the lies and deceit being pedalled by their Coalition friends. They didn’t differentiate between the referendum being a moral issue and not about politics. By doing this they fuelled the division brewing within their electorate for their own political ends.

As a Yes 23 volunteer I experienced verbal and physical aggression in the lead up to referendum day.

I witnessed a No campaigner distribute unauthorised vile, conspiracy theory, racist, propaganda outside the pre-polling booth to unwitting voters. I was targeted and observed online racism and threatening insults on a local online community group.

As someone who has been politically involved in all sides and levels of politics, I have never felt as threatened or been subjected to this level of vitriol. I’m far from a ‘precious’ individual, but being subjected to this as a non-Indigenous 64-year-old woman, I feel nothing but extreme sorrow and empathy for the First Nations people who deal with this every day of their lives.

Sadly, I believe that many who voted no were swept up in the party politics fed by these and other politicians of the whole spectrum.

I believe that as a result it became a question of not ‘what’ was right but ‘who’ was right.
It wrongly became an issue of funding and accountability of past failed policies. It morphed into conspiracy theories and distrust of everything as I watched people take their own pens into the polling centre because they feared someone would rub out their pencil vote!

That may account for the ill-informed non-Indigenous voters, however, and here’s a trigger warning for those who won’t accept it, living among us are two kinds of racists. Sadly there are many who lack insight and have grown up unaware of the impact ‘white privilege’ and ‘unconscious bias’ has on their value system.

The others however are openly racist at the same time resenting being called one. They try flipping the argument with claims of ‘reverse racism’. They are heard using derogatory language or hate speech as well as ‘that was 200 years ago – get over it’. They are the ones who create and laugh at jokes about First Nations people and vehemently resent restorative justice, welcome ceremonies, flag raising, NAIDOC Week, Sorry Day, Reconciliation Week or Change the Date movement. They see no necessity or desire to learn of or from the Gunaikurnai or acknowledge the impact and practices of colonisation and the effect on their existence then and now.

Wellington Shire Council for goodness sake voted to leave the five McMillan Cairns celebrating the man found to have organised massacres and ‘clearances’ of Gunaikurnai from this area. What message are local representatives sending to the Gunaikurnai and the general public?

I’m certainly not inferring that everyone who voted against acknowledging Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as the original inhabitants of this country and allowing them access to a democratically elected advisory body is racist.

Wouldn’t that be a soul destroying thought and shameful indictment of humanity if true?
Gippsland, with its 72.9 per cent No vote tends to confirm the good, the bad and the ugly live within its boundaries. Let’s hope the 27.1 per cent of people who saw through all the rubbish did their research, listened to their heart and don’t give up the fight because there are 3.8 per cent of the population who need more than ever to be seen and heard.

Leanne Flaherty is part of Reconciliation Wellington.

Reconciliation Wellington supports and reflects Reconciliation Australia’s as it promotes and facilitates reconciliation by building relationships, respect and trust between the wider Australian community and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples