A breach of trust

Australia has suffered dozens of extreme weather events since early 2023 including cyclones, floods, wildfires, and heatwaves. Each time the people are issued a hollow call to ‘prepare’.

There is money in the system, but it is being directed inward, building up agencies, policies, websites, and government staff. At the coalface, it is a broken contract. 

Governments in Australia demonstrate no understanding of proactive preparation, only reaction, and the toll on society skyrockets in this era of climate chaos.

The foundational contract of democracy dictates that citizens abide by the law, pay fair taxes, and contribute to the betterment of society. In return, our governments are entrusted to preserve and protect its us. 

What we witness now is the reprehensible betrayal of that contract as Australian state and federal governments utterly fail to support communities in adapting and preparing for the relentless onslaught of climate-driven emergencies.

Short sighted

The final text of the latest UN climate summit, COP28, now dubbed 'the UAE consensus', is nothing but a cowardly whisper in the face of a roaring climate crisis. 

Meteorologists have officially declared 2023 the hottest year on record. With El Niño's ominous touch in 2024, global temperatures threaten to breach the 1.5°C threshold, hurtling our world further into the abyss of climate catastrophe. 

Amid wars, geopolitical upheavals, and the looming spectre of a second Trump presidency, Australia now grapples with escalating and overlapping climate-driven disasters, eclipsing what Europe has so far experienced. 

The country’s premiere science agency projections foretell hotter and more frequent wildfires, increasing droughts, declining snow depths, intense rainfall, and flooding events, painting a bleak future for Australians across the country.

Despite inquiries, reports, and scientific papers, new agencies with legions of staff, and contractors, Australia’s state and federal government disaster preparedness remains fixated on ineffective and short sighted 'education' and 'communication'. Education and communication do not build community resilience; they can only activate what’s already been built. 

The result is devastation after devastation — lives destroyed, nature obliterated, personal and governmental costs soar, and personal and community security evaporate. Australian government neglect of investing in preparation for what’s on the horizon – in adaptation and resilience - is a profound betrayal of the social contract.

Personal pain

This is deeply personal. The Black Summer wildfires in 2019/20 ravaged my community. We lost everything — our homes, histories, health, and mental, physical, and financial stability. 

We are still navigating the treacle of rebuilding our lives. The pain could have been averted if Australian governments had paused to think, to listen. They were warned and dismissed the threat, ignoring the urgent need for communities to adapt and prepare.

Four years later, little has changed where it actually counts. The new Australian Warning System has been roundly criticised by researchers and the media as a ‘dog’s breakfast’ and a ‘cock-up of massive proportions’.

There is money in the system, but it is being directed inward, building up agencies, policies, websites, and government staff. At the coalface, it is a broken contract. 

It painfully demonstrates how relying on education and communication is fatally flawed; warnings arrive too late, prompting reactions, not proactive preparation. And costs are soaring. In the US, with 333 million people, 2023's climate-driven disaster costs neared $93 billion. 

In Australia, with a mere 26 million people, current disaster costs of $38 billion annually are projected to surge to between $73-94 billion by 2060. A 2021 Deloitte report warned of a $1.2 trillion cumulative cost over 40 years, even with low emissions.

From the ashes of Black Summer, I drafted a wildfire preparedness funding proposal for my community to rebuild from. Nestled in a high-fire-risk region, our needs — more fire tracks and earth breaks, controlled burning, a community radio communication network, and permanent water filling stations for firefighting — demand costly government applications and labyrinthine approval processes. 

A Broken Contract

Our highly praised proposal, lauded as a potential case study, has been denied funding five times over the past three years because it deviates from South Australian and federal governments' fixation on education and communication. Similar tales echo across Victoria, News South Wales, and Queensland. 

There is money in the system, but it is being directed inward, building up agencies, policies, websites, and government staff. On paper, it looks like government investment is there. At the coalface, it is a broken contract. 

In 2022, UN General Secretary António Guterres condemned the world's "empty pledges that put us on track to an unlivable world", warning that "we are on a fast track to climate disaster". Australia is living that disaster now. 

For those who haven’t faced a firestorm or heat dome, the consequences are hard to grasp. People shy away from believing these 'storms' will trigger regional or even local social collapse, but they already are.

While the world bickers its way to net zero, and 2024 menacingly threatens to tip too many balances too far, communities in Australia are being devastated by apocalyptic wildfires, catastrophic rain bombs, lethal floods and mudslides, and deadly droughts because governments have not invested in adaptation and preparedness. 

Australian governments have broken the contract with their citizens. Lives are lost, people abandon homes never to return. Nature is annihilated. Many communities won't bounce back.

People can only be pushed so far. The ripple will become a wave. Soon, these isolated events will coalesce into climate fury. Soon that wave will become radical. If Australia does not empower communities to help themselves, it will face the wrath of communities scorned. It’s a lesson for the world.

This Author

Margi Prideaux, an author and negotiator with a PhD in global wildlife policy, has over three decades shaped policy in dozens of international and domestic conservation processes before losing her home and farm to the Black Summer wildfires. She now advocates for communities and nature impacted by climate chaos. Her latest book is FIRE: A Message from the Edge of Climate Catastrophe

More from this author