The new era of Q+A kicked off with a bang under new host Hamish Macdonald, with Liberal senator Jim Molan taking centre stage as the nation’s bushfire crisis was discussed.
- Senator Jim Molan defended the Federal Government’s response to the bushfire crisis
- The senator said while some might say the science on climate change was settled, he was “not relying on evidence”
- He was heckled and laughed at by the live audience in Queanbeyan
The show was originally set to be broadcast from Bega but, due to the ongoing fire risk, was moved to Queanbeyan.
Many Australians who have suffered through the bushfire disaster were on hand to ask their questions of the panel and Senator Molan did not prove popular with the audience.
The retired Army Major General was laughed at for an early response to a question from a woman who lost her house in the devastating Mallacoota fires but when he was asked about climate change, things only got worse.
Taking part in a discussion opposite one of the world’s leading climate scientists, geophysicist and climatologist Michael Mann, Senator Molan was pressed on the issue of human-caused climate change.
In response to a previous question, Professor Mann had said the summer’s weather conditions were not the “new normal” but things could get worse if Australia and the rest of the world did not work together to lower carbon emissions.
“[For] every scientific institution in the world that’s weighed in on this matter, climate change is real,” Professor Mann said.
“It’s human caused. It’s already leading to disastrous impacts here in Australia and around the rest of the world. And it will get much worse if we don’t act.”
Macdonald then repeatedly pressed Senator Molan on whether he thought climate change was caused by humans.
Initially, Senator Molan said: “I accept the climate is changing. It has changed and it will change. What it’s producing is hotter and drier weather and a hotter and drier country.
“As to whether it is human-induced climate change, my mind is open.”
Macdonald then pressed him further on the issue and asked him why his mind was open and whether Senator Molan questioned the science.
“Michael might say that the science is settled,” Senator Molan said.
“And I respect very much scientific opinion but every day across my desk comes enough information for me to say that there are other opinions.”
@neighbour_s: “I’m not relying on evidence, Hamish” says @JimMolan on #qanda
Asked once again to answer the question and “what is the evidence you are relying on?” by Macdonald, the senator gave an unpopular answer.
“I’m not relying on evidence, Hamish,” Senator Molan said, prompting heckles from the crowd, as well as parliamentary peers and commentators on social media.
“Oh dear Jim Molan, it’s gone from a car crash to a train wreck,” senator Jacquie Lambie tweeted.
Tales of tragedy from Mallacoota
It was not the only time during the evening Senator Molan came under fire and he had already been the target of Senator Lambie’s social media scorn earlier in the program.
@JacuieLambie: For god sake @JimMolan you’re not in the Army anymore – speak the bloody truth! #qanda #climatemergency
A guest who had lost her home and pets in the Mallacoota fires and had not been able to return to the area asked what the Government would do to aid recovery and prevent a repeat.
“What strategies are now being formulated and implemented by the Government to help those of us left homeless? And what strategies are being implemented to save us all from a national disaster of this magnitude in the future?” she asked.
While other panellists spoke of community spirit and learning how to embrace communities and governments working together to help the people, Senator Molan was asked pointedly by the host about the Federal Government’s response and why it had not implemented plans before the fire season.
Senator Molan began to deflect with his answer before saying there was little to do for individual cases at a federal level.
“In any of these disaster situations, we start at the bottom and we manage up. And the role of the Federal Government in this is not to get down to the individual,” Senator Molan said after indicating he “mourned” the dead.
“We gave a million dollars to every one of the fire-affected councils because they can touch the people. Andrew [Constance] knows where the people are and they can touch the people,” he said, referring to the state Member for Bega, who was also on the panel.
“What is the strategy? If I could put it very, very simply, the strategy, the strategy was first to support the firefighters. That was the most immediate strategy.”
The senator was again pressed by Macdonald, who asked: “Why didn’t you [the Federal Government] step in earlier?”
His response of “I think we did step in earlier” was greeted by laughter from the audience.
‘Speak the bloody truth’
Senator Molan was heavily criticised on social media, with Senator Lambie calling on Senator Molan to “speak the bloody truth” and Walkley Award winner Jane Caro also calling him out.
“It wasn’t until December 12 that the Federal Government announced a funding boost for aerial firefighting services. Why wasn’t that done before?” Macdonald asked.
At that point, Senator Molan said the fires and the response were planned for.
“A lot of people say it’s an unprecedented fire, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t planned for; it was planned for at an incredible detail,” he said, before suggesting combatting fires was not the Federal Government’s responsibility.
@JaneCaro: #QandA Jim Molan is neatly avoiding the question. Hamish holding him to the point. ‘Fighting fires is a state responsibility’ with a smirk. And climate mitigation is everyone else’s responsibility, apparently. What hope do we have?
“Fighting fires is a state responsibility and what the PM has done, he has seen that there has been a change in the attitude of people in relation to this,” Senator Molan said.
“It’s very, very difficult for the Federal Government to be prepared for bushfires when we’re not fighting bushfires.
“We have got to look at who is responsible for fighting bushfires. Now that’s changed and the PM has made a statement in the future that will change.”
When the Federal Government was criticised by panellist Bega Mayor Kristy McBain, who blamed a lack of foresight, Senator Molan pointed to the relief packages the Federal Government had handed out.
“We’ve paid out 75,000 people on that $1,000, plus the $400, plus the $400 to a tune of $105 million. And that’s immediate money,” Senator Molan said.