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Tuesday, 12 April 2011


Jan, 2011. Nature has been visiting Queensland in a big way this past month.
Thousands of people who built or bought houses in historically flood-prone areas have suddenly discovered that all of those big white horizontal rulers dotted about roadways, bridges and rivers do have a purpose after all.
After years of baking drought, people across country Queensland turned out to dance in the streets as the first rain drops fell. Unfortunately the first raindrops where followed by several million others and the dancing stopped as everyone began to realise that nature had no intention of stopping chucking it down until the cows floated home.
Eventually rivers became lakes, lakes became inland seas and insurance companies quietly started double-checking the policy fine print to ensure they could weasel their way out of coughing up cash.
After a bit longer the inland seas, augmented by a few million tons of muddy sludge, became rivers again and – yearning for the sea – mowed down any number of country towns in their path.
At first there was plenty of, ironically, dry humour about as laconic Queenslanders, resigned to the fact that a long and probably fruitless argument with an insurance assessor was a certainty, sat on verandas, knocked back slabs of XXXX and joked about the water views sending house values through the roof.
Rockhampton slowly sinking beneath the waves and Toowoomba being bowled over by a torrent that disappeared as quickly as it arrived changed everything for the worse in every sense.
People started dying. Unless you were there you can’t imagine it, but if you had a shred of humanity you would have given thanks that the poor bastards going through it didn’t have to sit through the spectacle of television stations wringing, if you’ll excuse the expression, every last drop of ratings out of the disaster.
Before Rockhampton the tv stations carried on pretty much as per normal. Talking heads reeled off the names of a few towns they had never heard of before and wouldn’t be visiting unless it was by boat then moved on to big news items such as a new study which revealed, at great expense, that when women burst into tears men suddenly stop thinking about having sex with them.
After Rockhampton, news mentions became Flood Specials. After Toowoomba and its images of cars being bowled along the main street like, well, toy cars, the cable news services went into overdrive.
While the commercial channels restricted themselves mostly to morning, midday and evening one hour updates, Sky News went round-the-clock.
Inevitably, the coverage took on the same character as the event itself. Like a giant river of sludge, the coverage wended its inexorable way through the hours.
Pairs of presenters fronted up in shifts, gravely intoning the same drivel hour after hour; “this unfolding crisis …this tragedy …the horror …unprecedented crisis … devastation …crisis of devastation …this human tragedy … this crisis.”
Interviews with the same officials were repeated ad nauseum, with each new presenter, fresh from a croissant, a latte, a change of outfit and a few minutes practising the pronunciation of town names, breathlessly asking the same questions of said officials as his/her predecessor two hours earlier.
While the interviews were proceeding, the same bits of coverage were spliced together and shown over and over again to the point when you began to wonder if everyone in Queensland owned a white Toyota Landcruiser and lived in beige house with a red roof.
The radio coverage was a bit more sparse, but no less irritating in its efforts to cast the floods as the worst disaster to face mankind since Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck blasted off, determined to drill a hole in a asteroid  
Thankfully, the ABC got its come-uppance early in the piece when a water management expert got tired of an interviewer repeatedly referring to the Toowoomba flooding as an event “of biblical proportions”.
No, said the expert, it was far from an event of biblical proportions; it was a perfectly predictable event which could be expected to happen every 50 years or so.
The radio man seemed a bit peeved at being put back in his box, but the expert no doubt saved the ABC from having to respond to a complaint to the effect that it was a racist organisation for not referring to it as a disaster of koranic proportions.
A previous disaster of truly biblical proportions resulted in Noah A. Christian and Sons, Master Shipwrights winning the contract to build the bulk carrier, so it is probably fortunate for all of us that this disaster is a trifle less epic, since Noah would have buckleys of getting the boat built these days.
The job would be put out to tender with a closing date of January, 2012. It would then be subject to a three-month public submission period after which, if a Labor Government is in power, the tender process would be suspended and a preferred bidder, who has nominated a price six times the actual cost of the job (to cover the cost of appointing 300 union delegates as assistant project managers) will be appointed by ministerial decree.
If Noah has enough shekels to shove into the brown goat-skin bag he might be in with a shot, but winning/buying the tender would be just the start of his problems.
Building will be delayed because the unsuccessful tenderers will lodge protests until government/union heavies can either lean on them hard enough to get them to shut up or the Government raids the health budget to come up with enough cash to make going away worthwhile.
Even if all of that happens, Noah will still be buggered because he won’t be able to get the timber required because every tree in the country is either protected or has been sold to agents acting for a Brazilian lumber firm in a carbon offset scam.
If he can scrounge the timber he won’t be able to build the thing in his backyard because he doesn’t have council planning permission.
If he abandons his backyard, he won’t be able to build it on the waterfront because an environmental impact assessment will conclude that the building process may affect the habitat of the hairy-nosed purple carp and several neighbours – who happen to be councillors and/or councillors relatives will lodge complaints that the Ark will obstruct their view.
If has enough shekels and brown goat-skin bags to get council planning permission, Worksafe will be all over him like a rash unless he agrees to an all-union workforce.
If he agrees to an all-union workforce, work will come to a halt after 4.2 minutes on day one because a; the temperature is above 31 degrees b; the temperature is below 30 degrees c; the local union secretary’s favourite ice-cream has not been provided or d; there is a race meeting on in the next town.
If he overcomes all of that and builds the thing he won’t be able to collect any animals because Greenpeace and the Conservation Foundation will erect a blockade and the EPA will refuse to issue permits without a six-month consultation period.
If he gets through that, he won’t be able to leave because the Maritime Workers Union will instigate an Ark blockade because it is ideologically opposed to the transportation of animals unless Israel stops the construction of settlements on the West Bank and hands Jerusalem to the peaceful peoples of Hamas.
If we ever were to experience a flood of biblical proportions, you fancy God will just do what everybody else does these days; get the thing made in China.
But back to the television coverage. When Rockhampton and Toowoomba copped it Sky went into overdrive. When Brisbane itself was threatened it engaged the turbo.
Every Sky News reporter in the country was despatched to Queensland with instructions to hunt down crying people and get them on television, by force if necessary.
Having found said victims, the Sky crew, after several minutes of “this crisis …this human tragedy …this tragic human crisis …” asked penetrating questions such as “how do you feel seeing your home and all of your belongings swept away” or “you have lost your life’s work, you must be devastated?”
Even chief political reporter Kieran Gilbert was despatched. He stood, bravely, on the fifth floor balcony of his five star hotel room and told us it was a crisis.
While he was saying this, the dinky little river level monitor in the corner of the screen was heading the wrong way ie; downwards.
If it topped 5.something metres Kevin Costner would be sailing through the streets of the Brisbane CBD. When it hit 4.5-something Kieran was geared up for a real crisis, but suddenly it started to go down.
You could almost hear the producer in the background shouting “shit, shit, shit, it’s going the wrong way”.
Many Brisbane suburbs were affected, but the ratings-giving apocalypse was nowhere to be seen so Kieran was left with nothing to do but stand on his balcony and ensure us we were seeing a human crisis unfolding.
He would have been better off sticking to his job description and following the politics.
Anna Bligh cried at a press conference, which the experts will tell us meant that nobody wanted to have sex with her at that point, but which the ordinary dumb person sitting in his/her lounge room could relate to as the reaction of a person who wants to make bad things go away but can’t.
Tony Abbot said two eminently sensible things ie: he was going to stay out of the way while the emergency services people did their job and perhaps it would have been a good idea to build a few more dams.
Julia Gillard was strangely absent from Queensland while the little towns were being swallowed up but couldn’t be shut up after Rockhampton.
Ironically, it was her speeches that provided listeners/viewers with a real insight into what it must have been like to be in the flood zone.
Droning on about “flood warders” in that ever – so – slow – monotone – dirge that some Labor Party marketing guru must have recommended she utilise, Gillard gave you a real insight into what it must be like to facing, helpless, an inexorable, impenetrable tide of verbal sludge.
I can hardly remember a single thing she said, but I remember the blessed relief at finding I was safe and dry when she finally finished.
Ersatz prime minister Bob Brown was the one Kieran really should have been after. While every pollie in the country was talking floods, Brown was talking whales, to whit the Rudd Government’s ridiculous threat to take Japan to every court on the planet – a sham exposed by Julian ‘Walter Mitty’ Assange’s Wikileaks website.
It was no surprise that Brown didn’t want to talk about floods, because asking Brown about floods would inevitably lead any journalist with an IQ above 50 to ask him about the consequences of the Green’s ‘no dams anywhere, ever’ policy on dams.
Dams are very large concrete structures which are very handy when it comes to stopping large bodies of water from engulfing – or, as most journalists seem to have it “inundating with water” – small towns.
Brown, almost single-handedly responsible for raising electricity prices for all Tasmanians when he led the protests against the damming of the Franklyn River to provide electricity for the Tasmanian grid, understandably didn’t want to talk about his party’s policy while the Queensland floods were serving as a stark reminder as to why dams may not be such bad things.
Kieran should have been all over him like a rash, which he might have been if he hadn’t spent so much time practicing his ‘crisis’ face on the hotel balcony while the Brisbane River receded.
Having left his hotel room when Sky finally conceded that it wasn’t going to secure file footage of Brisbane CBD office towers disappearing beneath the waves, Kieran had ample opportunity to ask Brown why he felt the need to plumb new depths (sorry) in cynical political opportunism.
When asked about the whole dams thing, Brown’s cohort – the ghastly escapee from a Hammer vamp horror, Sarah Hanson-Young – almost chided the reporter for being so crass as to ask such a question when people were suffering.
Days later, Brown had no such compunction when he went on national radio and declared that the Queensland coal industry should foot the flood damage bill because burning coal caused global warming, which warmed the oceans, which caused the floods.
Brown told his interlocutor that only the brave could apportion blame in a time of tragedy.
A pox on him and all those who deify his party of principle-free opportunists.
Finally tiring of grim-faced presenters gravely telling us we were in the midst of a crisis involving many places “inundated by water”, I switched to the BBC news.
There, I discovered that massive floods and mudslides in Brazil had wiped out entire towns, killing more than 600 people with many hundreds still missing, and 350,000 Sri Lankans from their homes and seen more than 20 per cent of that country’s rice crop destroyed.
There was no inkling of these disasters on Sky News, nor indeed on any other news channel. Newspapers were equally oblivious to this fact.
An old newspaper rule of thumb used to have it that, in terms of newsworthiness, one dead Australian was worth 10 dead Americans, 20 dead Frenchmen and 1,000 dead Bangladeshis.
The rule didn’t say where Brazilians or Sri Lankans fitted in, but the obviously conscious decision of the Australian media to ignore these stories in favour of beating the hell out of an Australian story was worrying, if not downright depressing.

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