A SENIOR career firefighter has accused Australian politicians of "wilful ignorance" on climate change because of timid politics and the "corruption of our entire political system" by mining industry funding and influence.
The "wilful ignorance" leaves Australians paying the price for climate change inaction, including this season's catastrophic bushfires. It also leaves the Hunter region exposed to future shocks "if we don't face reality", said Ken Thompson, a former NSW Fire Brigade deputy commissioner and co-founder of the group, Emergency Leaders for Climate Action, made up of 23 former Australian fire response chiefs.
Mr Thompson slammed the Federal Government and Prime Minister Scott Morrison for "throwing climate change words around like word salad".
"I listen to Scott Morrison speak on climate change and I think, what the hell is he talking about? He's almost unintelligible on the subject. He talks about adaptation and resilience, but makes no reference at all to mitigation, which is the thing you've got to have first. Mitigation means reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and you've got to reduce emissions," he said.
"I think it's all governments seem to be doing, talking about dealing with the risks and not doing anything at all about the cause."
Mr Thompson was just as scathing about Labor, which this week agreed to pledge to a zero emission target by 2050 in line with Australia's commitment under the Paris Agreement, but provided no detail on how it would be achieved and offered no target for 2030.
"You've got Labor politicians agitating for coal, and a federal Opposition that's not really opposing the government on this issue," he said.
"Labor's not taking the fight up to the Coalition. It's sitting on the fence, just like it did with Adani during the federal election. They didn't have a clear position and they were punished for it.
"These are the people meant to represent us. They're meant to have the courage and fortitude to do what's in the public interest, not their interest, but they've made it a political thing. They're not making evidence-based decisions. They say action on climate change is good policy, but bad politics, so they don't act. We've had more than a decade of that.
"You'd like to think politicians would have the guts to come out and say, 'Here's the evidence, here's the science. If there's a political risk we have to take it.' But no."
Mr Thompson supported Hunter students calling on Australians to back their call for coal mine expansions to end. The students are opposed to Glencore's proposal to significantly expand the Glendell mine near Singleton and the Mangoola mine at Wybong.
"Should politicians be listening to the teenagers? What makes me angry is that politicians aren't listening to the science," Mr Thompson said.
"We've got at least 30 years of reports on the science of climate change. Governments get all these reports, and have done for years, and every report has been more dire than the one before it. They all say the same thing. We have to reduce emissions."
Mr Thompson said he doubted that average Australians understood the extent of coal mining in the Hunter region or the role that exported coal has played in global warming for decades, and how that contributes to the catastrophic nature of the summer's bushfires.
He was angered that proposals for coal producers to help pay the costs of bushfire damage, such as an Australia Institute proposal for a $1 levy on every tonne of exported coal, was dismissed by the Federal Government, with taxpayers funding $2 billion in bushfire recovery.
"The mining companies take the profits and they don't pay for the negative consequences, and one of those is catastrophic fires and other natural disasters," Mr Thompson said.
The former NSW Fire Brigade deputy commissioner responsible for the northern part of the state including the Hunter said it was "unbelievable damage" from a major Sydney hailstone more than 20 years ago that "got me really starting to think about what's going on".
"I stumbled on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports and thought, this makes sense. I started to think about some of the larger bushfires I'd seen and how they were different from previous fires," Mr Thompson said.
He worked with the Australian Conservation Foundation and had training with American politician and climate change advocate Al Gore.
Mr Thompson said he once used the term "the new normal" in the context of increasingly extreme bushfires and natural disaster events but "I've stopped that now because it's not the new normal we're seeing".
"This is a stepping stone to something even more catastrophic. These fires aren't going to stop until we start addressing the underlying issue that's turning them from the fires we've always experienced in Australia, to what we've seen this season.
"Watching these fires has almost been a little like deja vu, because so many reports for years have warned about this, but they've occurred on a scale I'd never even envisaged.
"I remember when I first started reading up on climate change, the UN reports, the IPCC reports, I thought when all these countries come together we'll work out how to address this, and hopefully things will be better. It didn't happen."
The Australian Government had to put a price on carbon as part of an overall plan to change from coal and fossil fuels as energy, to renewables with firming capacity, he said.
"The most pressing need is for a national climate and energy policy. Until we do that nothing is going to work," he said.
On Friday Labor leader Anthony Albanese committed his party to a net zero emissions target by 2050 but left open a target for 2030. The Federal Government has not committed to a 2050 target and is using controversial Kyoto credits to meet a 2030 target of reducing emissions by up to 28 per cent on 2005 emissions.
Mr Morrison seized on the 2050 target, released without a detailed plan for how it would be achieved, to describe Mr Albanese as "Bill Shorten 2.0".
Mr Albanese said the details would be outlined by Labor closer to the next election, and after broad consultation, including with business and unions. Labor has not ruled out support for regions impacted by the renewables energy transition.
Mr Fitzgibbon said the community expected political parties to have a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while providing guarantees on jobs and affordable energy security.
"For me, achieving meaningful net reductions without doing harm to our traditional industries is the most important challenge," Mr Fitzgibbon said.
"The aspiration of carbon neutrality by 2050 offers a conservative and low risk path for three reasons. First, it provides plenty of time to embrace new technologies. Second, it stands a chance of securing bipartisanship and broader community support.
"Third, it turns the focus to our efforts to absorb carbon from the atmosphere and away from too great a singular focus on reducing emissions."