Premier Denis Napthine is living up to his new nickname “Naptime” as the Hazelwood coalmine fire continues its terrible impact on the town of Morwell, in Victoria's Latrobe Valley.
The edge of the town is only a few hundred metres from where the fire has been burning since February 9. The plume of toxic smoke and ash from the fire is blanketing the town much of the time.
The unfolding disaster demands an immediate escalation of action, and Greens MLC Greg Barber is right to demand that the government declare a state of emergency, as hard as health minister David Davis denies it is needed.
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The first priority for emergency action must be the health of the community. Declaring a state of emergency, and providing evacuation centres with some form of accommodation for those who wish to leave, are the bare minimum that needs to be done by the government.
Currently, advice is to leave Morwell if possible. This leaves vulnerable people such as unsupported elderly residents, and people who cannot risk leaving their employment, with no choice but to stay and breathe the toxic smoke.
The mine fire is also highlighting deeper problems. The failures of the private ownership of the power industry and of government regulation are highlighted, as is the inadequacy of Australia's air pollution monitoring and safety standards. The future of employment in the Valley is also brought into question if cost-cutting can cause such disasters as this.