Government and disaster

Policeman in Egypt

Ross Gittins, in his column this week talked about how much we seem to distrust the government because we don’t want to pay extra taxes to help flood victims, even though we are very willing to give money voluntarily.

And yet Julie Bishop this week complained that the government isn’t doing enough, because some Australians might not be able to take an Australian government chartered plane out of Cairo, as it is taking too long to get there.

I am sure that Cairo is pretty uncomfortable for anyone there right now. Because nobody much has worked for a week, food and money distribution systems are starting to break down, so it is hard to get food, and cash. If you are staying in a central Cairo hotel, you are likely very close to Tahrir Square, where the main protests are, so it is sensible to try and get out.

But as far as I can tell, all the people killed and injured so far have been protesters, or police. A tourist is probably pretty safe, at least so far. It may descend into serious anarchy, but it hasn’t got anywhere near that yet.

I was in Cairo two weeks ago, so I have been thinking about this a lot. If I were in Cairo right now I would be very grateful for anyone helping to get me out. But should the government have to do it? I don’t think there should be that much political capital available to the opposition because people have to wait a few days for rescue from discomfort.

And as I write this, the people of Cairns and Far North Queensland are in the middle of a category 5 cyclone, with the Queensland government warning that for 24 hours, nobody will be able to come to their aid, because it will be too dangerous for emergency workers.

No government can stop that. But from what I can read from far away, the Queensland government has done everything possible to prepare the population for the inevitable.  To me, that is the role of government. It is doing as much as possible to prepare for disaster, taking the tough decisions of creating and enforcing expensive building codes, and then helping people rebuild afterwards.

It is nice to be a citizen of a rich enough country that we can think that airlifting citizens who have chosen to holiday somewhere less stable when everything goes pear shaped. But in a situation when we are arguing about how to pay for rebuilding flooded infrastructure? Rescuing the middle class on holidays is definitely optional.

  1 comment for “Government and disaster

  1. Donald Lang (Grandpa)
    February 5, 2011 at 8:35 am

    There are phrases that I think I know, but I can get caught wondering what they mean and where they come from.
    Being pear shaped suits a pear. What is wrong with it for the rest of us?
    While I am about it, what turns to custard, and is there anything wrong with that?
    Over half a century ago, one of my mentors used to refer to anything specially improbable as “Like smoke in a wheelbarrow”. I don’t think I parsed it then.
    Sorry to carry on like a pork chop. In a more parochial setting, that of course is a two bob watch.

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