A quick word association game in relation to the flood disaster that has hit Queensland and Victoria. I say the words 'Flood disaster' and you say the first thing that pops into your head. Ready?
Ok, let's try that again.
Oh wait, that's right, I'm sitting here by myself. Ok! Well then let's have a 'Google' search fill in for the other person. Type 'Flood disaster' into Google and you'll get the following list of words (a brief selection from many):
Chaos, volunteer, emotional support, grief, wiped out, severe, victims, devastation, biblical, stranded, wall of water, ruin.
Which probably sums up the situation pretty nicely, without any turgid linking material from me. I mean, it all sounds very serious, horrific and heartbreaking. A bad thing, in other words, without any obvious upside.
So is it cheeky to propose that some of the nations political leadership are slowly, carefully and very privately starting to think about the advantages of the crisis? And, more specifically, how they will benefit from those advantages? Well, perhaps it would be, if this wasn't exactly what has started to take place.
This is not to suggest that the political leaders in question don't take it all very seriously. I mean, some of their best friends are flood victims. And they're obviously emotionally effected by what's happened, just as the public at large has been. To varying degrees, they have committed themselves personally to trying to help the people in those regions.
But what I am suggesting is that politics is politics and is applicable in every situation, short of apocalyptic nuclear war. And even then, if more than one person survived the mushroom clouds and the fallout, you can bet that the next day the survivors would have formed into rival groups and would be arguing about how to distribute the one remaining crate of baked beans. And just like every situation where politics is a factor, there are bound to be angles to be worked, opportunities to be taken and enemies to be vanquished.
A brief look then, at some of the major political players and how they are trying to subtly, craftily and oh so gently turn the flood crisis to their advantage.
The obvious political beneficiary of the flood crisis, Bligh has been turned from someone about as popular as her namesake, the one who captained the HMAS Bounty, to someone regularly referred to as a 'hero.' She has done this through hard work, dedication, a few tears and relentless use of the phrase 'Queenslander.' As in 'We're all Queenslanders, you and I, and we're built tough up here.' Bligh has been too busy to really reap the benefits of what has happened yet, but she can expect to be significantly boosted in the polls when it's all over. Expect her to take her chance to properly revitalise her political fortunes and sweep away some of her dud ministers, replacing them with people much like herself, preferably one's in gumboots and muddy shirts who lost their house (or, at least the family Subaru).
That's right, that's her in the back. Anyways, the Prime Minister has not been enjoying the best of runs from the press during the flood crisis, least of all when she's standing beside the anointed hero noted above, but in her diligent, plodding way is doing her best to cash in on the situation regardless. Her prime mechanism for this is a reordering of Government budgetary priorities, AKA 'Tax and Don't Spend.' The Federal Government is committed to paying for 75% of the reconstruction bill after the waters subside and the PM has decided to pay for this in two ways. Firstly, by cutting back in Government spending in some areas , AKA cutting unpopular, poorly conceived and just plain barmy policies like her loopy 'Cash for clunkers' scheme. This allows her to get rid of policies she wanted to ditch anyway, without appearing to break her election promises. Secondly, Labor plans to raise money by introducing a short term levy on most everyone not living in a flooded area; AKA a brand new tax on workers earning more than $50 000 per annum to be maintained, essentially, at the PM's whim. This allows Labor to cover up some of the shortfall in their finances they created when they cut their mining tax back while not cancelling any of the unpopular, loopy and just plain barmy policies that they're really attached to. And it gives them some remote, unlikely hope of still getting the budget back to surplus by 2050 (or whenever it is they're proposing to do it by).
In times of crisis, Opposition Leaders often find themselves somewhat marginalised, and Tony 'Stop the Boats' Abbott is no exception. After all, Opposition leaders can't allocate funds or call out the troops or really do anything except talk... and initially no one wanted to hear anyone speaking except Anna Bligh. But 'Stop the Boats' has his chance now that the aforementioned new levy/tax is on the table, as it gives him a fine opportunity to do what he does best; rush around the country with his shirt sleeves rolled up, yelling non stop about how he's fundamentally opposed to blah-blah-blah until his brain nearly dies from oxygen deprivation. You can almost hear his advisors grinning to each other as Abbott takes a deep breath and prepares to start his angry man routine: 'He's back!'
'Big Ted' Baillieu has been a little love starved as well, what with Victoria not getting quite as much rain or as badly damaged as Queensland, so consequently his political opportunities have been fewer. Nevertheless, 'Big Ted' hit the media yesterday to stake out his political territory, which you could basically think of as 'Don't Do It And Do It Faster.' Essentially, he said words to the effect that he also opposed Federal Labor's new levy/tax, that he thought it was immoral and wrong and would hurt working families in Victoria... and that Federal Labor were wholly responsible for fixing Victoria up and if they didn't give him a chunk of cash the size of the Opera House straight away then he'd have to start stalking the PM wearing nothing but a pair of Speedos. Which puts him in an almost impregnable position, politically; if Labor raise the cash and give it to him they've hurt Victorian families and if they don't they've neglected flood victims. So yes, he's done a fine job with the political maneuvering... And a less fine job in terms of what he's done, tangibly, constructively, in reality, to actually help any of his constituents. At this point it's obvious where his priorities lie.
And these are only the more obvious examples of the political benefits that are flowing from the floods. More can be expected to be heard from the players noted above, as well as from any half well known elected official that can get themselves in front of a microphone and try and work the situation to their advantage.
If you were to make comparisons, a natural disaster most closely resembles a war in it's political impact, in that it mesmerises the population, provides ample opportunity for political advancement, costs and generates staggering amounts of revenue and can prove fatal to any politician who does not handle it deftly. And while you consider this and all the political activity that will buzz around the floods in the coming weeks, it is perhaps worth considering the other trait that natural disaster share with wars: They both often have truth as a first casualty.