Rain … again

Persistent heavy rain has returned to Brisbane just a couple of days after sunshine broke the clouds. It isn’t what I’d call torrential, and from a selfish perspective I am grateful for the drop in the oppressive, humid temperature the sun brought with it. But I wonder nonetheless whether elsewhere the precipitation has been heavier and unwelcome.

Life in the city seems, on the surface, to have returned very much to normal – if your house or business wasn’t inundated and destroyed.

There is a vaguely mouldy, musty smell in the air everywhere you go, and, it seems, the water tastes more strongly of chlorine than it did in December (but that might be my overactive imagination).

The news media, too, have finally stopped the endless replays of tragic scenes and are again reporting news that has nothing to do with water and drownings, albeit half of it is about men chasing balls.

No one is talking about it, but I think the State Government has been overwhelmed with volunteers and still has no clear idea what to do with them all.

True to form, Premier Bligh has created yet more breathing room for herself, deferring critical decisions yet again by announcing a statutory authority under the leadership of Major General Mick Slater, already in charge of the disaster recovery effort. However, the body needs the imprimatur of State Parliament (only one house in Queensland), which does not resume until next month!

It’s a bloody disgrace that the Premier did not recall Parliament immediately, suggesting that once again she is dithering, following advice from political minders and putting as much distance between herself and responsibility for the management (or mismanagement) of the disaster as it’s possible to do.

If an illustration were needed at how unwieldy the state has become, bogged down in bureaucratic formalities that don’t add an ounce of accountability or efficiency, this is it. Situation normal, arse-covering in progress.

I wouldn’t really want to be correct about this, but I have the uneasy feeling that we have not yet seen the end of the state of emergency, even if the capital itself is spared a repeat of recent events. That said, I cannot stress often enough how incredibly boorish it seems to me that we have focused so selfishly on the comparatively minor inconveniences suffered by urban residents when many thousands of country Queenslanders suffered much worse and much more stoically. It is in the nature of things for the Bligh Government to skew the recovery effort towards Labor seats, predominantly in urban areas, as was made plain when the Army’s first port of call in the Brisbane cleanup was Bligh’s own electorate.

It seems, though, that I am in a minority, with almost no one in the news media raising any queries or criticisms of Bligh’s process. So be it. We deserve what we permit.

More sobering than my own misgivings about the lack of management in this crisis was the Wall Street Journal’s bleak assessment about the economic effects of the flood:

The spirits of Australia’s consumers took a hit this month from floods that have caused an estimated 20 billion Australian dollars (US$19.9 billion) of damage and lost revenue, data showed Wednesday.

The Consumer Sentiment Index fell 5.7% in seasonally adjusted terms, to 104.6 points from 111.0 in December, reported Westpac Banking Corp. and the Melbourne Institute, which compile the statistic. Annualized, the index fell a seasonally adjusted 12.9% in January. Even excluding flood-stricken Queensland, which accounts for 20% of the country’s economy, the national index still fell by 3.2%.

What’s not been said, but can be inferred by domestic observers, is that federally the fragile minority Gillard Government is perceived to be weak, all but paralysed, and led by a dithering Prime Minister unable to describe or gain support for any clear agenda. Falling consumer sentiment in the absence of leadership is hardly unexpected, though the news media seems to have been remarkably restrained in pointing out the vacuum where government normally operates.