RFS firefighter Paul Parker on 7 News. Picture: 7 News
RFS firefighter Paul Parker on 7 News. Picture: 7 News

Australia’s ‘dumb’ reaction to angry firey

OPINION

Last weekend, I took some family members from the other side of the world for a trip to the beach.

They expected a postcard vision of blue skies, crystal waters and golden sands. Instead the scene was almost apocalyptic.

A mountain range of tree branches stretched across the length of the shoreline, half turned to coal by either bonfires or bushfires, all of them sodden by the flooding rains. The smell of wet ash and rotting wood hung low in the sea air.

Towards the southern end people had taken some of the logs and made a stick village of teepees and totem poles and other makeshift wooden icons. The overall impression of the landscape was a cross between The Blair Witch Project and Cormac McCarthy's The Road.

A small sign said the beach was closed but a tentful of volunteer life savers stood watch nonetheless.

My relatives were from northern Europe, a literal people. "Does that mean we can't go on the beach?" they asked.

"No, it just means we can't go swimming," I said.

"Why?" they inquired. "Is it against the law?"

I was stumped.

"I'm not really sure," I eventually replied, "but you see those guys?" I pointed to the small mob huddled underneath their little red and yellow awning.

"They're pretty special people around here. So if they say we shouldn't swim, well, we don't swim."

I was thinking of this a few days later when the furore around so-called "Fireman Paul" erupted again, one of the many absurd political pantomimes that have demeaned and at times even derailed the recent bushfire crisis.

Volunteer firefighters, like volunteer life savers, hold an almost sacred status in the Australian community and the hearts and minds of its citizens.

Nobody forces or even asks them to do what they do, nor do they gain any material reward. Instead they sacrifice their time and sometimes even their lives to save others. And they do it purely because they choose to.

Little wonder that they are so universally venerated and little wonder that they almost always awkwardly eschew it.

Even though they are the ones who are most literally on the ground and are almost always characterised as "down to earth" they are also seen to float above politics and personal pride. They are the closest we have to real-life superheroes.

Paul Parker, 56, with his dog Rose on his property in Nelligen, NSW. Picture: Sean Davey
Paul Parker, 56, with his dog Rose on his property in Nelligen, NSW. Picture: Sean Davey

It is for this reason that Rural Fire Service member Paul Parker's expletive-laden spray against the Prime Minister was so shocking - despite also being pretty forgivable.

Parker was obviously a man under an enormous amount of stress - even as his own home was damaged by the bushfires that ravaged NSW he was out saving others, fighting the flames to the point of exhaustion. He is also obviously something of a character - a vital prerequisite for an unlimited bar tab.

But it is equally understandable that many of his comrades were angry and felt he had brought the unimpeachable status of volunteer firefighters into momentary disrepute.

It is, after all, a fiercely protected convention in Australia that uniformed personnel such as police and military officers are never seen to be remotely political or partisan. And so having a member of the RFS - which is arguably held in even higher regard - tell the Prime Minister to "get f***ed" is clearly pretty jarring.

But obviously not to everybody.

Through no fault of his own, Fireman Paul was instantly elevated to Messianic status by green-left social media warriors who seemed to see him as some kind of revolutionary hero. And then when he claimed this week to have been sacked by the RFS it was instantly seized as further proof he was a glorious martyr to the cause.

The only catch was that within 24 hours it emerged that the cause Paul Parker was fighting for wasn't the Greens but One Nation.

As Nine's political editor Chris Uhlmann so archly observed while posting a more fulsome interview with the man, the only politician Parker didn't think should "get f***ed" was Pauline Hanson.

This, needless to say, caused a bit of cognitive dissonance with the hard left social media warriors who had ridden the #IStandWithFiremanPaul hashtag like drunken bar room cowboys on a broken mechanical bull.

Of course it had never occurred to any of them that Parker was attacking the PM from the opposite end of the political spectrum. It's easy to forget that a conservative has enemies on both sides when you define a fascist as anyone who sits to the right of Fidel Castro.

As a result the groundswell of woke activist support for poor Fireman Paul has now disintegrated - so much for solidarity forever.

Lest we forget, the political leader Paul expressed so much admiration for is someone who built her career by stating Australia was in danger of being "swamped by Asians", that African immigrants were bringing diseases - "they've got AIDS" - and that Aboriginal people used to kill and eat babies and elderly women.

And yet the hard left unquestioningly flocked in their thousands to support him purely because he publicly swore at the PM only to just as quickly desert him when it emerged his politics didn't match theirs. This tells you everything you need to know about both their intellect and their loyalty.

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RFS firefighter Paul Parker on 7 News. Picture: 7 News
RFS firefighter Paul Parker on 7 News. Picture: 7 News

Even the few ideological acrobats who suddenly flipped to not supporting Fireman Paul's beliefs but merely his right to declare them had about as many legs to stand on as Ned Kelly in late 1880. After all, where were these fearless and principled warriors when the exact same thing was happening to Israel Folau?

And it is passing strange that the same crowd who lauded the impeccable character of RFS Commissioner Shane FitzSimmons - especially when he was seen as supporting their views on climate change - would then suddenly turn on him and accept without question that he had summarily dismissed one of his firefighters for political thought-crimes. Spoiler alert: He didn't.

Again, for all their talk of solidarity, loyalty has never been the hard left's strong point - just ask Comrade Trotsky.

For even the most passingly critical mind it was obvious from the outset that this story was crude, inconsistent and illogical and yet it was swallowed wholesale. No wonder it is so easy for the Hansons of this world to cry "fake news". And no wonder the #IStandWithFiremanPaul movement sank beneath the waves quicker than a Swedish surfer.

All of this is just more evidence, were any needed, of the aching stupidity of so much of the social media commentariat and the tidal lunar idiocy of hashtag activism. All it took was a supporter of the far right to tell the PM to "get f***ed" and the far left just assumed he must be one of them. It's hardly a Mensa-level entry threshold.

And so yet again the mindless howls and wails of the hard left and hard right are proven to be just as dumb and duplicitous as the other.

And often, as with Fireman Paul's accidental army, too dumb to even know they are being duplicitous.

Joe Hildebrand is the editor-at-large of news.com.au and co-hosts Studio 10, 8.30am weekdays, on Network Ten | @Joe_Hildebrand

 

As a result of his support for One Nation leader Senator Pauline Hanson the groundswell of woke activist support for poor Fireman Paul has now disintegrated. Picture: Mick Tsikas
As a result of his support for One Nation leader Senator Pauline Hanson the groundswell of woke activist support for poor Fireman Paul has now disintegrated. Picture: Mick Tsikas


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