Australia wildfires: Former PM says world ‘in grip of climate cult’, as record temperatures fan deadly flames across country

‘Sooner or later people get hit over the head by reality,’ says Tony Abbott, but 19 now dead in unprecedented crisis

Colin Drury
Friday 03 January 2020 12:17 GMT
Australian navy begins evacuating wildfire survivors

The former prime minister of Australia Tony Abbott has said the world is in “the grip of a climate cult” – as bushfires spread by record temperatures continue to ravage the country.

The one-time leader of the Liberal Party, who was prime minister from September 2013 to 2015, suggested that reducing carbon emissions should not be a priority for the current government.

“While we still seem to be in the grip of a climate cult, the climate cult is going to produce policy outcomes that will cause people to wake up to themselves,” Mr Abbott said during an interview on Israeli radio.

The 62-year-old, speaking in mid-December, but after wildfires had started, added: “Sooner or later, in the end, people get hit over the head by reality.”

The comments come as tens of thousands of Australians have had to evacuate homes during the country’s worst wildfires in decades.

At least 19 people have died and more than 1,400 homes destroyed since September as flames, fanned by temperatures reaching 40C, have spread across Victoria, New South Wales, Western Australia and Tasmania.

Some 17 people remain missing this week alone, while on Friday, it was announced the navy was to rescue hundreds of residents from the Victorian coastal town of Mallacoota, where some 4,000 people are currently living on the beach.

Experts say a combination of extreme heat, prolonged drought and strong winds have exacerbated the seasonal fires, with the country in the grip of an unprecedented heatwave. Record temperatures have occurred regularly over the last three months with the country’s hottest day ever – an average 41.9C – being charted on 18 December.

Current prime minister and Liberal Party leader Scott Morrison has himself been widely criticised during the crisis.

After initially refusing to cut short a holiday to Hawaii, he was heckled this week when he visited fire-ravaged communities in the New South Wales village of Cobargo.

Footage showed angry locals telling the PM he had “left the country to burn”.

“What about the people who are dead, prime minister?” one woman is heard asking. “What about the people who have nowhere to live?”

Speaking later, Mr Morrison told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation: “I understand the very strong feelings people have, they’ve lost everything, and there are still some very dangerous days ahead.”

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