Australia wildfires: PM Scott Morrison admits failings in response to crisis as he proposes review

‘These are sensitive environments,’ he says

Zoe Tidman
Sunday 12 January 2020 12:01 GMT
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Australia PM Scott Morrison says he could have handled meeting public 'better' on wildfire visits

The Australian prime minister has admitted to not dealing with parts of the nation's ongoing wildfire crisis very well, as well as proposing a review into the country's response.

Scott Morrison, who has had some tense exchanges with residents while visiting affected areas, said: “There are things I could have handled on the ground much better.”

He said: "These are sensitive environments, they are very emotional environments. Prime ministers are flesh and blood too in how they engage with people."

The prime minister has been received frostily by members of the public on some visits, including some who refused to shake his hand.

Mr Morrison was filmed suggesting one firefighter who did so was "just tired", before someone replied that he had lost his house.

The PM was also caught on camera grabbing a woman’s hand who refused to shake his, and has been heckled by residents who called him a "scumbag".

Talking about visits to areas hit by blazes, he told ABC News: "I went there in the good faith ... to provide what comfort and consolation I could. But they are very strained environments and I think we need to think a little harder about how we do those."

Mr Morrison has been criticised for not doing more to combat climate change, even as Australia battles its worst wildfire season on record, which has now killed 28 people and destroyed thousands of homes.

He has also apologised for holidaying in Hawaii while blazes were raging through the country.

In the interview, he suggested the country should have a “national review” into the response to the wildfires. However, the PM rejected criticism that his government had not done enough before the bushfire season started.

Talking about the response co-ordinated and supported by the state, he said: "I think we have to acknowledge how exemplary it has been in response to what has been the scale of fire."

The PM has so far been defiant in rejecting any links between his government's conservative climate policies and the bushfires – for example, defending his country’s reliance on its coal industry – but said his government will look into improving its performance on curbing emissions.

"We want to reduce emissions and do the best job we possibly can and get better and better and better at it," he said. "I want to do that with a balanced policy which recognises Australia's broader national economic interests and social interest.”

Another firefighter became the latest casualty over the weekend when killed on duty in the state of Victoria, which has been one of the worst-hit regions by the blazes.

The wildfires are estimated to have killed one billions animals and torched more than 26 million acres, an area larger than Ireland, since they started in September.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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