Australia wildfires: Scott Morrison says there’s ‘no better place to raise kids’ amid deadly blazes

Death toll rises to 18 with seven killed since Monday

Vincent Wood
Wednesday 01 January 2020 12:04 GMT
Amy Spencer sits at the showgrounds in the southern New South Wales town of Bega where evacuees are camping after escaping the bushfires
Amy Spencer sits at the showgrounds in the southern New South Wales town of Bega where evacuees are camping after escaping the bushfires (AFP via Getty Images)

Scott Morrison has been criticised after claiming there is “no better place to raise kids” than Australia – at the same time children are forced to flee their homes to escape bush fires that continue to engulf the east coast of the country.

The prime minister, who has faced stern rebukes from the public over his handling of the most widespread wildfire season in the nation’s history, made a plea for optimism as the nation heads into 2020 – while acknowledging the country had gone through “a tough 12 months” exacerbated by the “terrible bushfires”.

In a New Year’s message delivered alongside his wife Jenny Morrison, he added: “There’s also been the drought that continues and of course, the floods earlier last year.

“But one thing we can always celebrate in Australia is that we live in the most amazing country on earth and the wonderful Aussie spirit that means that we will always overcome whatever challenges we face. That we will always look optimistically into our future.

“There’s no better place to raise kids anywhere on the planet, and we’re all so grateful that we can live in this amazing country, and that’s something we can always give thanks for as we enter into their new year.”

His address came as photos of fires gripping the nation depicted children forced to flee their homes and stand in the sea to keep safe. Others were seen playing while wearing gas masks.

Meanwhile 18 people have died since fires broke out, including three volunteer firefighters. The latest victim, 28-year-old Sam McPaul, died when a tornado of fire flipped his 10-tonne truck, leaving behind his pregnant partner.

Seven of those killed passed away in the New South Wales region in the last three days.

School Strike for Climate – the grassroots environmental group inspired by Greta Thunberg – wrote in a Tweet: “Scott Morrison says there is ‘No better place to raise kids’ than Australia. Has he stepped outside recently?”

Mr Morrison has faced public anger throughout the unusually long wildfire season gripping the country for prioritising the economy over climate concerns and going on holiday while the nation burned.

And on New Year’s Eve, he faced further criticism after hosting the Australian and New Zealand cricket teams at Kirrabilli house on New Year’s Eve – the second residence of the nation’s PM with a prime view of the fireworks display over Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Aaron Hawkins, the mayor of Dunedin, New Zealand which has seen skies turn yellow from the smoke pouring across the ocean some 2,000km away, compared the Australian PM to Nero – who was notoriously said to have “fiddled while Rome burned”.

Referring to Mr Morrison’s support for the coal industry, he went on to accuse the prime minister of being “not just missing in action on climate, but actively promoting the tools of its instability.”

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