3 Jan 2020

Australia bushfires: Morrison told he should be 'ashamed' as he visits affected town

12:57 pm on 3 January 2020

Australia's prime minister has been confronted by angry protesters in the bushfire-hit town of Cobargo, in New South Wales.

This handout photograph taken and released on December 23, 2019 by the Australian Prime Minister's Office shows Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison flying over bushfires in an Australian Defence Force helicopter in New South Wales.

Australian PM Scott Morrison flying over bushfires in an Australian Defence Force helicopter in New South Wales. Photo: AFP / Australian prime minister's office

Two people died near the small village when it was hit by a raging bushfire early on New Year's Eve.

Visiting Cobargo on Thursday, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison was to meet emergency services workers and bushfire victims, but also found himself confronted by a group of angry locals.

One protester told Morrison he should be "ashamed of himself" and said he had "left the country to burn".

The protester yelled: "You're a mutt ScoMo".

"I'm not surprised people are feeling very raw at the moment," Morrison told the ABC after the confrontation.

"That's why I came today, to be here, to see it for myself [and] offer what comfort I could.

"I understand the strong feelings people have; they've lost everything. There's been a lot of emotion ... and I understand that emotion."

Watch Australian PM Scott Morrison interact with locals of fire-ravaged Cobargo:

Black Caps caught in crossfire

Morrison also come under fire for hosting the Black Caps and Australian cricket team at an event before their third test in Sydney, says CNN's Australian Correspondent Anna Coren.

"That's how abandoned people are feeling here in the fire zones; whilst people are fighting fires, whilst they're losing their lives the prime has been entertaining cricket team members - it really is extraordinary.

"And these people are angry, they feel like the government have not done enough."

Emergency powers enacted

Morrison's visit to Cobargo came as authorities warned conditions in the firegrounds of NSW and Victorian on Saturday could be as bad as those on New Year's Eve.

Both states have now enacted emergency powers; the NSW premier has declared a week-long state of emergency, while a sate of disaster has been announced in Victoria.

In NSW tourists have been ordered to get out of a 14,000 sqkm area between the town of Nowra, south of Sydney, and the edge of Victoria's northern border.

A firefighter trying to stop a fire reaching a house near the NSW town of Nowra, on December 31, 2019.

A firefighter trying to stop a fire reaching a house near the NSW town of Nowra, on 31 December. Photo: AFP

Many evacuees are struggling to find fuel to fill up their vehicles, and there are long queues outside supermarkets and shops.

Across the border in Victoria the Navy has been called in to help evacuate the town of Mallacoota, which was ravaged by fires on New Year's Eve.

Hundreds of homes have been destroyed and eight people are known to have died.

Morrison is set to meet with the National Security Committee of Cabinet on Monday to discuss the ongoing response to the bushfire crisis.

Asked whether his response to the crisis was adequate, the prime minister said now was a time to remain calm.

"This isn't about prime ministers, premiers, mayors, politics, it's about the people that need the help and the resources on the ground," he said at a briefing in the fire-ravaged town of Cobargo.

"That's the only thing that has my focus and attention."

'We cannot control the natural disaster but what we can do is control our response'

Earlier Morrison told the public the best way to respond was "the way that Australians have always responded to these events" and to have confidence in state emergency services.

"What we can do is support those who are out there putting themselves at risk by showing the patience and the calm that is necessary."

However, he did confirm the National Security Committee of Cabinet would meet on Monday to address "contingencies" required for the current fire season "as well as the longer-term response, and some issues we have identified to consider amongst premiers after the fires".

"We are considering every option because we know the fire season still has a long time to run, and particularly now as we are calling in more Australian Defence Force assets to deal with this," he said.

Growing climate concern

The bushfires have already proven a lightning rod for concern around the warming climate, and more criticism of Federal Government policy exploded on Thursday.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese said the bushfires were "certainly not business as usual", and as a national emergency the situation should prompt a more ambitious response to emissions reduction.

"Here's the contradiction in the government's position - they say, 'Oh, well, we're just 1.3 percent of [global] emissions, therefore we don't have a responsibility to act, it won't really make a difference'," he said.

"But the truth is that if everyone says that, of course, no one will act."

The remains of burnt out buildings along main street in the New South Wales town of Cobargo on December 31, 2019.

The remains of burnt out buildings along main street in the New South Wales town of Cobargo on 31 December 2019. Photo: AFP

At a press conference in Sydney, Morrison defended his government's response to the fires and pledged to "meet and beat" Australia's emission reduction targets.

He highlighted the Federal Government's role in supporting those affected through disaster relief payments and the deployment of defence force assets.

And he reiterated the need to find a balance between a "vibrant and viable economy, as well as a vibrant and sustainable environment".

"The suggestion that there is a single policy, whether it be climate or otherwise, that can provide a complete insurance policy on fires in Australia - well I don't think any Australian has ever understood that was the case in this country," he said.

Young Liberals in climate push

A call for a fresh approach to emission reductions emerged from within the Coalition's support base on Thursday.

The NSW Young Liberals called for a "policy framework" that provides more certainty in the market and encourages investment in more efficient technology - including incentives for businesses and households to reduce their emissions.

"We don't have to choose between a strong economy and action on climate change," said NSW Young Liberal president Chaneg Torres.

"The Young Liberal movement fully supports the Prime Minister and believes he is doing a really good job at the moment, he's doing his best.

"But from our point of view as young people, we see it as particularly pertinent to us and we just want to encourage the government to be thinking about the future generations."

Last month, NSW Environment Minister Matt Kean broke ranks with his Liberal colleagues in Canberra, demanding more action be taken on climate change.

New Zealand firefighters head off across the ditch

After a request from Australia, a new contingent of 22 fire personnel from New Zealand will head to assist with the bush fires on Monday, and stay until 20 January.

The team will be made up of 20 firefighters, a strike team leader, and a liaison officer.

The first deployment of New Zealand fire personnel headed to Australia in November, and since then 157 have assisted in New South Wales and Queensland.

The last group of firefighters returned to New Zealand on 17 December to enable them to be home for Christmas.

Ardern offers helping hand

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says New Zealand will continue to do what it can to assist battling the Australian fires.

She has been in touch with her Australian counterpart Scott Morrison again this week.

Ardern said she has passed on the country's condolences as well her own, saying the scale of loss was devastating.


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