Australia fires: PM admits mistakes in handling of crisis

  • January 12, 2020

Scott Morrison admitted there were “things I could have handled on the ground much better”. Photo : EPA

Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison has expressed regret over his handling of the bushfire crisis ravaging the country.

The PM has faced mounting criticism over his government’s response to the bushfires and its climate policy.

Since September, bushfires have killed at least 28 people and destroyed thousands of homes.

On Sunday, Morrison conceded there were “things I could have handled on the ground much better”.

Wallabies eat hay left out for them by land holders near Cooma, Australia January 12, 2020. REUTERS/Tracey Nearmy

In recent weeks, Morrison has been heckled by locals when visiting fire-hit communities in the states of New South Wales and Victoria, where the worst blazes are concentrated.

In the town of Cobargo in New South Wales, one woman demanded more resources for the fire service, while others called Morrison an “idiot” and said “you won’t be getting any votes down here”.

“These are sensitive environments, they are very emotional environments,” Morrison said in a TV interview with ABC.

“Prime ministers are flesh and blood too in how they engage with these people.”

Acknowledging the pressure fire services were facing, Morrison said there was a “new appetite” for the government to take a more direct role in responding to the disaster.

The PM said he would seek a royal commission review – a type of public inquiry – into the country’s response to the bushfire crisis.

Smoke rises from a fire at the Adaminaby Complex near Yaouk, New South Wales, Australia January 11, 2020. REUTERS/Tracey Nearmy

Last month, Morrison was criticised for going on holiday to Hawaii as the bushfire crisis worsened. The rising public anger at his absence eventually forced him to cut that trip short.

What did the PM say about climate change?

Morrison’s government has been accused of not doing enough to address climate change, which experts say could increase the intensity, frequency and scale of bushfires.

But in the interview, the PM defended his government’s approach, which he said took into account the effect of climate change on the bushfires.

“We’re living in longer, hotter, drier summers,” the PM said. “This is obviously affected by the broader changes in climate.”

Pressed on his plan to reduce carbon emissions, Morrison insisted his government was on track to “meet and beat” its targets.