Australian prime minister’s approval rating singed by bushfires

  • January 13, 2020

Fires have been burning in Australia’s southeastern states for months and anger at the government’s response has grown [Rick Rycroft/AP Photo]

A new poll shows the popularity of Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has declined sharply amid deepening anger at his government’s handling of the bushfires that have killed 28 people, razed more than 11 million hectares of land and destroyed 2,000 homes in the country’s east.

Newspoll showed Morrison’s approval rating dropped 8 points to the lowest level since he took over the leadership of the Liberal Party in August 2018. He was overtaken by opposition Labor leader Anthony Albanese.

Morrison has come under attack for being slow to respond to an unprecedented crisis, even taking a family holiday to Hawaii as the fires burned.

“We have heard the message loud and clear from the Australian people,” Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said on Monday, when asked about the poll result as he announced a 50 million Australian dollar wildlife protection fund.

The money will be targeted at threatened species including koalas and also be used to restore damaged animal habitats.

“They want to see a Federal Government adopt a very direct response to these natural and national disasters,” Frydenberg said.

Royal inquiry

The poll was taken after Morrison announced a 2 billion Australian dollar ($1.4 billion) bushfire recovery fund and called out 3,000 army reservists to back up state emergency workers – responses that were viewed as too slow.

No margin of error was provided for the poll, which surveyed 1,505 people from Wednesday to Saturday, although it was about 2.5 percentage points in previous Newspolls.

Satellite imagery shows fires burning south of Eden in New South Wales [Satellite image ©2020 Maxar Technologies via Reuters]

Morrison said on Sunday he would take a proposal to the Cabinet to hold a Royal Commission national inquiry into the bushfires, including examining the response to the crisis, the role and powers of the federal government and the impact of climate change.

Officials confirmed on Monday that 11.2 million hectares (27.7 million acres) of land had been razed in the fires that have been burning for months, whipped up by erratic winds and temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit).

In the worst-hit state of New South Wales, 111 fires were still burning late on Sunday, 40 of them not yet contained, but none at emergency level

Conditions eased over the weekend with showers forecast for NSW over the next few days.

“If this BOM (Bureau of Metereology) rainfall forecast comes to fruition then this will be all of our Christmas, birthday, engagement, anniversary, wedding and graduation presents rolled into one. Fingers crossed,” the NSW Rural Fire Service said on Twitter. (Reuters)