Morrison jeered as raging fires stoke tempers

MELBOURNE • Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison faced enraged hecklers and an angry firefighter in a town ravaged by bush fires, piling pressure on the leader amid an unprecedented crisis that has killed at least 18 people.

A firefighter refused to shake his hand when he visited the town of Cobargo in New South Wales state on Thursday.

Video footage shows Mr Morrison tried to grab the man's hand, and the man got up and walked away, sparking an apology from the Prime Minister. A local fire official explained that the man had lost his house while defending other people's homes.

Another man blasted Mr Morrison for watching fireworks over Sydney Harbour from his official waterfront mansion, Kirribilli House, while fires raged further south on New Year's Eve. "You won't be getting any votes down here, buddy. You're an idiot," the man shouted.

"I don't see Kirribilli burning after the fireworks," he screamed.

Mr Morrison said yesterday that he did not take the attacks personally.

"I just see it as a sense of frustration and hurt and loss and anger that is out there about what is the ferocity of these natural disasters," he told reporters in Bairnsdale in eastern Victoria state. "And I understand that, and we will seek to provide that comfort and support in whatever way we can."

He had walked away from a Cobargo woman who urged him to provide more funding to the town and state firefighters.

Another woman shouted as he drove away: "This is not fair. We're totally forgotten about down here. Every single time this area has a flood or a fire, we get nothing."

PROVIDING SUPPORT

I just see it as a sense of frustration and hurt and loss and anger that is out there about what is the ferocity of these natural disasters. And I understand that, and we will seek to provide that comfort and support in whatever way we can.

AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER SCOTT MORRISON, on not taking personally the verbal attacks from angry residents over the bush fires.

Even a state politician from his own Liberal Party whose seat is in the region took a swipe at the Prime Minister. "To be honest, the locals gave him the welcome he probably deserved," said New South Wales Transport Minister Andrew Constance.

Mr Morrison is now considering cancelling an official trip to India scheduled for Jan 13 to 16, due to the fire emergency.

"I'm inclined not to proceed on that visit," he said yesterday.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 04, 2020, with the headline 'Morrison jeered as raging fires stoke tempers'. Print Edition | Subscribe