02/01/2020 21:23 GMT | Updated 03/01/2020 10:54 GMT

Australian Bushfires: Prime Minister Scott Morrison Heckled Over Crisis In Latest Embarrassment

Former PR man criticised for forced handshakes, a holiday in Hawaii and climate change policies.

Australian prime minister Scott Morrison has been confronted by angry residents whose lives have been destroyed by bushfires in the latest in a series of embarrassments for the country’s leader.

Morrison, who stunned the nation with his May election victory, was touring the town of Cobargo in New South Wales on Thursday when he was heckled by locals who criticised his response to the bushfires and told him to “fuck off”. 

One woman shouted: “What about the people who are dead now Mr Prime Minister?”

Another resident added: “Every single time this area has a flood or a fire, we get nothing. If we were Sydney, if we were north coast, we would be flooded with donations with urgent emergency relief.”

Morrison said he was “not surprised” that people are “feeling very raw at the moment”.


Scott Morrison is confronted by angry residents as he visited a wildfire-ravaged Cobargo, in New South Wales.


At least eight people have died this week in New South Wales and neighbouring Victoria, Australia’s two most-populous states, where more than 200 fires are currently burning.

Authorities said 381 homes had been destroyed on the New South Wales southern coast this week, while 18 people have died since the fires began burning.

Some 12.35 million acres of land – an area almost the size of Croatia – have burned nationwide over the past few months, with more than 1,300 homes destroyed.

But the confrontation was not the first difficult moment for the leader of the Liberal Party and former PR man that underlines the growing anger among Australians.


Forcing A Woman To Shake His Hand 

Morrison was at the centre or another flashpoint in Cobargo as he approached a woman to shake her hand.

“How are you?,” Morrison asked, as the woman had her hands by her side. He then reached out and took her hand and started shaking it.

The woman, who appeared reluctant, said: “I’m only shaking your hand if you give more funding to our RFS [Rural Fire Service]. So many people have lost their homes.”

Another man tried to prevent the woman from confronting Morrison further, footage from the Nine Network shows.

“We need more help,” she said, as Morrison walked away.


Firefighter Refuses Handshake

The prime minister also on Thursday visited firefighters of the New South Wales Rural Fire Service in Quaama, where one of the men refused to shake his hand.

In the footage, Morrison can be seen trying to shake the firefighter’s hand, however, the man only looks at the PM’s hand before shaking his head. 

“I don’t really want to shake your hand,” the firefighter says.


Morrison then leans down to grab the fireman’s hand but he again refuses. The prime minister then walks away - patting the man’s shoulder as he leaves.

“Oh, well. Nice to see you,” Morrison can be heard saying. 

Morrison was later heard telling a fire official: “Tell that fella I’m really sorry, I’m sure he’s just tired.”

“No, no, he’s lost a house,” the incident controller tells him.


Criticism For Refusing To Cut Short Holiday 

At the start of the disaster, Morrison faced calls to resign after it was revealed he was holidaying in Hawaii while the country battled the emergency.

After the deaths of two firefighters, Morrison announced he would return home early, and on Sunday he acknowledged his holiday had caused anxiety.

“I get it that people would have been upset to know that I was holidaying with my family while their families were under great stress,” Morrison said.

Reflecting the mood of many, a mural of Morrison in a Hawaiian shirt with flames around him appeared in Sydney. Morrison was pictured saying “Merry Crisis!!” via a speech bubble.

The prime minister had already prompted outrage when he said “I don’t hold a hose, mate” while on holiday during the country’s catastrophe.

Morrison told radio station 2GB from Hawaii: “I don’t hold a hose, mate, and I don’t sit in a control room.”


Views On Climate Change

On his return from Hawaii, Morrison further inflamed his political critics by saying there would be no change to the country’s climate policy.

In Australia, the world’s largest exporter of coal, climate and energy policy have infused politics for a decade.

Australia has pledged to cut carbon emissions by 26% from 2005 levels by 2030, but critics say Morrison is paying lip service to the commitment.

Earlier this month, Australia drew criticism at a United Nations summit in Madrid for its climate change policy of using old carbon credits to count toward future emissions targets.

Morrison this week said there was no argument that there is a link between climate change and weather events around the world - but said it was not credible to make a direct connection to any single fire event and climate change.

But his views have been summed up by once brandishing a lump of coal in parliament, and crying: “This is coal - don’t be afraid!”

WILLIAM WEST via Getty Images
A mural showing Scott Morrison holding a lump of coal as it advertises a rally by students around the world to protest against climate change.


‘Not My PM’

On Twitter on Tuesday, #NotMyPrimeMinister, #MorrisonMustGo and #ScoMoResign were the top trending topics in Australia after a viral video showed a volunteer firefighter, Jacqui, shaking hands with Morrison as she said “not my prime minister”.

“Jacquie is all of us,” Twitter user Yabba said. Another user @bugwannostra tweeted “she’s only saying what more than 12 million think...” 

The tweet prompted Morrison to issue a clarification on Tuesday. “Indeed, as Jacqui joked with me yesterday, I’m not her PM, because she’s British, Boris Johnson is,” he tweeted.


Bushfires And Cricket

Morrison spent New Year’s day with the Australian and New Zealand cricket teams, who he invited for a game of backyard cricket at his home in the run-up to the Sydney test match.

Morrison faced criticism when he described the bushfires as “something that will happen against the backdrop of this test match” and that Australians will “be inspired by the great feats of our cricketers”.

In November, as thousands of koalas died as fires engulfed Port Macquarie on the NSW coast, he linked the natural disaster with the test team.

“Going to be a great summer of cricket, and for our firefighters and fire-impacted communities, I’m sure our boys will give them something to cheer for,” he said.