Morrison apologises to 'anxious' Aussies

 

Scott Morrison has apologised to Australians, upset by his absence as bushfires ravaged through the country last week.

After returning early from his controversial holiday in Hawaii last night, the Prime Minister visited a bushfire crisis centre in NSW this morning

The Prime Minister paid a visit to the New South Wales Rural Fire Service headquarters at Sydney's Olympic Park at 8am this morning with the Minister for Natural Disaster and Emergency Management David Littleproud.

At a press conference following the visit, Mr Morrison said he understood Australians were upset by his vacation.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is briefed by NSW RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons in the NSW Rural Fire Service control room in Sydney. Picture: AAP
Prime Minister Scott Morrison is briefed by NSW RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons in the NSW Rural Fire Service control room in Sydney. Picture: AAP

"I have obviously returned from leave and I know that has caused some great anxiety in Australia and (my wife) Jenny and I acknowledge that," he said.

"If you had your time over and you had the benefit of hindsight you would have made different decisions. I'm sure Australians are fair minded and understand that when you make a promise to your kids you try and keep it but as Prime Minister you have other responsibilities and I accept that the criticism.

"Isay to those Australians I have caused upset to, I apologies for that It's important, I think that when you are confronted with these things you are front up to them and you are honest with people and that is what I'm doing now.

'THE REASON FOR MY RETURN'

Mr Morrison said the state of the fires has changed dramatically since he decided to go on holiday and since he left for Hawaii last week.

"The reason I have returned is out of a deep respect and sympathy for those Australians who were tragically killed a few nights ago," he said referring to rural firefighters Geoffrey Keaton and Andrew O'Dwyer.

"That demanded my attendance here, I believe, out of simply respect and sympathy for them and what they were going going through and that is why I have been pleased to return.

"That a decision that Mac is a decision that Jenny and we told the kids about it and Australians are fair-minded. They know at the end of a difficult year people go on leave

and they know that when dad makes a promise to the kids they like to keep it. And events late last week and not where they were today so I think it would be unfair to say the events in very recent days with the same is as a week or so ago. Nevertheless, I understand the anxiety and my people have been upset at this and that is why I am

pleased to be back.

Mr Morrison thanked firefighters for their hard work as he was updated on conditions by RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons.

PM Scott Morrison updated on bushfires at NSWRFS after returning from holiday in Hawaii. Picture: ABC
PM Scott Morrison updated on bushfires at NSWRFS after returning from holiday in Hawaii. Picture: ABC

"Our people out there are very tired," the PM said.

"Sadly, this is the sixth time I have been out to centres like this around the country since September.People are getting tired, our volunteers are getting tired. I just want to say thank you, God bless and stay safe.

Mr Morrison paid tribute to the more than 200,000 firefighters battling blazes across the country.

"Our fire services in Australia are the best in the world. The response to these disasters, these fires, is the best in the world. This is a time when Australia should be very, very proud that we have the best-resourced, most-coordinated, best-equipped fire services of any nation on earth to deal with this," he said.

"And that's because as a country, we're used to dealing with fires - admittedly and very rightly this season is much more lengthened and started a lot earlier and there isn't the respite rains that we can expect any time soon and that is making this season harder than we have seen in a long time.

But it is also true that after every fire, we sit down, we learn the lessons and we make sure we're better prepared next time and that's what's happened on this occasion."

'ISSUES OF CLIMATE CHANGE AND WEATHER EVENTS'

During an extensive press conference at NSWRFS headquarters, Mr Morrison also addressed links between the fires and climate change and his government's approach to the issues.

"Our Government has always and I have always acknowledged the connection between these weather events and these broader fire events and the impacts globally of climate change. It's one of many factors," he said.

"The drought conditions have certainly been a big contributor in terms of the dryness of the fuel load. There are also many other issues - issues of management in national parks of fuel loads, issues of back-burning and managing native vegetation and building codes.

The Prime Minister also took the opportunity to press his governments claims on fighting climate change.

"There is no argument, in my view on the view of the government, and any government in the country, about the links between broader issues of global climate change and weather events around the world," he said.

"But I'm sure people would equally acknowledge the direct connection to any single fire event is not a credible suggestion to make that link. We must take action on climate change and we are taking action on climate change. At the last election I said we would meet and beat our Kyoto targets, I said we would meet our Paris commitments and we will. We welcome investment in renewable energy technologies and at the same time we welcome the fact we pursue our climate policies while getting electricity prices down."

MORRISON DEFENDS HAWAIIAN HOLIDAY

Mr Morrison was questioned on his timing of his trip to America, when Australia was already in the midst of a bushfire crisis and whether he notified the appropriate people.

"I was in Hawaii, on a trip with my family, a trip planned seven weeks ago and when I take family leave, it is a private family time," he said.

"Each time I have taken private family leave as Prime Minister, I followed exactly the same process. There was no change. On my earlier leaves that no statement was issued. I took private family leave and no objections were raised by the press on those occasions but it is something we will rectify."

"The reason I have returned is out of a deep respect and sympathy for those Australians who were tragically killed a few nights ago. That demanded my attendance here, I believe, out of simply respect and sympathy for them and what they were going going through and that is why I have been pleased to return.

"That a decision that (my wife) Jenny told the kids about it and Australians are fair-minded. They know at the end of a difficult year people go on leave and they know that when dad makes a promise to the kids they like to keep it. And events late last week are not where they were today so I think it would be unfair to say the events in very recent days are the same as a week or so ago.

"Nevertheless, I understand the anxiety and my people have been upset at this and that is why I am pleased to be back.

Prime Morrison cut a family holiday short to respond to the bushfire crisis.

Mr Morrison arrived back on Australian soil on Saturday evening. He landed just before 8pm after getting the last seat on a Hawaiian Airlines flight from Honolulu.

But the Prime Minister managed to avoid the waiting media pack at the airport.

Mr Morrison defended his family holiday to Hawaii during the bushfire emergency, saying it was arranged some time ago.

But he has been criticised for going on leave as intense blazes continue across the nation.

NSW Rural Fire Service crews fight the Gospers Mountain Fire. Picture: AAP
NSW Rural Fire Service crews fight the Gospers Mountain Fire. Picture: AAP

Earlier Commissioner Fitzsimmons address the media after a horror Saturday.

"The reports are indicating another heavy toll, unfortunately, with estimates that property loss could be in the dozens of buildings, including homes, outbuildings, sheds and businesses. And the destruction ranges from places like Lithgow, Dargan, places around Balmoral and out towards Buxton," Mr Fitzsimmons said.

A property is lost as The Gospers Mountain Fire impacts, at Bilpin. Picture: AAP
A property is lost as The Gospers Mountain Fire impacts, at Bilpin. Picture: AAP

An elderly man is missing after staying in an attempt to defend his home in Dargan. That residence is believed to have been consumed by flames, and authorities are now searching for him.

"I commend the firefighters in the community for their extraordinary response and their efforts yesterday in awful conditions," Mr Fitzsimmons said.

Twitter photo of Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and wife Jenny on their Hawaiian holiday. Pic: Twitter - Ben Parsons @paso81
Twitter photo of Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and wife Jenny on their Hawaiian holiday. Pic: Twitter - Ben Parsons @paso81

Mr Morrison's return comes as conditions ease.

Sky News reports, cooler conditions sweeping across New South Wales bushfire affected zones have seen emergency level alerts downgraded to a watch and act, but the threat is far from over.

Fires at Upper Turon, Blue Mountains, Gospers Mountain have been downgraded, with 106 blazes continuing to burn across the state, and 50 yet to be contained.

A total fire ban is in place for the North Western and Northern Slopes region, and one man is still unaccounted for after his home in Dargan was destroyed.

'AWFUL' CONDITIONS FOR FIREFIGHTERS

With the worst of a distorting southerly blast over, NSW authorities say they must now count the cost of a horror day on the state's fire grounds. An elderly man whose home was consumed by flames remains missing and dozens of properties have been damaged or destroyed by bushfires which raged during heatwave NSW conditions on Saturday.

Balmoral burns in south western Sydney as bushfires destroy homes in the area. Picture: Sam Ruttyn
Balmoral burns in south western Sydney as bushfires destroy homes in the area. Picture: Sam Ruttyn

Rural Fire Service commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons described the day as "awful" for firefighters, with up to 20 homes lost to the immense Gospers Mountain fire northwest of Sydney alone.

At least two more properties were razed near Batemans Bay on the south coast, and others at Balmoral southwest of Sydney.

Other parts of the nation continue to be hit hard by bushfires.

A building destroyed by fire on Cudlee Creek Rd, Cudlee Creek in the Adelaide Hills, Adelaide. Picture: AAP
A building destroyed by fire on Cudlee Creek Rd, Cudlee Creek in the Adelaide Hills, Adelaide. Picture: AAP

MORRISON 'PLEASED' TO BE RETURNING

The shocking deaths of two volunteer firefighters in NSW prompted Mr Morrison to return from leave.

He expressed his condolences to the families of Geoffrey Keaton, 32, and Andrew O'Dwyer, 36, who lost their lives when their truck rolled while fighting a fire in Buxton, NSW.

Police said the driver and a front passenger died at the scene.

The two firefighters have been identified as members of the Horsley Park RFS.

The two firefighters killed in a vehicle accident have been identified as Geoffrey Keaton and Andrew O’Dwyer.
The two firefighters killed in a vehicle accident have been identified as Geoffrey Keaton and Andrew O’Dwyer.

Mr Morrison copped heavy criticism after taking leave while intense bushfires raged along the country's east coast and millions of people choked through heavy smoke haze.

On Friday he apologised for causing offence after he went on holidays while much of his home state was on fire and less than a week after the White Island tragedy.

In an interview with Sydney radio station 2GB, Mr Morrison confirmed he was in Hawaii with his wife Jenny and their daughters, but was "pleased to be returning".

Mr Morrison said he had been spending time with his family, which was a "surprise" trip he took them on.

"I tried to give them a nice surprise and take them here," he said.

"Dads try to do what they can when they work hard all year. Mate that's what I was trying to do. It's unfortunate it's come at this time."

He also emphasised his statement, saying he regretted any offence he may have caused.

"I deeply regret any offence caused to any of the many Australians affected by the terrible bushfires by my taking leave with family at this time," he previously stated.

Fire and Rescue NSW (FRNSW) crews engage in property protection of a number of homes along the Old Hume Highway near the town of Tahmoor as the Green Wattle Creek Fire. Picture: AAP
Fire and Rescue NSW (FRNSW) crews engage in property protection of a number of homes along the Old Hume Highway near the town of Tahmoor as the Green Wattle Creek Fire. Picture: AAP

"I have been receiving regular updates on the bushfires disaster as well as the status of the search for and treatment of the victims of the White Island tragedy."

He said he took the time now to spend time with his family because of the upcoming official government visit to India and Japan in January.

His wife and children will stay on in Hawaii while he will fly back as soon as he can get on a plane to Sydney.

"Jen and girls will stay on ... I know Australians will understand this," he said.

"I don't hold a hose and I dont sit in a control room ... I know Australians would want me back after these fires."

He defended his Acting Prime Minister Michael McCormack saying they were in contact with each other this week, despite claims his leadership was lacking.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is coming home. Picture: Getty
Prime Minister Scott Morrison is coming home. Picture: Getty

He warned there were hard days ahead amid the horrendous fires ravaging much of his home state.

"They (the firefighters) were bravely defending their communities with an unmatched spirit and a dedication that will forever set them apart among our most courageous Australians," Mr Morrison said.

"Their sacrifice and service saving lives and saving properties will be forever remembered. I wish those injured all the best in their recovery.

Video still shows the scene where two volunteers firefighters lost their lives after their truck rolled during operations on the frontline on Wilson Drive in Buxton. Picture: NineNews
Video still shows the scene where two volunteers firefighters lost their lives after their truck rolled during operations on the frontline on Wilson Drive in Buxton. Picture: NineNews

"Our hearts go out to their families, friends and colleagues who have been working tirelessly beside them, particularly during this Christmas period."

In the statement released early Friday the Prime Minister also reminded everyone in fire areas to stay safe and to band together.

"These fires and heat conditions are horrendous, and there are still difficult days ahead, with Saturday predicted to be the most severe day, with extreme temperatures and wind making conditions very difficult for fire crews," he said.

Emergency services crews pictured at the scene on Wilson Drive in Buxton following a fatal accident that killed two volunteer firefighters and injured three others. Picture: TNV
Emergency services crews pictured at the scene on Wilson Drive in Buxton following a fatal accident that killed two volunteer firefighters and injured three others. Picture: TNV

"We wish all of those putting themselves in harm's way for all of us, all the best. Stay safe, stay together.

"Know that Australians are deeply grateful. To Australians living in fire-ravaged regions, please heed the warnings of the authorities, and stay safe.

"The Federal Government stands ready to deploy whatever further assistance State and Territory authorities request to manage this disaster."