‘You’ve lost their respect’: PM grilled
Scott Morrison has faced a fresh grilling on his response to the bushfire crisis in the wake of his visit to Cobargo on Thursday, where he faced furious locals.
Leila McKinnon interviewed the Prime Minister on A Current Affair last night, and started with a particularly blunt question.
"People didn't even want to shake your hand out there. Do you feel that you have lost the respect of Australians?" she asked.
"People are really hurting," Mr Morrison replied.
He said he'd experienced "different receptions" from different people in fire-affected areas and emotions were running "very raw".
"I don't take any of that personally," he said.
McKinnon asked whether Mr Morrison had "any regrets" about the way he "compelled" people to shake his hand during his visit to Cobargo.
Footage taken on the ground showed him taking the hand of 20-year-old mum Zoey Salucci-McDermott, even as she told him she didn't want to shake his hand unless he boosted funding for the Rural Fire Service.
"Some want to reach out, some are a little more stand-offish, and look, I understand that. It is a very emotional time," Mr Morrison said. "You seek to try in good faith, and in goodwill."
McKinnon asked whether the Prime Minister regretted walking away from Ms Salucci-McDermott.
"Zoey and I did speak, actually, of her concerns, and she did raise the issue of the level of support for the RFS," said Mr Morrison.
We should note that Ms Salucci-McDermott has disputed that claim. She's accused the Prime Minister of turning his back on her.
Moving on, McKinnon brought up Mr Morrison's comment, made at a reception for the Australian and New Zealand cricket teams earlier this week, that Australians would be "inspired" by the cricket.
"Oh, look Leila, that's been taken a bit out of context," he said.
Photographer @seandaveyaus says @ScottMorrisonMP office arrived at Cobargo shed withhout any water or snacks and when Captain of Cobargo RFS said he hadn’t eaten all day let him ‘get back to it.’ Only Jenny Morrison gave him a hug pic.twitter.com/l00E4TOzsm— 𝕤𝕒𝕞𝕒𝕟𝕥𝕙𝕒 𝕞𝕒𝕚𝕕𝕖𝕟 (@samanthamaiden) January 3, 2020
McKinnon again pressed Mr Morrison on whether he regretted his leadership during the crisis, given he's now had "time to reflect".
"It's not about me," he responded.
"It's about the people who need support on the ground, and that's what I'm focused on. Not the other issues. That's for others to Twitter about."
"We are hearing from fire chiefs that they tried to warn you that this was going to be the kind of catastrophic fire season we are having. You didn't heed those warnings. Do you have regrets there?" McKinnon continued.
"That isn't true. I listen to the fire chiefs that are in their jobs now," said Mr Morrison.
Technically the warnings in question here came from a group of former fire chiefs, who tried to meet with the Prime Minister last year without success.
"They (the current chiefs) provided those exact same warnings, and we prepared our services to deal with the situation," Mr Morrison said.
"Because of the drought, because of the fact there have been no quenching rains following these fires starting, that means this season is running longer and is presenting more difficult challenges."
Asked what could have been done better, Mr Morrison said only that "we will learn those lessons", without going into any more detail.
The interview ended with another abrupt exchange
"Have you been working the phones, trying to get more resources from overseas?" the host asked.
"Of course," Mr Morrison said.
"Can we expect any more planes?" said McKinnon.
"Yes," he replied.
"When will we see them? That is good news this evening," she asked.
"It is. This is what we do, as things escalate," he said, going on to talk about the extra $11 million his government had committed to enhance aerial firefighting resources.
The core question - when will the new planes arrive - remained unanswered.
Ms Salucci-McDermott, a young mum from Cobargo in NSW's south, was one of the many locals to lose everything as the out-of-control Badja Forest Road bushfire destroyed much of the town on December 31.
She has a 22-month-old girl and is pregnant with her second child, was in the clip that went viral yesterday when Mr Morrison visited the fire-ravaged town.
Staring straight at the PM, Ms McDermott was introduced to him but refused to put out her hand to shake it.
"I'm only shaking your hand if you give more money to our RFS," Ms McDermott said, as Mr Morrison grabbed her hand himself and shook it.
Through tears, Ms McDermott continued: "So many people here have lost their homes. We need more help."
As Ms McDermott finished her sentence, the PM placed his hand on her shoulder and turned away from her.
Taking to Facebook last night, Ms McDermott revealed she was one of the many people to lose everything in the blaze.
"I have lost everything I own," she wrote on Facebook.
"My house is burnt to the ground and the Prime Minister turned his back on me."
Speaking to 10 News on Friday, Ms McDermott said seeing the PM turn away "broke my heart".
"I would've happily sat down and had a cup of tea with him if he had of asked 'are you OK, what can we do to fix this situation'," she said.
"It's a war-zone and he walked away when I asked for help … we're desperate."
Ms McDermott wasn't the only one to turn the heat on the PM as he visited Cobargo.
Mr Morrison was yelled at by locals and refused a number of handshakes while visiting the ruined town with one telling him to "f**k off back to Sydney".
"Go on, get in the car and p*ss off back to Kirribilli mate … you wanker," another local yelled as the PM retreated from the community.
Mr Morrison commented on his encounter with Ms McDermott in a press conference from Bairnsdale, in the fire-ravaged region of East Gippsland, Victoria, this afternoon.
"With all due respect, it didn't seem like you were supporting (Cobargo) - when a woman expressed her concerns, there was a bit of an awkward moment - you walked away. Is that really 'offering support'?" a reporter asked.
"I stood there with the same lady you're referring to. We talked about what she was asking there, which was greater support for the firefighting effort in that part of New South Wales. So we talked about that," Mr Morrison responded.
Earlier on Friday, Mr Morrison also said he had apologised to a senior New South Wales Liberal minister who wasn't informed the PM was visiting a town in his electorate.
On Sunrise, NSW Transport Minister and Bega MP Andrew Constance took an extraordinary swipe at Mr Morrison, declaring he "probably gave him the welcome he deserved".
Mr Constance barely saved his own home in Malua Bay from an out-of-control bushfire.
"I didn't even know he was coming and I haven't had a call from him," Mr Constance told Seven's Sunrise this morning when asked if people elsewhere in his electorate felt the same as Cobargo.
"So to be honest the locals probably gave him the welcome he probably deserved.
"I would say this to the Prime Minister today: the nation wants you to open up the cheque book and obviously help people rebuild their lives."
Mr Morrison said he didn't take the criticism personally.
"I've known Andrew for a long time, and I've reached out to him today. Andrew, like so many in that part of New South Wales - his neighbour lost his own property there, and he's been defending his own property there," he said.
"He's deeply part of that community. So I can understand how Andrew would be feeling at the moment.
"So I've reached out to him today, and offered that apology to him. I was under the understanding that we had made contact with him. That wasn't the case. And that's regretted. "But I assumed that he was otherwise occupied on that day, which would be completely understandable. But Andrew's been through a terrible, terrible experience and ordeal, and so I totally understand how he'd be feeling."
While visiting Cobargo yesterday afternoon, locals yelled at the PM and told him to "f**k off" back to Sydney.
"Go on, get in the car and p*ss off back to Kirribilli mate … you wanker," one local yelled as the PM retreated from the destroyed community.
"The locals probably gave him the welcome that he probably deserved. I'd say this to the Prime Minister today, 'the nation wants you to open up the cheque books...'" - Member for Bega @AndrewConstance speaking about @ScottMorrisonMP's visit to Cobargo. https://t.co/mmFXlyG1Zw pic.twitter.com/A687DxxwKz— 7NEWS Sydney (@7NewsSydney) January 2, 2020
The PM said he was happy for people to direct their anger at him as it would not "distract" him.
"People are angry … and if people want to direct that at me, that is up to them. It's not something that will distract me. It is something that I will empathise with," he said.
"It is something that I understand. It's not something for me to take personally. My job is to stay focused on ensuring that we have the maximum co-ordination of effort across many
"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 said.
"And I understand that, and we will seek to provide that comfort and support in whatever way we can."
Mr Morrison also confirmed he was reconsidering his trip to India, which he was due to fly out for next Sunday.