Australia

Climate dispute breaks out as Scott Morrison visits bushfire-hit areas

Prime Minister Scott Morrison comforts a man who escaped bushfires during a visit to an evacuation centre on Sunday. Source: AAP

A war of words has broken out about the link between climate change and the unprecedented bushfire emergency that has hit NSW and Queensland.

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack has lashed out at Greens MP Adam Bandt over "stupid and callous" comments linking the government's inaction on climate change and bushfires that have claimed three lives in New South Wales.

On Saturday, Mr Bandt tweeted that "words and concern are not enough ... the Prime Minister does not have the climate emergency under control".

Asked for his response to similar comments made by Glen Innes Mayor Carol Sparks, Mr McCormack instead targeted Mr Bandt for politicising the devastating bushfires. 

"I abhor the comments made by the Greens Member for Melbourne Adam Bandt, who should be ashamed of himself for coming out and saying in any way, shape or form the Prime Minister or the government should be responsible in some way for the lives lost," the Nationals leader said. 

Mr McCormack said the government was taking the threat of climate change seriously. 

"Comments coming from a little Melbourne apartment, from a little individual, with a little mind should not be accepted or tolerated at this time." 

Greens MP Adam Bandt took aim at the Government on Saturday, claiming NSW's bushfires were a result of poor climate policy.
Greens MP Adam Bandt took aim at the Government on Saturday, claiming NSW's bushfires were a result of poor climate policy.
AAP

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and NSW Premier Gladys Berijiklian dodged more questions about climate change as they visited fire-hit areas in northern NSW on Sunday. 

Mr Morrison was heckled by a climate change protester during a briefing from firefighters.

"Climate change is real, can't you see," the protester yelled, before being escorted out of the building.

Asked by reporters about the links between climate change and the unprecedented bushfire emergency, the prime minister refused to respond.  

“I’m focused on the needs of the people in this room today, as is the Premier,” Mr Morrison said.

“[We] have firefighters out there saving someone else's house while their own house is burning down, and when we are in that sort of a situation, that is where attention must be."

A tweet from Mr Morrison offering "thoughts and prayers" to those directly affected by the fires has also sparked a backlash on social media, with many frustrated by his refusal to acknowledge climate change as a factor. 

Former Labor senator Doug Cameron tweeted Mr Morrison's words were "bulls***" as Australians were dying.

"These meaningless platitudes from politicians who deny global warming are nauseating," he tweeted. 

Ms Bereijiklian said she was focused on “protecting life”.

“If you talk to people who are traumatised, you need to address their concerns first and foremost. We have time on our hands to talk about those other issues,” she said.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese was asked about climate change links earlier on Sunday.

“There is a need once we get through this period to really have a look at what the science is telling us and what the experts are telling us, which is that we have had a very prolonged drought that’s been more intense than previous droughts and that this bushfire season,” he told the ABC.

“This is a very bad omen at this time of the year that we’re having these devastating fires.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is seen comforting a man who has been evacuated from his home during a visit to Taree, New South Wales
Prime Minister Scott Morrison comforts a man who has been evacuated from his home during a visit to Taree on Sunday.

Greens leader Richard Di Natale backed Mr Bandt's comments on Sunday, adding that every politician who had opposed climate action "bears responsibility" for the fires.

“Just because we cannot tie any one individual fire to the climate emergency doesn’t mean that those who refuse to act are not responsible for these blazes."

'Not out of this yet'

The prime minister warned of difficult days ahead for Australians facing and fighting bushfires. 

"We're not out of this yet," Mr Morrison told reporters at the evacuation centre in Taree on Sunday.

"There is a long way to go and Tuesday is looking more difficult."

Despite the traumatic events of the past few days, Mr Morrison said he found the response of residents and their families as "quite inspiring".

At one stage the prime minister put his arm around 85-year-old Owen Whalan, who broke down in tears at the centre after having lost his Koorainghat property.

The remains of the residence at Four Paws boarding kennels smoulders along the Pacific Highway south of Taree, Saturday, November 9, 2019.
The remains of the residence at Four Paws boarding kennels smoulders along the Pacific Highway south of Taree, Saturday, November 9, 2019.
AAP

The federal government has activated financial support payments for those hit by the fires.

Natural Disaster and Emergency Management Minister David Littleproud said the Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payment and the Disaster Recovery Allowance would immediately put cash into the pockets of those in need.

"This provides $1000 for eligible adults and $400 for eligible children," he said in a statement.

"The payment is available to people whose homes have been severely damaged or destroyed, who have been seriously injured or who have lost a family member in the fires.

"This is cash in the hand to give families dignity and help them recover from the fires."

Additional reporting by AAP and Evan Young

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