Australia

NSW mayor slams deputy PM’s 'insulting' climate change attack during bushfires

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Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack has attacked people for linking climate change to conditions which enabled fires in NSW and Queensland to take hold.

A northern NSW mayor whose home was severely damaged by a bushfire that killed two people has slammed Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack for his "insulting" climate change comments. 

On Monday, Mr McCormack launched an attack against the "disgraceful, disgusting" behaviour of people who linked climate change to the bushfires in NSW and Queensland.

"We've had fires in Australia since time began, and what people need now is sympathy, understanding, help and shelter ... They don't need the ravings of some pure, enlightened and woke capital city greenies at this time," he told ABC. 

Michael McCormack meets Queensland Fire and Emergency Services crew members on Sunday.
Michael McCormack meets Queensland Fire and Emergency Services crew members on Sunday.
AAP

But Glen Innes Severn Council mayor Carol Sparks hit back strongly from one of the NSW's most affected areas, saying it was "unquestionable" the fires ravaging the east coast of Australia were linked with climate change.

"It is absolutely clear to me that this is the effect of climate change," she told SBS News.

She cited how last week a group of 11,000 scientists from over 150 countries formally declared a "climate emergency" after analysing over 40 years of global data.

"Why isn't [Mr McCormack] listening to the experts? Why isn't he listening to the science?" she said.

Why isn't he listening to the science?

Carol Sparks

"I can't believe these so-called educated people don't believe science. The reality is that it's happening now. The change has happened. We're not getting rain," she said.

Ms Sparks said "we're losing our environment at a rapid pace at the moment. The reason these fires are so volatile is because we are so dry".

"I invite McCormack to come here and have a look at some of our forests that are burning."

Carol Sparks has slammed Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack.
Carol Sparks has slammed Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack.
ABC News

Three people have been killed and 150 homes destroyed in NSW, while there are still many fires burning in central Queensland.

Firefighters across Sydney and NSW are bracing for "catastrophic" conditions on Tuesday, with hundreds of schools and TAFE campuses closed. 

'A dangerous fool'

Greens MP Adam Bandt had similarly strong comments about Mr McCormack.

He labelled the deputy prime minister a "dangerous fool" who was putting lives at risk.

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

"Thoughts and prayers are not enough, we need science and action too," Mr Bandt told reporters on Monday.

"They've done everything in their power to make these catastrophic fires more likely.

"When you cuddle coal in Canberra, the rest of the country burns."

A firefighter defends a property in Torrington, near Glen Innes on Sunday.
A firefighter defends a property in Torrington, near Glen Innes on Sunday.
AAP

But Labor Senator Penny Wong refused to get drawn into the war of words, saying the immediate focus should be on the fires.

"We've got people grieving, we've got communities at risk, we've got extraordinarily brave Australians fighting fires. This is not the time to get into that kind of debate," she said.

"Let's get through this crisis. That should be our focus now.

Let's get through this crisis

Penny Wong

"Once we do, we do have to have a focus on what we need to do to keep Australia safe."

Natural Disaster and Emergency Management Minister David Littleproud also said he did not want to discuss Mr McCormack's comments as many victims were still "fragile" and "traumatised".

"Let's have those conversations in the cold, hard light of day after the event," he told ABC.

But when pressed, Mr Littleproud said Australia is "leading the world [on climate change], but we need the world to lead with us".

"We have made our commitments globally and we need other international communities to come with us."

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian maintained it was an "inappropriate" time to talk about the impact of climate change.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison on the weekend dodged questions over whether the unprecedented fires were linked to climate change while Ms Berejiklian added a terse "honestly not today" when reporters raised the issue.

"I thought it was inappropriate that people were trying to talk about climate change yesterday when people wanted to stay alive," Ms Berejiklian told the Seven Network on Monday.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian talks to the media on Monday.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian talks to the media on Monday.
AAP

The premier was subsequently pressed on the issue again on ABC when told residents in fire-hit areas were concerned about global warming.

"There's no doubt that there's extreme weather conditions which have contributed to the fire conditions, conditions we've not seen before," she said.

"There's no doubt we're seeing hotter temperatures and longer summers and more extreme weather conditions but our first and foremost priority is to keep people alive at this stage."

A war of words

Monday's sparring is the latest in a war of words that started with the fires.

On Sunday, Mr McCormack lashed out at Mr Bandt over "stupid and callous" comments linking the government's inaction on climate change and bushfires.

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

The Nationals leader reacted by saying, "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."

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." 

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. 

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 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."

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.

Mr 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 Evan Young

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