Australia

Pregnant Cobargo woman says Scott Morrison turned his back on her pleas for help

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A 20-year-old woman who lost her house in the South Coast fires on New Year's Eve said she was "heartbroken" after her emotional encounter with the Prime Minister.

A young mother whose home was destroyed in the New South Wales bushfires said the Prime Minister "turned his back" to her when she pleaded with him for help during his visit to the South Coast town of Cobargo. 

Footage of Zoey Salucci-McDermott, who is visibly upset, refusing to shake Scott Morrison's hand unless he agreed to provide additional funding for the NSW Rural Fire Service went viral on Thursday after a heated visit to the fire-ravaged region, where three people were killed earlier this week. 

The video shows Mr Morrison forcibly grabbing the 20-year-old's hand before turning and walking away from her, but during a press conference on Friday the Prime Minister said he stood and spoke with the young mother.

"We talked about what she was asking there, which was greater support for the firefighting effort in that part of NSW," he told reporters.

In a Facebook post on Thursday night, however, Ms Salucci-McDermott presented a different version of events. 

"My house is burnt to the ground and the Prime Minister turned his back on me," she wrote. 

In an exclusive interview with 10 News, the young mother said the encounter broke her heart.

"I would have happily sat down and had a cup of tea with him if he had asked [me] am I OK, what can we do to fix this situation," she said.

"He walked away as I asked for help ... we're desperate, and the people we look to when we are desperate are our leaders."

During the visit to Cobargo, which was razed by fire on New Year's Eve, Mr Morrison was heckled by a number of residents before being escorted away. 

"He wasn't here to help us was he," Ms Salucci-McDermott continued.

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A second video also surfaced on Friday, appearing to show a volunteer firefighter and bushfire victim refusing a handshake from Mr Morrison.

The footage shows Mr Morrison approaching the seated firefighter, offering to shake his hand - which was refused - before attempting to grab the other hand.

"I don't really want to shake your hand," the firefighter said, before leaving the room.

In a later clip, the Prime Minister can be heard telling the deputy incident controller to tell the man he is "very sorry" before being informed the firefighter had lost his home days earlier.

Touring fire-affected areas of Victoria on Friday, the Prime Minister received a warmer welcome from locals and volunteers in the suburb of Lucknow, with many thanking him for his visit and asking him for selfies. 

"It was very nice, I like seeing him here," said one Lucknow resident who lost her home in the fires. 

Asked about the backlash in Cobargo, Mr Morrison told reporters on Friday that he doesn't "take it personally".

"People are angry. I understand it. People have suffered a great loss. People are hurting, people are raw. That's what happens in natural disasters," he said.

"It is not something that will distract me."

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