Australia

Scott Morrison says he 'regrets' any offence to bushfire victims caused by Hawaii holiday

Prime Minister Scott Morrison says he will return to Sydney as soon as possible. Source: AAP

Scott Morrison says he will return to Sydney as soon as possible following the deaths of two volunteer firefighters.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has responded to criticism about the timing of a family holiday as bushfires raged across the country. 

Mr Morrison, who has confirmed he is in Hawaii with his wife and two children, said he would return as soon as flights could be arranged.

"Our leave was brought forward due to the need to cancel our scheduled leave in January because of our official government visit to India and Japan at the invitation of PMs Modi and Abe," Mr Morrison said in a statement issued on Friday morning. 

"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.

"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."

Australian tourists said they snapped this picture with Scott Morrison in Hawaii earlier this week, posting it to Instagram.
Australian tourists said they snapped this picture with Scott Morrison in Hawaii earlier this week, posting it to Instagram.
Twitter: @Ben_Downie

His decision to come back to Sydney follows the deaths of two volunteer firefighters overnight. 

He expressed his condolences and sympathies to the families of the firefighters from Horsley Park brigade based in Sydney's west. 

"They were bravely defending their communities with an unmatched spirit and a dedication that will forever set them apart amongst our most courageous Australians."

Protesters labelled the prime minister a "coward" for leaving the country while bushfires burned.
Protesters labelled the prime minister a "coward" for leaving the country while bushfires burned.
SBS News

On Thursday, protesters gathered outside the prime minister's Sydney residence, Kirribilli House.

They slammed his absence during the bushfire crisis and lack of leadership on tackling climate change. 

Nationals Leader Michael McCormack has been acting prime minister since Monday and has defended the prime minister's decision to take a "well-deserved" break. 

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Emergency Management Minister David Littleproud said the prime minister had made the right call by coming home early.

"Obviously you cannot predict mother nature," Mr Littleproud told reporters in Queensland.

"As this has intensified, obviously the prime minister has made the decision that he needed to come back.

"Now, retrospectively, it might have been great to know and he possibly may not have taken his leave, but obviously he is still a human being and we all need time to recharge."

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese declined to have a go at the prime minister for taking a family holiday but said it could have been handled better. 

"I think one of the issues has been that the lack of information and transparency around this," Mr Albanese told reporters after visiting firefighters in Bilpin. 

Speaking to 2GB on Friday morning from Hawaii, Mr Morrison said while he "can't hold a hose or sit in the control room" it was appropriate to return to "provide some moral support".

But former Tasmanian Labor Premier Lara Giddings said she could not believe Mr Morrison's decision, recalling how she cut short a personal overseas trip in January 2013 when bushfires devastated parts of her state.  

"I find it incredulous that the PM has chosen to leave the country during a bushfire emergency."

Mr Morrison was due to fly back on Monday but will return to Sydney on Saturday.

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