Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said his government’s climate policy will not change, despite the national fire crisis.
Mr Morrison apologised after he was criticised for taking a holiday to Hawaii as fires across the country killed 12, including two volunteer firefighters.
“I have returned from leave and I know that has caused some great anxiety in Australia,” he said. “If we had our time over again and the benefit of hindsight we would have made different decisions.”
But he appeared to defend his decision, adding: “I am sure Australians are fair-minded and understand that when you make a promise to your kids you try and keep it.”
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Mr Morrison drew further anger after he said there was no clear link between the fires, which have destroyed 900 homes, and climate change.
He insisted that while there was no argument “about the links between broader issues of global climate change and weather events around the world… the direct connection to any single fire event is not a credible suggestion to make”.
His comments came a day after deputy prime minister Michael McCormack said he “absolutely” agreed that more needed to be done to address the issue of climate change.
Mr Morrison’s government has presided over a spike in carbon emissions after abolishing the carbon pricing regime of the previous administration and it has also been criticised for slowing progress on international climate change policy.
Anthony Albanese, the opposition leader, said: “The deputy prime minister said yesterday new measures were needed and a new response.
“Today, going from the acting prime minister to the real prime minister, we have a dismissal of the need for any action on climate change.”
The former leader Kevin Rudd said Mr Morrison “needs to stop acting like a marketing executive with a few clever lines and start acting like a prime minister”.
Mr Morrison has repeatedly refused to meet with a group of former fire service leaders who warned the government in April the country was unprepared for the coming fire season.
He also refused to increase funding for fire services before succumbing to pressure, and rejected calls to professionalise the bush fire fighting service, saying the volunteers “want to be there” – before flying out of the country on holiday.
In November, Mr McCormack derided those who linked the fires to climate change as “disgusting” and “inner-city lunatics”, but said on Saturday that sentiment on climate change had shifted during the crisis.
In the meantime, thousands of fire fighters – including 30 from Canada and nine from the United States – were yesterday continuing to battle blazes across the country.
Balmoral, an urban village with about 400 residents, 8km from the centre of Sydney, was wiped out.
The premier of New South Wales, Gladys Berejiklian, said: “We’ve got the devastating news – there’s not much left in the town of Balmoral.”
Late last night, there were 98 bush and grass fires burning in New South Wales, 50 of them still uncontained.
In South Australia 23 fire fighters were injured yesterday and two killed. At one point the state faced 120 blazes.
Rain is forecast in some parts of New South Wales this week but more hot weather is expected next week.
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