Mum who refused PM's handshake living in van months after bushfires

Brooke Rolfe
·News Reporter
·3-min read

The volunteer firefighter who infamously refused a handshake from Scott Morrison when he toured to a town savaged by bushfire is living in a van with her newborn baby, six months after her home was destroyed.

Zoey Salucci-McDermott’s rental home in Cobargo, in NSW’s southeast, was one of 2,439 that went up in flames in bushfires that tore through the state in late 2019 and early 2020.

When the prime minister visited the area in January, two days after a pregnant Ms Salucci-McDermott lost everything, the now 21-year-old opted not to shake his hand.

Mr Morrison picked up her hand and shook it anyway, despite Ms Salucci-McDermott telling him she would only shake his hand if he offered more support to local fire services.

Woman who refused Scott Morrison's handshake is living in van with newborn six months after bushfires
Woman who refused Scott Morrison's handshake is living in van with newborn six months after bushfires

The mum has now spoken out on how her community is still struggling, with some businesses not eligible to receive financial support despite being burned to the ground in the fires.

“The shock and the trauma is very much evident in all of us still. You know, the main street was only cleared three weeks ago, from memory, so we’ve only now just started that recovery,” she told SBS News.

She also called on Mr Morrison to “come and visit this area and see who is missing out and who is receiving”.

A GoFundMe account established by a photographer covering the bushfires raised nearly $32,000 for Ms Salucci-McDermott after she attracted national attention for her confrontation with Mr Morrison.

The prime minister was criticised heavily for being absent during the bushfire crisis that killed 33 people including 25 from NSW and multiple firefighters.

Scott Morrison grabbed Zoey's hand and shook it despite her reluctance. Source: Nine News
Scott Morrison grabbed Zoey's hand and shook it despite her reluctance. Source: Nine News

There are now renewed calls for him to return to bushfire ravaged regions to see first-hand the communities still battling to recover, and the many people who remain displaced.

Attention has turned to the bushfire affected area amid the Eden-Monaro by-election battle, which was won by Labor's Kristy McBain on Sunday.

Opposition leader Anthony Albanese called on the prime minister on Saturday to revisit Cobargo and see for himself the way it was still battling to repair itself in the wake of the fires.

“I just hope, regardless of the result, that Scott Morrison actually visits Cobargo or visits Merimbula, visits Narooma visits these communities that have done it tough,” he said, Nine News reported.

“Sit down with people like young Zoey, the young mum who greeted him in Cobargo asking for more RFS support.

“She has now given birth to her young son that she was pregnant with when she met Scott Morrison. She is living in a van with her young son. She is asking for more support for this community.”

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