A question about Scott Morrison’s embarrassing blunder while visiting residents of Kangaroo Island on Wednesday has been described as ‘disappointing’ by the prime minister.
He was probed about his handling of Australia’s devastating bushfire season during an interview with Michael Rowland on ABC’s 7.30 on Thursday night.
“We've all seen the pictures of fire victims and the firefighter refusing to shake your hand, pictures of you being heckled by fire victims, and yesterday you forgetting that two people had died on Kangaroo Island. It hasn't been your finest week, has it?” Mr Rowland asked.
Mr Morrison promptly retorted, saying the journalist was incorrect.
“I mean, even in that last question that you've just put to me – that's not true. I was referring to lost volunteer firefighters when I made that remark on Kangaroo Island.”
“That was pointed out to the ABC. So I'm disappointed that you'd raise that in that way,” he said.
The prime minister once again pointed out that bushfire victims are feeling emotionally raw and that he doesn’t take their behaviour personally.
ScoMo’s embarrassing gaffe
News crews have captured residents of ravaged towns and exhausted volunteer firefighters refusing to shake Mr Morrison’s hand as he has toured fire grounds over the past two weeks.
On Wednesday, he suffered an awkward exchange with locals while touring South Australia’s badly burnt Kangaroo Island, where six bushfires continue to ravage the tourist hotspot.
Large blazes lashed the area last week, scorching more than a third of the island’s total area and killing an estimated 100,000 sheep.
After arriving on the island, the prime minister was met by a crowd of concerned locals.
“Thankfully, we've had no loss of life,” Mr Morrison said to the group, before they reminded him that a father and son had died fighting fires on the island.
The bodies of Dick Lang, a 78-year-old bush pilot, and his 43-year-old son Clayton were discovered on Saturday after family members said they had been battling a blaze for two days before trying to return to their own property.
Backlash continues to haunt PM
Mr Morrison has been widely criticised for taking a holiday to Hawaii with his family during the country’s crisis.
Angry Aussies have also accused him of being too slow to step in and help individual states with their efforts.
“Do you concede, Prime Minister, that you should have recognised this was a national emergency much earlier than you did, and stepped in much earlier with firm national leadership?” Mr Rowland asked the prime minister during the interview.
Mr Morrison said he was working under the “standing arrangements with states”.
“We respond to requests and we work with them as they direct us.
“What became clear on New Year's Day, in particular, as we had moved from catastrophic fires, particularly in one state, to across two states in particular, and emerging threats in South Australia and other places, is that had gone well beyond, and at an unprecedented level of an event required an unprecedented response from the Commonwealth,” he said.
Mr Rowland pointed out that the Army did not arrive to help out until Saturday - four days after New Year’s Eve.
“Michael, you don't call out 3,000 reservists overnight. That takes a few days for that to take place. That's what we were doing at that time,” Mr Morrison said.
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