Scott Morrison has defended keeping much of his visit to flood-ravaged Lismore out of the public eye as angry residents tried to confront the prime minister on Wednesday.
Journalists on the ground said on social media they were prohibited from taking photos of the PM as he visited a farm and the Lismore Emergency Operations Centre.
Mr Morrison, who has copped criticism for not declaring a national disaster following the floods last week, reportedly had his own photographer in tow. However they reportedly refrained from taking pictures during the "private visits", and media opportunities appeared limited to a scheduled press conference.
“PM has visited a farm near Lismore and an SES operations base this morning and will soon visit houses affected by floods. Media have not been allowed to film the visits,” 7 News reporter Mark Riley Tweeted.
In a press conference in Lismore on Wednesday afternoon, Mr Morrison backed his decision to disallow cameras during parts of his visit, saying he "has respect for the privacy of those I came to speak for".
"In these disasters, not everybody wants a camera shoved in their face," he said.
"I came down to listen to them and what they are going through and understand what was needed for their primary production business, local paint business, all those householders themselves."
Mr Morrison had used a back door to attend the media conference at the Lismore Emergency Operations Centre in an apparent attempt to avoid protesters out the front.
Social media observers questioned whether Mr Morrison was trying to avoid another awkward situation like that seen during his trip to Cobargo after the 2020 bushfires. Cobargo residents repeatedly refused to shake his hand and verbally slammed the government’s lack of help.
PM @ScottMorrisonMP has visited a farm near Lismore and an SES operations base this morning and will soon visit houses affected by floods. Media have not been allowed to film the visits. @7NewsAustralia
— Mark Riley (@Riley7News) March 9, 2022
Lismore protesters want answers from PM
A crowd of protesters gathered outside Lismore's local emergency operations centre on Wednesday afternoon.
“This is what's waiting for Morrison at his first press event, at the local emergency operations centre,” Christopher Knaus, a reporter for the Guardian, tweeted.
“One protester says: ‘Every person that is hurt, that is what climate change looks like. It's not abstract. And we need our prime minister to show up and... talk about it’.”
This is what's waiting for Morrison at his first press event, at the local emergency operations centre. One protester says:
"Every person that is hurt, that is what climate change looks like. It's not abstract. And we need our prime minister to show up and... talk about it." pic.twitter.com/wUfaqhRs5h
— Christopher Knaus (@knausc) March 9, 2022
The community was worried the prime minister will “sneak away from them” before they have a chance to confront him, some people said online.
One person said Mr Morrison’s behaviour was “spineless”.
“You will hear the voices denied and silenced during the floods and fires echo across the nation's polls. Coward,” they said.
“That way he can force people to shake his hands unfettered,” another wrote on Twitter.
Scott Morrison defends government response to floods
At a media conference in Lismore on Wednesday afternoon Mr Morrison was questioned about the lack of government assistance and immediate response following the disaster, with locals instead relying on members of the community to step in and help.
The prime minister insists the government did what was required, and they had to "follow procedures", although "no amount of support is going to measure up to what people need in a desperate situation like this," he said.
"It is very common in natural disasters that the frustration and the anger, and the sense of abandonment, this happens in every natural disaster," he explained.
"Because of the scale, I feel deeply and empathise absolutely with how people feel when they find themselves in this situation."
More financial support for NSW flood victims
The Australian government announced on Wednesday that $1 billion has been committed to flood-affected areas which will help towards economic support, mental health support and helping businesses get back on their feet.
Commonwealth Disaster Payments will be extended for people in the council areas of Richmond Valley, Lismore and Clarence Valley in northern NSW, with some families receiving up to $1000.
While many questioned how far the payment will go, they're "not intended to solve every single economic problem" according to the prime minister, but it's designed to help with "the most immediate of needs".
$385 million has already been paid directly into people's bank accounts in response to 330,000 claims in the past week.
The next step is continuing the clean-up in flood-affected areas, including Lismore streets, which Mr Morrison estimates will take up to a month.
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