Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been refused a handshake by a despondent fireman who lost his home while battling bushfires in one of Australia’s worst hit areas.
Camera crews filmed Mr Morrison walk over to the fireman who was having a break in the emergency centre in Cobargo, on the New South Wales south coast, on Thursday.
Mr Morrison offered his hand but the fireman shook his head.
‘I don’t really want to shake your hand,’ he said.
Mr Morrison then leaned down to grab the fireman’s hand but he again refused.
The Prime Minister then patted the man on the shoulder, said ‘oh, well, nice to see you’ and walked away.
Mr Morrison was later heard telling a fire official: ‘Tell that fella I’m really sorry, I’m sure he’s just tired.’
‘No, no, he’s lost a house,’ the incident controller responded.
Earlier on Thursday, the Prime Minister was abused by some angry Cobargo residents who told him he ‘should be ashamed of himself’ while others called him ‘Scum-mo’ for ‘leaving the country to burn’.
Mr Morrison responded on Friday by saying he understood the emotional response and did not take it personally.
‘I know people are angry,’ Mr Morrison said in an interview with Melbourne radio station 3AW.
‘I understand that, I understand the emotion, the hurt, the frustration and anger.’
Tourists and residents have been told to evacuate a 250km stretch of the New South Wales south coast (pictured) as devastating bushfires threaten the area, along with an area of the Shoalhaven between Burrill Lake north and Nowra
One local refused to shake Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s hand until he offered more support to volunteer firefighters
Mr Morrison can be seen trying to shake the fireman’s hand, however, the man only looks at Mr Morrison’s hand before shaking his head. ‘I don’t really want to shake your hand,’ the fireman says
Cobargo was one of the worst-affected areas on New Year’s Eve, losing several buildings on its main street, while a local father and son were killed trying to defend their home, and dozens of homes burnt down.
Mr Morrison, who was criticised for taking a Hawaiian holiday in December as the fires raged rather than attending affected areas, was confronted by some local residents.
One woman refused to return the Prime Minister’s offered handshake until he organised more money for volunteer firefighters.
‘I’m only shaking your hand if you give more funding to our RFS,’ the woman said.
Instead, Mr Morrison reached down to take her hand and then moved on to speak to another person.
‘So many people have lost their homes,’ the woman said, adding ‘we need more help.’
The confrontation prompted a lot of comment online.
A supplied image obtained on Thursday, January 2, 2020, shows smoke billowing from a fire burning at East Gippsland, Victoria
‘What is most disturbing about this extraordinary video is our PM forcing a young, clearly distressed woman to shake his hand followed by another male putting his arms around her telling her to ”shush”,’ freelance journalist Lucie Morris-Marr tweeted.
Another woman from the town, who brought her pet goat along to the meeting, told Mr Morrison the small town was ‘forgotten’ during the crisis.
‘This is not fair,’ she shouted. ‘We are totally forgotten down here. Every single time this area gets a flood or a fire we get nothing.’
‘If we lived in Sydney or on the North Coast we would be flooded with donations and emergency relief.’
A Cobargo resident, Gary Hinton, looks lost as he stands by rubble after a fire tore through the town on New Years Eve
The PM made a beeline back to his car and was driven away by his security team shortly after arriving in Cobargo – where he was heckled by locals
Mr Morrison was shamed on Twitter for how he handled the situation when he was heckled in Cobargo
This image shows smoke and flames crowning above the treetops at a fire in East Gippsland on January 2nd
In this satellite image, the Clyde Mountain Fire south of Sydney could be seen from outer space
Several men who attended Mr Morrison’s meeting with locals shouted abuse.
‘You won’t be getting any votes down here buddy. Who votes Liberal around here? Nobody,’ one called out.
‘You control the funding, and we were forgotten,’ a woman added.
‘Go on, p*ss off.’
The Prime Minister walked away from them back to his car and was driven away by his security team.
Even as he left, furious residents continued to shout abuse.
‘Go home to Kirribilli. Why won’t that burn down after the fireworks?’ another local yelled.
‘You’re an idiot.’
Eerie photos show the once quiet country town destroyed by fires as the sky turns a deep red and buildings are left torn apart
COBARGO SURVIVOR IS FORCED TO SHOOT BADLY-BURNED CATTLE
Steve Shipton (centre) is consoled by fellow farmers Bernie Smith (left) and Peter Mercieca
By AUSTRALIAN ASSOCIATED PRESS
In an area where four people perished in a ferocious fire, Steve Shipton’s eyes were burning as he tried to save his home.
‘I thought I was a goner,’ the Coolagolite cattle farmer told AAP.
‘The heat was horrendous. My eyes… I couldn’t see 20 feet last night.’
The Countegany/Dampier State Forest blaze raced through Cobargo and Coolagolite on Tuesday morning on its way to burning an area twice the size of Canberra.
Three men and an unidentified person died out of a population of about 1050.
Mr Shipton thought he was fine to protect his home after getting his wife and kids inside and his stock out to a dirt clearing.
‘It all happened so quick,’ the 46-year-old said, soot still covering his face.
‘I stayed out. I suppose I shouldn’t have but it just happened so fast.
‘It’s just unbelievable. The ferocity and how quick…. That’s what shocked me and that’s why I thought we were in a good situation to survive,’ he said.
The dairy-turned-beef farmer estimates he lost about a tenth of his 250-odd head of cattle, including his favourite dairy cow.
The dairy-turned-beef farmer estimates he lost about a tenth of his 250-odd head of cattle, including his favourite dairy cow
Most of the cattle had been where Mr Shipton thought would be safe – on dirt with a feed rack – but the animals ‘obviously panicked’.
A vet on Wednesday assessed which would survive and which needed to be euthanised, leaving Mr Shipton with the grim task of carrying out a mass mercy killing.
‘There are some in there badly scorched,’ Mr Shipton said.
‘He’ll know better than me what can survive and what can’t because I’ve never been through this scenario.
‘You don’t want them to suffer.’
The firefront spared Cobargo artist Sally Wilson’s shop but embers took hold of the historic property as she and her partner Christopher Lee protected their home and animals a short walk away.
A vet on Wednesday was assessing which would survive and which needed to be euthanised
As things calmed down at home, Mr Lee walked over to the shop to find it alight.
‘The firefighters said it had started 20 minutes before,’ she told AAP, standing beside the rubble.
‘He stood out the front and watched it burn.’
The couple moved to Cobargo just 18 months ago after deciding it was ‘a really safe pocket’ with a vibrant, caring community.
‘I’ve been visiting here for years and it was like nothing could get you,’ she said.
Local farmer Greg Tett said the community was a very tight-knit one, where people ‘dove in’ to help those whose chips were down.
Destroyed buildings are seen in Cobargo, New South Wales, on Wednesday, January 1, 2020
‘That’s the way it’s been for a long time and why I think a lot of people like to come here,’ he told AAP.
He suspects he’ll have to entirely de-stock after 95 per cent of his 110-acre property was scorched.
‘At least we’re still alive,’ his wife Karen Tett said.
Mr Tett woke about 1am on Tuesday to a phone call from his daughter warning about the approaching fire.
His brother spent five hours building a fire break in vain.
‘When it came down the mountain, we had spot fires everywhere,’ Mr Tett said.
He said his family will fight on.
‘We’ve got to.’
Locals were mourning the loss of dairy farmer Patrick Salway, 29, and his father Robert, 63, who died trying to save their home from the blaze.
Their bodies were found by Mr Salway’s wife Renee who was expecting the couple’s second child.
Mr Morrison later told the ABC he wasn’t ‘surprised people are feeling very raw at the moment’.
‘And, that’s why I came today, to be here, to see it for myself; offer what comfort I could.
‘But you can’t always in every circumstance, I think everyone understands that,’ he said.
The visit came as NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian declared a week long state of emergency ahead of Saturday’s predicted dangerous conditions.
Patrick Salway, 29, (pictured with his pregnant wife Renee) died fighting the fires in Cobargo alongside his dad Robert Salway
What does a state of emergency mean?
Declaring a state of emergency relinquishes decision making powers from the NSW government and allows RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons more control over his team of firefighters.
For the next seven days during the state of emergency, can now control and coordinate the allocation of government resources, close roads and evacuate residents.
Ms Fitzsimmons now has the ability to:
- Control and coordinate the allocation of government resources
- Evacuate people from property within declared areas
- Close roads and thoroughfares to traffic
- Pull down or shore up infrastructure at risk of collapse
- Shut down utilities in the declared area including electricity, gas, oil and water
- Enter or take possession of property for emergency response
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian previously said the ‘decision to declare a state of emergency is not taken lightly.
‘You only declare states of emergency when it’s absolutely necessary and on expert advice from commissioners.’
It is the third state of emergency she has declared since the start of this year’s horror bushfire season, which has seen at least 18 people die and thousands of homes destroyed.
This picture taken on December 31, 2019 shows a firefighter hosing down trees and flying embers in an effort to secure nearby houses from bushfires near the town of Nowra on the NSW south coast
Residents met in the Mallacoota town hall on Thursday afternoon (pictured) for an evacuation briefing by defence force officials, after the town was surrounded by flames
Temperatures are expected to hit 46C in some parts of the state and the heat, paired with strong winds, were expected to fuel fires and spark fresh outbreaks.
A state of emergency relinquishes decision-making powers from the government to the head of the NSW Rural Fire Service.
Thousands of people will be subject to forced evacuations as officials scramble to move holidaymakers and locals alike from dangerous areas.
Catastrophic conditions on the New South Wales south coast and in eastern Victoria on New Year’s Eve will return within 48 hours, with firefighters only having had the briefest of respites.
Mr Morrison held a press conference on Thursday in which he answered some strong criticism about the federal government’s perceived inaction over the fires, but he stressed that firefighting was a state government responsibility.
‘What we won’t allow to happen is for governments to be tripping over each other in order to somehow outbid each other in response,’ Mr Morrison said.
‘We cannot control the natural disaster but what we can do is control our response.’
Evacuation plans were in place for residents and holiday makers ahead of Saturday’s expected flaring of the fires, with some leaving by road but others needing to be transported by boat due to road closures.
HMAS Choules, which delivered emergency supplies to Haiti following the 2010 earthquake, left Sydney on Wednesday and docked off the coast of fire-stricken Mallacoota near the Victoria-New South Wales border on Thursday.
The vessel can carry 700 passengers and will ferry evacuees to safety beginning on Friday, but there are up 4,000 people who remain stranded in the seaside town where food and supplies were running low.
The ship has also brought much-needed relief for those who are choosing to stay.
The townspeople told Mr Morrison it felt as though he didn’t care about the town
NSW BUSHFIRE CRISIS: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
WHERE ARE THE NSW BUSHFIRES?
More than 110 blazes continue to burn across NSW on Thursday afternoon, with more than 50 burning out of control.
There were three fires burning at a ‘watch and act’ level as of 6pm.
These were the 260,000-hectare Currowan fire on the south coast, the 130,000ha Dunns Road fire in the Snowy Valleys and the 105,000ha Green Valley fire east of Albury.
HOW MANY HAVE DIED?
Seven people have perished since Monday evening, taking the NSW bushfire death toll since July to 15. That includes three firefighters.
A 72-year-old man remains missing at Belowra, west of Narooma, but an 81-year-old woman who was missing in Conjola Park has been located safe and well.
HOW MANY HOMES HAVE BEEN LOST?
At least 382 homes have been destroyed on the south coast since New Year’s Eve. The number will increase as damage assessment teams access hard-to-reach areas.
Some 1298 homes, 85 facilities and 2218 outbuildings such as sheds have been confirmed destroyed across NSW since July.
No total fire bans are in place on Thursday but a statewide total fire ban has been declared for Friday and Saturday.
People near Batlow have been asked to leave by Thursday night while holiday-makers in the alps and between Nowra and the Victorian border should be out by Friday night.
Across the border, Victorian authorities want tourists and locals to leave the state’s alpine and East Gippsland regions by Thursday.
Fire weather eased on Thursday, allowing firefighters to prepare for deteriorating conditions over the weekend.
Dangerous fire conditions are expected to return to southeast NSW on Saturday, where the temperature is forecast to reach 45C inland and 44C on the coast.
A gusty southerly is expected to cross the area in the afternoon.
Fire danger will be severe to extreme with the RFS saying conditions on Saturday will likely be worse than those experienced on New Year’s Eve.
Motorists should avoid travel to the south coast and Snowy Mountains-Riverina areas, where fires have caused widespread power outages and major road closures.
The Princes Highway north of Batemans Bay has been reopened, with a reduced speed limit of 60 km/h.
Sections of the Princes Highway south of Batemans Bay remain closed.
The Snowy Mountains Highway is open between Bega and Adaminaby, providing a route back to Sydney and Canberra for motorists on the far south coast.
The Adaminaby to Tumut section of the highway is open for residents only while several other major alpine roads are exit-only or completely closed.
Business owner Sally Anne Wilson (left) stands in front of her destroyed shop with her partner Christopher Lee in Cobargo, NSW, Wednesday, January 1, 2020
Hundreds of fires are still burning out of control across the country, destroying millions of hectares, killing 18 and leaving 1,200 homes destroyed, with catastrophic 46C weather forecast for Saturday (pictured)
A kangaroo rushes past a burning house in Conjola (pictured) on New Year’s Eve, as officials prepare for a ‘horrible day’ on Saturday, with blistering temperatures and high winds likely to make conditions far worse
2019/2020 FIRE SEASON DEATH TOLL
NSW Police confirmed a total of seven people have been killed and two are unaccounted for in the South Coast bushfires since Monday.
The recent deaths include dairy farmer Patrick Salway, 29, and his father Robert, 63, who died trying to save their property in Cobargo, near Bega.
A 70-year-old man was found dead outside a home at Yatte Yattah, west of Lake Conjola, on Tuesday night, while another man’s body was found in a burnt vehicle on a road off the Princes Highway at Yatte Yattah Wednesday morning.
The body of a man was found in a vehicle on Wandra Road at Sussex Inlet about 11.30am Wednesday but is yet to be formally identified, while a seventh body was found outside a home Coolagolite, about 10km east of Cobargo, on Wednesday.
Beloved great-grandfather Mick Roberts, 67, from Buchan, in East Gippsland, was found dead at his home on Wednesday morning.
On Sunday, young father and volunteer firefighter Samuel McPaul, 28, was fighting a blaze in Jingellic, in Green Valley, about 70km east of Albury on the border of NSW and Victoria, when the truck he was in rolled, killing him instantly.
Two other firefighters died on December 19 after a tree fell on their truck while they were travelling through Buxton, south of Sydney.
Andrew O’Dwyer, 36, and Geoffrey Keaton, 32, were later named as the volunteers involved in the tragic accident the following day.
Both men were young fathers and had volunteered with the Horsley Park Rural Fire Service brigade for more than a decade.
Two people also died in South Australian fires before Christmas, including 69-year-old engineer Ron Selth.
His body was found in his Charleston home, which was destroyed by the Cudlee Creek blaze on December 21.
Another person died in a fiery car crash on the same day.
In early November, just weeks into the horror fire season which has been baring down on the nation for months, three people perished in northern NSW.
George Nole’s body was found in a burnt out car near his home in Glen Innes while 63-year-old Julie Fletcher’s body was pulled from a scorched building in Johns River, north of Taree.
Vivian Chaplain, a 69-year-old woman from Wytaliba, succumbed to her injuries in hospital after attempting in vain to save her home and animals from the blaze.
The fourth victim was named just days later as 58-year-old Barry Parsons.
His body was discovered in bushland on the southern end of the Kyuna Track at Willawarrin, near Kempsey, on November 13.
77-year-old Bob Lindsey and 68-year-old Gwen Hyde were found in their burned out property on October 9th.