Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison faced enraged hecklers and an angry firefighter during a town ravaged by bushfires, piling pressure on the leader amid an unprecedented crisis that has killed a minimum of 18 people.
A firefighter refused to shake Morrison’s hand when he visited the town of Cobargo in New South Wales state on Thursday.
Video footage showed Mr Morrison tried to grab the man’s hand, who then got up and walked away, sparking an apology from the prime minister.
A local fire official explained that the person had lost his house while defending others’ homes.
Another man blasted Mr Morrison for watching fireworks over Sydney Harbour from his official waterfront mansion, Kirribilli House, while fires raged further south on New Year’s Day Eve.
“You won’t be getting any votes down here, buddy. You’re an idiot,” the person shouted.
“I don’t see Kirribilli burning after the fireworks,” he screamed.
Mr Morrison said on Friday he didn’t take the attacks personally.
“I just see it as a way of frustration and hurt and loss and anger that’s out there about what’s the ferocity of those natural disasters,” he told reporters in Bairnsdale in eastern Victoria state.
“And I understand that, and that we will seek to supply that comfort and support in whatever way we will ,” he said.
Mr Morrison had walked faraway from a Cobargo woman who urged him to supply more funding to the town and state firefighters.
“This isn’t fair. We’re totally forgotten about down here. Every single time this area features a flood or a fireplace , we get nothing,” another woman shouted as Morrison drove away.
Even a state politician from his own Liberal Party whose seat is within the region took a swipe at the prime minister.
“To be honest, the locals probably gave him the welcome he probably deserved,” said New South Wales transport minister Andrew Constance.
The prime minister, who won a surprise election victory last May, ended 2019 on a sour note with fires raging across five states while he took off on a family holiday to Hawaii. Facing criticism, he cut the vacation short and apologised for creating an error .
He is now considering cancelling a politician trip to India scheduled for January 13 to 16, thanks to the hearth emergency.
“I’m inclined to not proceed thereon visit,” Morrison said on Friday.
Australia’s coal and gas exports, blamed for adding to global global climate change and therefore the conditions stoking bushfires, were expected to be high on the agenda for talks in India. Mr Morrison’s government has long supported a controversial coalpit planned by the Adani Group in Australia.