Australians in the country's southern fire-ravaged communities unleashed their fury on Prime Minister Scott Morrison during his visit Thursday, an expression of frustration against a state response to devastating bushfires that has been roundly condemned as insufficient and a perceived refusal to address the climate crisis exacerbating the inferno.
Morrison toured damage in the town of Cobargo in the state of New South Wales on Thursday and got an earful from residents.
"You're not welcome, you fuckwit," one man yelled at the prime minister.
One woman, following Morrison around the town, pressed the prime minister on his response to the disaster and his priorities.
"What about the people who are dead now, Mr. Prime Minister?" she asked. "What about the people who have nowhere to live?"
"What about the people who are dead, Mr Prime Minister?"
Australian PM Scott Morrison was confronted by angry crowds as he visited the town of Cobargo in New South Wales, which has been devastated by bushfires.
— Sky News (@SkyNews) January 2, 2020
Bushfires have raged around Australia since September, ringing the country in flames and smoke. As Common Dreams reported Thursday, about 500 million animals are thus far estimated to have died in the disaster. The fires are expected to continue for at least another month.
"Entire species are being wiped out," tweeted Queensland-based teacher Claire Gorman.
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Green advocates and progressives have urged Morrison to declare an emergency and reconsider his support for fossil fuels but the prime minister has thus far refused to do either, instead calling on Australians, including those stranded on beaches to escape the fires, "to be patient."
In a press conference Thursday, Morrison reiterated his commitment to continuing Australia's climate policies in the interest of the economy.
"What we will do is make sure our policies remain sensible, that they don't move towards either extreme, and stay focused on what Australians need for a vibrant and viable economy, as well as a vibrant and sustainable environment," Morrison told reporters.
The prime minister and his allies have claimed that negative reactions to the government response to the fires and the calls for Australia to take action on climate are mainly from the urban, elite left and on social media.
Thursday's visit to Corbago showed that even if that were true in the past, the fires have made the situation today quite different.
The prime minister's behavior with town residents was seen as opportunistic and condescending by observers. One woman who asked Morrison about funding for the Rural Fire Services (RFS) was brushed off abruptly.
"Scott Morrison forcing this woman to shake his hand, then ignoring her and walking away when she tells him she doesn't want a handshake unless he gives more funding to the RFS, is fucking disgusting," said Sydney-based sportswriter Brendan Bradford, "even by his low standards."
Scott Morrison forcing this woman to shake his hand, then ignoring her and walking away when she tells him she doesn’t want a handshake unless he gives more funding to the RFS, is fucking disgusting - even by his low standards. #bushfiresAustralia #auspol pic.twitter.com/LX6agg3S7G
— Brendan Bradford (@1bbradfo) January 2, 2020
The prime minister's reception does not bode well for his political future.
"You're an idiot, mate" said one Corbagan to Morrison. "You really are."