Prime Minister Scott Morrison has defended his governments stance on climate change saying it had always acknowledged the link with extreme weather.Mr Morrison was grilled about his response to Australia’s bushfire crisis and his government’s stance on climate change on ABC current affairs show 7.30 on Thursday night.
“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?” host Michael Rowland asked.
Mr Morrison said the government had mobilised 3000 reservists, which had never happened before, and put $2 billion towards establishing the National Bushfire Recovery Agency.
“We were operating under what has been the standing arrangements with the states and territories for many, many years … that is, we respond to requests and we work with them as they direct us,” he said.
What became clear on New Year’s Day, Mr Morrison said, with fires across two states and emerging threats in South Australia and other places, was that the situation had gone beyond this.
“An unprecedented level of an event required an unprecedented response from the Commonwealth,” he said.
“Even just a week before that, the conditions were quite different.”
But Rowland reminded the PM it took a few days for the government to act.
“Surely you should have seen that you needed to be much more involved, much more quickly?”
The PM responded: “You don’t call out 3000 reservists overnight, that takes a few days for that to take place”.
He said the vessels such as HMAS Choules were also being moved into place.
“These initiatives were already moving at that time. We had already been preparing some contingencies around this and in particular, the Reserve call-out was trialled back in November in case we might have to activate it,” he said.
Referring to footage of people refusing to shake the PM’s hand and heckling him during a visit to the fire-ravaged town of Cobargo, as well as the PM forgetting that two people had died on Kangaroo Island, Rowland noted: “It hasn’t been your finest week has it?”
But Mr Morrison said “I’ve got to correct you there”.
“I was referring to lost volunteer firefighters when I made that remark on Kangaroo Island,” he said. “That was pointed out to the ABC, so I’m disappointed that you’d raise that in that way”.
Mr Morrison said he also was the first senior politician to visit Cobargo, which had been badly impacted by the fires.
While he acknowledged there had been a “mixed” response, others had extended their support.
He also defended his government’s stance on climate change, and remarks that he made over the weekend that the government had always accepted the link between climate change and extreme weather.
Rowland said “that is not the case,” pointing out that Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack had said in December that climate change was only the concern of “woke capital city greenies”, and Communications Minister Paul Fletcher “didn’t go there” when asked to accept the link.
“Why did you make that statement?” Rowland asked.
“Because it’s true,” the PM said.
“It is the policy of the government to acknowledge the link between these events at a global level.
“Of course, global changes in the environment and the climate have a broader impact on the world’s weather systems.
“What we’ve always said though, is you cannot link any individual single emissions reduction policy of a country … to any specific fire event. I mean, that’s just absurd.”
Rowland asked whether he accepted, given the disproportionate impact the fires were having on Australia compared to other countries, whether there was a need for the government to do more in upping its emissions reduction target.
“I think we should be meeting and beating our targets, and that’s exactly what we are doing,” he said.
Mr Morrison has also flagged the prospect of a royal commission into the bushfires and he said it would be something they consult on with the states.
“It needs to be comprehensive and deal with contributing factors, from everything from hazard reduction to climate change through to response issues, the national coordination matters and of course, resilience and planning for the future,” he said.
“We will work together to ensure that there’s an appropriate inquiry that addresses the broad gamut of issues that must be considered.”