A furious firefighter has refused to shake Scott Morrison’s hand, just hours after residents of a burned out bushfire town heckled and jeered the Prime Minister when he visited.
And the chilly interactions in the devastated fire region were defended by local senior Liberal MP Andrew Constance, who said early on Friday that the PM got “the welcome he probably deserved” in Cobargo.
The incident with the firefighter came on Thursday night as Mr Morrison visited evacuation centres in southern NSW to offer support to devastated locals and holiday makers.
“I don’t really want to shake your hand,” the exhausted firefighter said as the PM tried to grab his hand at a Cobargo relief centre.
Gosh this is so awkward. Australian PM Scott Morrison goes to try and shake the hand of a firefighter who does not appear keen. (The PM was abused earlier by angry locals) Filmed by @GregNelsonACS @abcnews #AustraliaBurning #NSWbushfires #SouthCoastFires pic.twitter.com/3zjeJp3jWe
— Sophie McNeill (@Sophiemcneill) January 2, 2020
Minutes after the rejected handshake, Mr Morrison spoke to a local incident controller outside the evacuation centre.
“Tell that fella I’m really sorry, I’m sure he’s just tired,” he said.
To which the incident controller replied: “No no, he lost a house.”
Shortly after the non-handshake:
PM: “Tell that fella I’m really sorry, I’m sure he’s just tired.”
Local incident controller: “No no, he lost a house.”#AustraliaBurning #ausfires #nswfires pic.twitter.com/9PodUTCf9z
— Siobhan Heanue (@siobhanheanue) January 2, 2020
Mr Morrison’s visit to the ruined Bega Valley town was cut short after he was confronted by locals telling him he “should be ashamed”.
One teary local woman refused to shake his hand until the PM offered additional support to volunteer rural firefighters.
“I am only shaking your hand if you give more money to the RFS. So many people have lost their homes,” she said after Mr Morrison took her hand.
Another man, identified by locals as a former mayor and National Party member, Bega Valley councillor Tony Allen, put his arms around the woman and said, “Shush”.
Mr Morrison then turned his back to talk to another man in the crowd.
"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
As the scene turned ugly, Mr Morrison was bustled off by minders. A group of men and women shouted after him, calling him an idiot.
“You won’t be getting any votes down here, buddy,” one man yelled.
“Who votes Liberal around here? Nobody. You are out, son, you are out! Go on, p–s off.”
The Prime Minister retreated to a white car as a local man yelled: “you’re not welcome” and “go back to Kirribilli”.
A woman holding a goat on a lead then complained there hadn’t been enough help for Cobargo, which was destroyed on New Year’s Eve. Father and son farmers, Patrick and Robert Salway, died defending their property near the town on Tuesday.
“We are totally forgotten down here. Every single time this area gets a flood or a fire, we get nothing,” she said.
As the Prime Minister’s car exited the town, residents cheered and yelled: “Ya scumbag!”
Early on Friday, Mr Constance said he was not aware Mr Morrison would be visiting his electorate.
“I didn’t even know he was coming, I haven’t had a call from him,” he told Seven News.
“To be honest with you, the locals probably gave him the welcome he probably deserved.”
“I say this to the Prime Minister today: The nation wants you to open up the cheque books, obviously help people rebuild their lives.”
On Friday morning, Mr Morrison said he understood the anger.
“I know people are angry and they’ll often fixate on … a Prime Minister or someone else,” he told 3AW’s Neil Mitchell.
“I understand that. I understand the emotion, I understand the hurt, the anger and frustration.
“All I know is that they’re hurting and it’s my job to be there to try and offer some comfort and support.
“I don’t take these things personally. Why would I?”
He received a much warmer welcome when he visited the Victorian town of Lucknow on Friday.
Lynn Wallwork, who lost her home in the fires at Sarsfield, spoke to the Prime Minister, saying she was glad to see him.
“It’s a tough road ahead,” Mr Morrison told her.