From describing bushfire warnings as the concerns of “inner-city raving lunatics” to calling in the defence forces, the following is a timeline of Scott Morrison’s government’s evolving stance on the fire crisis.
The National Aerial Firefighting Centre sends the commonwealth government a business case requesting a permanent increase of $11m to its annual budget. Payments are made on a top-up basis only.
The Emergency Leaders for Climate Change, a group of 22 former emergency services leaders led by former commissioner of NSW Fire and Rescue Greg Mullins, writes to the federal government alerting them to the threat of “increasingly catastrophic extreme weather events and calling on both major parties to recognise the need for “national firefighting assets”, including large aircraft, to deal with the scale of the threat.
16 September 2019
The Emergency Leaders for Climate Change write again to Morrison asking why the government has not yet given them a meeting, despite being told on 4 July that Angus Taylor’s office would be in touch to arrange one.
“It appears that Minister Taylor, or perhaps his office, fails to grasp the urgency of this matter,” Mullins writes. “I must assume from this response and the months of delay in Mr Taylor making contact, that the minister appears at best disinterested in what the Emergency Leaders might have to say.”
8 November 2019
Australian defence force liaison officers start working with Emergency Management Australia.
9 November 2019
Carol Sparks, the mayor of Glen Innes, raises the link between climate crisis, drought and bushfire activity after the town faces down an inferno that killed two of its residents. “We are so impacted by drought and the lack of rain,” she says. “It’s climate change, there’s no doubt about it. The whole of the country is going to be affected. We need to take a serious look at our future.”
11 November 2019
The deputy prime minister, Michael McCormack, tells Radio National that it is “pure, enlightened and woke capital-city greenies” and “inner-city raving lunatics” like Richard Di Natale and Adam Bandt from the Australian Greens that are “trying to get a political point score” for raising the link between climate crisis, drought and the devastating bushfires.
David Littleproud, the minister for emergency management, says that Taylor’s office has received no formal request for a meeting from Mullins or the Emergency Leaders for Climate Action but that his office will reach out to them.
11 December 2019
Australia is rated the worst-performing country on climate change policy out of 57 countries in a report prepared by international thinktanks. The report also criticises the Morrison government for being a “regressive force” internationally.
12 December 2019
Morrison attempts to reassure voters that he understands bushfires are a natural emergency and that he accepts the link between climate change and an extended fire season, while dismissing international censure of his government’s climate policies as “not credible”.
16 December 2019
Reports circulate that the prime minister has gone on holidays to Hawaii, as Sydney battles extreme smoke pollution as out-of-control bushfires burn through the Blue Mountains. The prime minister’s office says his whereabouts are “not a story” and that claims he is on holiday in Hawaii are “wrong”.
17 December 2019
Littleproud says he met with Mullins and told the delegation they “should take great comfort and great pride in the current cohort of fire chiefs around the country who have planned meticulously for these fires”.
Littleproud says fighting bushfires is “obviously … the responsibility of states but the federal government kicks the tin. We don’t walk away from this.”
17 December 2019
The Emergency Leaders for Climate Action say they will hold a summit after the current bushfire season because of their “huge disappointment in the lack of national leadership during a bushfire crisis”.
It comes as fires raged across New South Wales and Western Australia on Monday and as Australia was named as one of a handful of countries responsible for thwarting a global deal on the rulebook of the Paris climate agreement.
19 December 2019
Two volunteer firefighters, Geoffrey Keaton, 32, and Andrew O’Dwyer, 36, die fighting fires south-west of Sydney when a tree hits their tanker.
20 December 2019
Morrison says he will return from holidays. “I deeply regret any offence caused to any of the many Australians affected by the terrible bushfires by my taking leave with family at this time,” he says in a statement. “Given the most recent tragic events, I will be returning to Sydney as soon as can be arranged.”
22 December 2019
Morrison returns to work and signals the Australian government will not increase its efforts to combat climate change despite the bushfire crisis and record-breaking heatwave. He says drawing attention to climate crisis and emissions reduction policies during the bushfire season is an attempt to “score [political] points” during a disaster.
He says the government is considering calls to pay volunteer firefighters but notes that is “in the first instance” a matter for state governments.
23 December 2019
Morrison says calls to reduce carbon emissions are “reckless” and that Australia doesn’t need to do more on tackling climate crisis. He rejects calls from the opposition to bring forward a meeting with state governments to address the bushfire crisis.
29 December 2019
Morrison agrees to compensation payments made to NSW volunteer firefighters who have lost income due to fighting bushfires, but he sees no further role for the commonwealth. “We’re there to help the states and territories as they address these crises. The states are the ones, as premier knows all too well, who are directly responsible for the funding of their fire services and all the other things that are done.”
30 December 2019
A third NSW RFS volunteer, Samuel McPaul, is killed when his truck rolls during extreme conditions at a fire near Jingellic, on the NSW/Victoria border.
31 December 2019
Morrison releases a statement through social media offering condolences to McPaul’s relatives and emphasising the leading role of the state and territory firefighting authorities in the bushfire crisis. He says the commonwealth will continue in its role of providing “support” to those efforts.
1 January 2020
Morrison shares his new year message urging Australians to celebrate living “in the most amazing country on earth” and remember “there’s no better place to raise kids anywhere on the planet”. He does not make any connection between the bushfires and global heating, suggesting that Australians had faced similarly terrible ordeals throughout history.
Later that day, Morrison hosts the annual New Year’s Day Cricket Australia-McGrath Foundation reception with the Australian and New Zealand teams at Kirribilli in Sydney. In his address to the teams, he says forthcoming Sydney Test match will be “played out against terrible events” but that “at the same time Australians will be gathered whether it’s at the SCG or around television sets all around the country and they’ll be inspired by the great feats of our cricketers from both sides of the Tasman and I think they’ll be encouraged by the spirit shown by Australians”.
2 January 2020
At a press conference, Morrison says he’s “always acknowledged the link … between the broader issues of global climate change and what that means for the world’s weather and the dryness of conditions in many places” but that “no response by any one government anywhere in the world can be linked to any one fire event”.
Morrison reiterates he has no plans to change Australia’s emissions reduction policy. He defends his government’s response to the fires by saying he doesn’t want state and federal governments “to be tripping over each other in order to somehow outbid each other in the response”.
Navy ships and army aircraft are dispatched to help fight bushfires in Victoria.
3 January 2020
While initially saying it was “still the plan” to go to India later in January for trade and defence talks, at which Australia’s coal exports were expected to feature heavily, Morrison says only hours later that he is “inclined not to proceed” with the visit, which has now been postponed.
4 January 2020
The army reserve is called in to assist with firefighting efforts.
Morrison says the federal government will agree to a request made 18 months ago to permanently increase funding to Australia’s aerial firefighting capacity.
The prime minister’s office releases an ad spruiking its firefighting efforts, backed by a jaunty jingle.
We’re putting more Defence Force boots on the ground, more planes in the sky, more ships to sea, and more trucks to roll in to support the bushfire fighting effort and recovery as part of our co-ordinated response to these terrible #bushfires pic.twitter.com/UiOeYB2jnv— Scott Morrison (@ScottMorrisonMP) January 4, 2020