ScoMo: ‘Give us a hug or just flip me the bird’
Thousands of army reservists will be deployed to help with the bushfire emergency as Scott Morrison made a dramatic intervention which will rewrite Australia's response to future natural disasters.
In an exclusive interview, the Prime Minister said the federal government had spent months "respecting" the state-led response, but it had become "palpably clear" the commonwealth had to intervene.
"We have spent three to four months operating under … the national set of arrangements the states and territories recommended and wanted," Mr Morrison said.
"Now I have said, 'We are doing this'."
For the first time, up to 3000 army reservists will be called up for compulsory service and Mr Morrison will move with his family to Canberra to run the response and visit firegrounds.
After criticism about his leadership, a defiant Mr Morrison saidhe would continue to offer hugs.
"Whoever wants one, whoever wants to shake the hand, whoever wants to flip the bird … bring it on," Mr Morrison said.
"People are in different frames (of mind), some people need a hug. You just roll with it, you've still got to go out there … people do want to see you."
His comments come after a dramatic visit to the fire-ravaged town of Cobargo, where he was filmed forcibly shaking the hand of a firefighter and walking away from a distraught woman. He said he didn't the "luxury" to get upset about the reception.
"That's your job," he said. "If you think of it in personal terms you will miss the point … the point is anger, frustration, feelings of isolation … what that means is help."
Late yesterday one of the navy's largest vessels, the landing helicopter-dock warship HMAS Adelaide, left Sydney to aid recovery efforts on the NSW south coast.
Defence force bases from Adelaide to Brisbane will also provide short-term accommodation for fire victims and three more Chinook helicopters will help with evacuations.
Mr Morrison said first-hand experiences with victims, farmers and emergency workers had "illuminated" the need for the defence forces to take a bigger role in the bushfire response.
He said farmers in the NSW town of Running Stream had asked him why the defence force hadn't been deployed before Christmas.
A second meeting with ambulance offers in Bega exposed a lack of resources that Mr Morrison said he was unaware of.
"I spoke to the paramedics and they were telling me how many ambulances they had and where all the senior citizens were," Mr Morrison said.
"I would not have known that … I'm not criticising that but hadn't known that in a little town like Bega the paramedics were sitting there trying to co-ordinate getting elderly people to places where they're going to be less at risk."
As fires raged across the large parts of NSW and Victoria last night, Mr Morrison monitored the bushfire crisis from Canberra where he will base himself for the rest of the month after officially cancelling his planned trip to India and Japan.