Amid increased criticism, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said his response to the country's bushfire crisis could have been "much better." The Australian leader also hinted that a change in climate policy is in the cards.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Sunday conceded that his handling of the country's bushfire crisis could have been better, adding that he will propose a review of the government's response to the crisis.
In a televised interview with ABC, he rejected criticism that his government did not do enough at the start of the bushfire season — but added that some responses could have been better.
"There are things I could have handled on the ground much better," he said. "These are sensitive environments, there are very emotional environments; prime ministers are flesh and blood, too, in how they engage with people."
Morrison said a national inquiry was necessary, including a Royal Commission judicial review, the country's highest form of investigation on issues in the public's interest.
"I think that is what would be necessary," he said in response to an interview question. "And I will be taking a proposal through the Cabinet to that end, but it must be done with consultations with the states and territories."
Elements to examine include the deployment of local and state emergency services, the federal government's role in responding to the crisis and the impact of climate change, he said.
A changing tune on climate change
Climate change "has obviously impacted on the longer, hotter, drier summer seasons," the premier said, going on to suggest for the first time that a policy change could be in the cards.
Critics have slammed Morrison for his staunch support of Australia's coal industry and his previous reluctance to acknowledge the role climate change has played in intensifying the fires.
"We want to reduce emissions and do the best job we possibly can and get better and better and better at it," he said Sunday. "I want to do that with a balanced policy which recognizes Australia's broader national economic interests and social interest."
Morrison had also come under fire for taking a family vacation to Hawaii as Australians back home struggled with the blaze.
The conservative PM said that in hindsight, he regretted taking the vacation.
"There are things I could have handled on the ground much better," he said.
One down, hundreds to go
The comments followed news that another firefighter had lost his life fighting the blaze over the weekend. The fires have claimed 28 lives and destroyed nearly 2,000 homes as well as wildlife and millions of acres of pasture.
Rain and cooler weekend temperatures brought some relief and helped firefighters get control of a "mega fire" that has burned for 10 weeks in New South Wales. Authorities said Sunday that the Gospers Mountain fire had finally been contained, but that the risk of more fires remained high.
There are still several months left in Australia's annual bushfire season, which is characterized by hot temperatures and drought.
Hundreds of fires continue to rage around the country.
kp/rc (AFP, Reuters)