'Can't explain': Turnbull slams Morrison


Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has accused the current leader Scott Morrison of misleading the Australian public and "downplaying" the risk of the bushfire crisis in a brutal new television interview.

Speaking to the BBC on Wednesday, the former Liberal prime minister said "everybody knew" Australia was tinder dry last year and Mr Morrison should have done more to prepare the country for the deadly bushfire season.

"I do not know why Scott Morrison has acted the way he has. I mean to be very frank with you, I worked with him very closely, I've known him for 20 years at least, and I can't explain his conduct," he said.

"I can't explain why he didn't meet the former fire commissioners who wanted to see him in March last year to talk about the gravity of the threat.

"Everybody knew we were in a very dry time and as a consequence the fire season was likely to be very bad. So rather than doing what a leader should do and preparing people for that, he downplayed it and then of course chose to go away on holiday in Hawaii at the peak of the crisis.

"It's just not consistent with the way in which a Prime Minister would or should act."

Malcolm Turnbull spoke to the BBC on Wednesday. Picture: BBC
Malcolm Turnbull spoke to the BBC on Wednesday. Picture: BBC

Mr Morrison sparked outrage when he travelled to Hawaii in the middle of the bushfire crisis. After cutting the holiday short and returning to Australia, he said he deeply regretted the decision and apologised for causing "great anxiety".

"If we had our time over again and the benefit of hindsight, we would have made different decisions," he said.

He was also criticised for refusing to link the bushfire crisis to climate change, with both Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg and British naturalist David Attenborough taking swipes at the government over its lack of action.

But Mr Turnbull said climate denialism was rampant in Australia, and blamed former PM Tony Abbott, right-wing think tanks and parts of the media for exacerbating the issue. 

"How many more coral reefs have to be bleached? How many more million hectares of forest has to be burnt? How many more lives and home have to be lost before the climate change deniers acknowledge they are wrong?" he asked.

"If a country like Australia is not prepared to grapple with these issues seriously - itself being on the front line of the consequences and being an advanced, prosperous, technologically sophisticated country with the means to do so - why would other countries take the issue as seriously as they should?"

Mr Turnbull accused Tony Abbott of being a climate denier. Picture: AAP/Mick Tsikas
Mr Turnbull accused Tony Abbott of being a climate denier. Picture: AAP/Mick Tsikas

He also pointed the finger at US President Donald Trump for playing a "very destructive" role in the global climate debate.

"The lack of American leadership on this, and in fact American leadership in the wrong direction, is extremely damaging," he said.

"To be a climate change denier is a badge of honour on the right wing of politics here and in the United States."

The comments come as climate change leads the agenda at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where President Trump and Ms Thunberg presented opposing world views in two keynote speeches on Tuesday.

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