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Australia PM on wildfire crisis: Some things ‘could have handled much better’

Morrison says he would do some things ‘differently’ amid Australia wildfires
WATCH: Morrison says he would do some things 'differently' amid Australia wildfires

Public support for Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has slumped to its lowest levels amid widespread anger over his government’s handling of the country’s bushfire crisis, according to a survey released by Newspoll on Monday.

The drop in support comes as Morrison acknowledged for the first time that he had made mistakes in handling the disaster.

At least 28 people have been killed in the fires that have destroyed 2,000 homes, and razed 11.2 million hectares (27.7 million acres) — nearly half the area of the United Kingdom.

READ MORE: Crews battling Australia wildfires turn from defence to offence

Morrison has come under attack for being slow to respond to the crisis, even taking a family holiday to Hawaii while fires were burning.

During a television interview Sunday with ABC’s Insiders host, David Speers, Morrison admitted there were things he “could have handled much better.”

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He said the fires, which have been burning since September, have made his government “think a little harder” on how to help and comfort those who have fallen victim.

“These are sensitive environments, they are very emotional environments,” he said. “You would do things differently and learn from every event, but the important thing is the actions we have taken.”

Australian P.M. on wildfires: ‘We’re a long way from the end of this crisis’
Australian P.M. on wildfires: ‘We’re a long way from the end of this crisis’

He also expressed regret for taking his family on a trip to Hawaii during the crux of the crisis, saying: “In hindsight, I would not have taken that trip knowing what I know now.”

When he returned to Australia, he was met with blatant anger from residents in fire-stricken Cobargo, in New South Wales. One resident was caught on camera calling him an “idiot” as he greeted victims while another only agreed to shake his hand if he vowed to provide more funding for firefighters.

“Prime ministers are flesh and blood too, in how they engage with these people,” Morrison told ABC. “When I went there, I went there in good faith with [wife] Jenny on occasions, to provide what consolation I could.”

READ MORE: Australia’s wildfires are burning an area larger than the size of Nova Scotia

When asked about the poll result Monday, while announcing a A$50 million ($34.56 million) wildlife protection fund, Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the message from Australians has been heard “loud and clear.”

“They want to see a Federal Government adopt a very direct response to these natural and national disasters,” Frydenberg said.

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The Newspoll survey showed Morrison’s approval rating dropped 8% since the last poll on Dec 8 to stand at 37%, scoring lower than opposition Labor leader Anthony Albanese.

It is Morrison’s worst showing in the poll since he took over leadership of the ruling Liberal Party in August 2018 when a backbench uprising ousted former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull.

Angry fire victims lash out at Australian prime minister
Angry fire victims lash out at Australian prime minister

No margin of error was provided for the poll, which surveyed 1,505 people from Wednesday to Saturday, although it was about 2.5% points in previous Newspolls.

The poll was taken after Morrison announced a A$2 billion bushfire recovery fund and called out 3,000 army reservists to back up state emergency workers – responses that were viewed as belated.

Morrison said on Sunday he would take a proposal to Cabinet to hold a Royal Commission national inquiry into the bushfires, including examining the response to the crisis, the role and powers of the federal government and the impact of climate change.

READ MORE: Australia wildfires fan fears of ‘detrimental’ impact to tourism industry

“I think that is what would be necessary, and I will be taking a proposal through Cabinet to that end,” he told ABC.

“But it must be done in consultation with the states and territories.”

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Australia bushfires: Why the situation is likely to get worse
Australia bushfires: Why the situation is likely to get worse

After weeks of raging fires whipped up by erratic winds and temperatures over 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit), conditions eased over the weekend with showers forecast for New South Wales (NSW), the worst hit state, over the next few days.

“If this BOM (Bureau of Meteorology) rainfall forecast comes to fruition then this will be all of our Christmas, birthday, engagement, anniversary, wedding and graduation presents rolled into one. Fingers crossed,” the NSW Rural Fire Service said on Twitter.

— With files from Global News