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Australia fires: PM rejects ‘reckless’ calls to limit coal industry

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Australian PM Scott Morrison says he will not make “reckless” cuts to the nation’s coal industry, despite criticism of his response to climate change and a deadly bushfire crisis.

Australia is being ravaged by bushfires which have killed nine people and razed hundreds of homes since September.

As the crisis escalated last week, Mr Morrison faced a backlash for deciding to take a family holiday to Hawaii.

On Monday, he reiterated he would not adjust his policies through “panic”.

The nation has steadfastly backed coal-fired power for its economic value, despite the recommendations of a major report on climate change.

“What we won’t do is engage in reckless and job-destroying and economy-crunching targets which are being sought,” Mr Morrison told local broadcaster Nine on Monday.

Many Australians have accused his government of inaction on global warming, with criticism growing as a heatwave broke records across the country and worsened the fires.

One town was largely destroyed and scores of homes were razed amid catastrophic conditions on the weekend.

What did Mr Morrison say?

Mr Morrison said tackling climate changes was “as important now” as it was earlier this year, before the fire emergency.

He said his nation was on track to meet its emissions reduction commitments – an assertion previously disputed by the UN.

“I don’t accept the suggestion that Australia is not carrying its weight,” he said on Sunday.

And he further tried to explain his Hawaii holiday – for which he has apologised – by comparing it to a decision made by a working parent.

“Whether it’s on a Friday afternoon and you are deciding to take that extra plumbing contract and you said you would pick up the kids – or something at my level – these are things you juggle as parents,” he said.

What’s the latest with the fires?

Firefighters are struggling to contain bushfires burning across several states amid dry and hot conditions.

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New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian said there was “not much left” of the small town of Balmoral, south-west of Sydney, after fires at the weekend.

Residents are currently not allowed to return to the town, and an unknown number of homes have been destroyed.

No fatalities were reported in the town, but several firefighters were reportedly injured. More than 800 homes have been destroyed in NSW since the fire season began.

Elsewhere, at least 86 houses were destroyed in the Adelaide Hills area of South Australia – where a 69-year-old man was found dead at his property on Saturday.

Officials said they were hoping to exploit cooler conditions over the coming days to try to contain the fires.

At the scene

Simon Atkinson, BBC News in Balmoral

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Burned forest. Scorched patches of ground with the twisted remains of homes. And equally remarkably – properties untouched by the flames. Balmoral is an eerie and desperately sad sight.

We met volunteer firefighter Russell Scholes whose house burned down as he battled to help others.

“I loved my house. But my family are safe. My animals are safe and we helped protect the community and that’s more important than the house,” he says. “We’ll move on and rebuild.”

Balmoral Fire Station is awash with that spirit of kindness. As exhausted firefighters continue to tackle spot fires, volunteers busily process donations of food, clothes, toiletries and bedding.

And perhaps more important, emotional support. Even among the stoicism of rural Australia you get a sense that’s what is needed here in the days and weeks ahead.

One family of three whose home was destroyed sat in the station’s kitchen, struggling to process their loss. Tears of shock and grief came in waves.

But there were also tears of gratitude, as the community rallied round them with hugs and warm words – even when there are none.

What is driving the fires?

A combination of record temperatures, low humidity and strong winds have worsened the struggle to deal with the bushfires.

Scientists have long warned that a hotter, drier climate would contribute to Australia’s fires becoming more frequent and intense.

“We are in a period of unbelievable drought and some areas haven’t seen rain for more than 12 months,” NSW Rural Fire Service Inspector Ben Shepherd told the BBC.

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“These fires are likely to continue to spread well past Christmas.”

Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons told reporters: “We will not get on top of these fires until we get some decent rain – we have said that for weeks and months.”

Rain is forecast in some fire-struck parts of NSW on Tuesday and Wednesday – but another period of dangerously hot weather is expected next week.

Weather officials say no major rainfall is expected in the next two months.


Are you in the affected region? If it is safe to do so, email haveyoursay@bbc.co.uk.

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Australia fires: PM rejects ‘reckless’ calls to limit coal industry

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