Workmen fix a power pole in the town of Mogo, where a recent bushfire reduced homes and businesses to twisted metal and ash. AFP
Melbourne: A political poll showed Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s popularity declined sharply as his government grappled with a bushfires crisis that has killed 28 people and destroyed 2,000 homes.
Monday’s Newspoll comes as officials confirmed 11.2 million hectares (27.7 million acres) have now been razed by fires that have been burning for months, nearly half the area of the United Kingdom.
Morrison has come under attack for being slow to respond to an unprecedented crisis, even taking a family holiday to Hawaii while fires were burning. He acknowledged during a television interview on Sunday that he had made some mistakes.
"We have heard the message loud and clear from the Australian people," Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said on Monday, when asked about the poll result as he announced a A$50 million wildlife protection fund.
"They want to see a Federal Government adopt a very direct response to these natural and national disasters," Frydenberg said.
The Newspoll showed Morrison’s approval rating dropped 8 points to the lowest level since he took over leadership of the Liberal Party in August 2018. He was overtaken by Labor leader Anthony Albanese. No margin of error was provided for the poll, which surveyed 1,505 people from Wednesday to Saturday, although it was about 2.5 percentage points in previous Newspolls.
The poll was taken after Morrison announced a A$2 billion ($1.4 billion) bushfire recovery fund and called out 3,000 army reservists to back up state emergency workers - responses that were viewed as too slow.
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.
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 Metereology) 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.