Australians have begged for New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to lead the country instead of Scott Morrison she announced on Friday she will send more firefighters to help with Australia’s bushfire crisis.
A day after Morrison was heckled by enraged locals and an angry firefighter in the fire-ravaged NSW town of Cobargo, Ardern took to Instagram to post a heartwarming message of support.
“Even before we saw the smoke from the fires across the ditch, I know we were already thinking of our friends and neighbours in Australia,” she said.
“It’s been devastating to watch from afar, I can only imagine what it feels like to experience it directly.
“Next week New Zealand will send another team of 22 firefighters and logistical support to join the rotation of more than 150 kiwis that we have had working alongside our Australian counterparts since October.”
The post has been flooded with comments begging Ardern to take the leadership reins from Morrison amid an unprecedented crisis that has killed at least 18 people.
“Thank you for your grace and action,” wrote new Masterchef judge Melissa Leong. “We will also accept a rotation on leadership duties from you anytime.”
″#leader,” commented model Lara Worthington.
“Save us Jacinda,” wrote another follower.
“Wish you could take Scott Morrison’s place for the next few months, we need some humanity and help,” a user captioned.
“We have very poor corporate owned government Jacinda. It’s very sad that they’re taking care of the mining companies ahead of the whole country of Australia,” one user added.
Morrison has received continuous criticism for his handling of the fires and was forced to return home early from his recent holiday in Hawaii after outrage that he would leave the country during a national crisis. On Wednesday, he again raised eyebrows by hosting Australia and New Zealand cricketers at his house, saying that the national disaster was happening “against the backdrop of this test match” and that Australians could be “inspired” by cricket during this difficult time.
Even a state politician from his own Liberal party whose seat is in the region took a swipe at the prime minister.
“To be honest, the locals probably gave him the welcome he probably deserved,” said NSW transport minister Andrew Constance.
Morrison is now considering cancelling an official trip to India scheduled for January 13 to 16.
“I’m inclined not to proceed on that visit,” he said on Friday.
Australia’s coal and gas exports, blamed for adding to global climate change and the conditions stoking bushfires, were expected to be high on the agenda for talks in India. Morrison’s government has long supported a controversial coal mine planned by India’s Adani Group in Australia.
Bushfires so far this season have scorched more than 4 million hectares (10 million acres) of bushland and destroyed over 1,000 homes, including 449 homes destroyed on the south coast of NSW this week.
― The Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) has rated six of South Australia’s 15 weather districts at “extreme” fire danger rating on Friday; three are rated “severe”, five at “very high” and one at “high”.
― For Saturday, the BOM has “extreme” fire danger ratings for four of 17 districts in NSW. Six areas are rated “severe”, 10 are “very high” and one is “high”. In Victoria, one district has a forecast “extreme” rating, three are rated “severe”, three at “very high” and two at “high”.
― The NSW RFS tweeted a map of predictions of the spread of fires on Saturday
― Anthony Albanese, head of the opposition Labor Party, called for a national response to a national emergency. “We haven’t, in my lifetime, had people on beaches waiting to be evacuated in life jackets...like it’s a peacetime version of something that we have seen during wartime. This is not business as usual,” he said in a media conference.
― Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews says the state of disaster was an extraordinary step for extraordinary circumstances. “If you can leave you must leave. Not just for your safety but for the safety of those who may be called to your aid,” he told ABC news.
― Ten people have been killed by wildfires in the eastern states of NSW and Victoria since Monday, and 28 are still missing in Victoria.
― NSW rural fire service says there are 127 fires burning in the state and warned of a fire front stretching 60 to 70 km on Saturday.
― Police and emergency services again urged tourists on the state’s South Coast and in the Snowy Mountains to leave the area ahead of dangerous fire conditions. The deadline to leave Kosciuszko National Park was 10 a.m. Friday (2300 GMT Thursday).
― Thousands of people had already been evacuated from the region of East Gippsland in Victoria, one of the largest in the country since the northern city of Darwin evacuated over 35,000 people in the aftermath of cyclone Tracy in 1974.
― A contingent of 39 firefighters from North America landed in Melbourne this week, bringing to almost 100 the number of U.S. and Canadian experts who have flown in to help deal with the crisis.
― New Zealand’s government said it would send another 22 firefighters next week. Since October, NZ has deployed 157 firefighters to Australia.
― Morrison, forced to defend his government’s limited action on climate change, blamed a three-year drought and lack of hazard reduction for the unprecedented extent and duration of this year’s bushfires.
― Morrison said his inclination was to not proceed with a visit to India from Jan. 13 because of the fires. He is scheduled to visit Japan after India.
― United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed sympathy for those who have suffered in Australia, U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said on Thursday, adding that Guterres has warned that when it comes to tackling global warming, “right now the pace we’re on, we’re not winning that race.”
Jill Gralow, Josie Harvey and Wayne Cole contributed to this report.