PM cancels India trip amid bushfire devastation

 

Scott Morrison has cancelled his scheduled trip to India to deal with Australia's bushfire crisis.

The move from the Prime Minister comes after he was widely criticised for taking a Hawaiian holiday as fires ravaged across several states last month.

In a statement issued by the office of India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi, it said he was looking forward to hosting Mr Morrison at a date to be confirmed.

According to the release the two leaders spoke on Friday.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will host Scott Morrison at a later date. Picture: AP
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will host Scott Morrison at a later date. Picture: AP

"Prime Minister Modi conveyed his heartfelt condolences on behalf of all Indians and on his own behalf on the damage to life and property in Australia due to severe and prolonged bushfires," the statement said.

"He also offered India's unstinted support to Australia and the Australian people, who are bravely facing this unprecedented natural calamity."

"Expressing his satisfaction at the progress in bilateral relations in recent years, Prime Minister Modi reiterated India's commitment to strengthen its strategic partnership with Australia. He stated that to this end, he looked forward to welcoming the Prime Minister of Australia in India on a State Visit at the earliest mutual convenience."

Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s trip to India has been postponed. Picture: Getty
Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s trip to India has been postponed. Picture: Getty

Earlier, Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters he is unlikely to proceed with his planned India tour, which was scheduled for January 13.

The Prime Minister arrived at the donation centre at Lucknow Memorial Hall in Bairnsdale to meet with the generous band of volunteers who have taken thousands of donations from locals.

He is accompanied by local MP Darren Chester.

"That is tremendous, that is wonderful," Mr Morrison said to one of the volunteers about their efforts and the donations.

"This will be a welcome relief," he said to another.

He has met with Sarsfield resident Lynette Wallwork, who lost her home in Monday's bushfire.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison meets Sarsfield resident Lynette Wallwork who lost her home in the bushfires. Picture: Brianna Travers
Prime Minister Scott Morrison meets Sarsfield resident Lynette Wallwork who lost her home in the bushfires. Picture: Brianna Travers

"We've lost our house," she said.

"The house has gone and the shed has survived."

Mr Morrison nodded and listened.

"Last time I was down here it was the drought and today it is the fires," Mr Morrison said.

"It is a great hardship on this community, but look at the response.

"It's going to be a tough road ahead."

The group of volunteers posed for a photo with the Prime Minister.

"Everyone's chins are up here," Mr Morrison said.

"There is always something to look forward to.

"Thank you very much, East Gippy Angels."

Mr Morrison also met with bushfire victims Paul and Melissa Churchman this morning and was taken through their property at Sarsfield, where their home and flower business was reduced to smouldering ruins.

Morrison at the donations centre in Lucknow on the outskirts of Bairnsdale. Picture: Aaron Francis/The Australian
Morrison at the donations centre in Lucknow on the outskirts of Bairnsdale. Picture: Aaron Francis/The Australian

Ms Churchman described their Sarsfield Wildflower Farm on the Great Alpine Road as "ground zero."

"Where do I start, what do I do?" Ms Churchman asked.

"There's no handbook, no guidelines.

"The most important thing is where we are going to live for the next few weeks.''

She also expressed concern about the couple's income stream.

Mr Morrison told the couple they would eligible for government disaster recovery assistance.

"(It is a) tough few days but thanks for allowing me to come along," he told them.

"That stillness must be quite eerie for you.

"People are in shock at the moment. It is eerie.

"I'm terribly sorry."

Scott Morrison vists Paul and Melissa Churchman’s Sarsfield property. Picture: Brianna Travers
Scott Morrison vists Paul and Melissa Churchman’s Sarsfield property. Picture: Brianna Travers

 

Paul and Melissa Churchman’s Sarsfield property was completely destroyed. Picture: Brianna Travers
Paul and Melissa Churchman’s Sarsfield property was completely destroyed. Picture: Brianna Travers

Mr Morrison said he had been "struck" when he visited the 10-year Black Saturday commemorations in Victoria in 2019.

"It is not just rebuilding but community and the environment," Mr Morrison said.

Mr Churchman told the Prime Minister the couple made the decision to prioritise saving their eight horses.

"At some point you have to decide your priorities - for us it was our horses," he said.

Mr Morrison told the couple his sister-in-law had recently evacuated her own home in the Blue Mountains in NSW.

Mr Morrison also met with Sarsfield resident John "Kooka" Kinniburgh at his two-storey home which had burnt to the ground in the bushfires.

Morrison talks to a volunteer who has been affected by the fires. Picture: Aaron Francis/The Australian
Morrison talks to a volunteer who has been affected by the fires. Picture: Aaron Francis/The Australian

"It came up the gorge like a blowtorch," Mr Kinniburgh told the Prime Minister.

"It is shocking.

"I'm overwhelmed standing here now. We had a beautiful garden."

He shared before and after photos of his home.

Mr Morrison asked Mr Kinniburgh if he had a place to say.

"It is costly," Mr Kinniburgh said.

"We have a holiday apartment until February 2."

Mr Kinniburgh compared the expense of the temporary accommodation to staying at the Taj Mahal.

Mr Morrison listened and nodded.

The Prime Minister offered his commiserations to Mr Kinniburgh.

"It will take a while to come to terms with," Mr Morrison said.

"All the best mate."

Mr Morrison was welcomed by bushfire survivors as he travelled through Sarsfield, in contrast to the more hostile reception he received at Cobargo in NSW on Thursday. He shook hands with several residents, listened to their stories and commiserated, offering government assistance.

Mr Morrison responded to the Cobargo incident where a woman hurled abuse at him.

"People are frustrated, people have suffered great loss, they are feeling very raw, particularly where I was yesterday," he said at the Bairnsdale incident control centre.

"That is the case in many parts of the country, and so I understand.

"However they wish to respond is a matter for them."

He said he had met with the woman and said they talked about what she was asking for.

"I don't take it personally," he said.

"I see it as a sense of frustration, hurt, loss and anger."

brianna.travers@news.com.au

Morrison assured a couple they would be eligible for recovery assistance. Picture: Aaron Francis/The Australian
Morrison assured a couple they would be eligible for recovery assistance. Picture: Aaron Francis/The Australian


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