Morrison Shrugs Off Holiday Criticism, Says 'It's Time To Be Kind To Each Other'
Scott Morrison says the "time for discussion" about his Hawaii holiday "is over", criticising what he claimed was "pointscoring" as fires raged nationwide.
The Prime Minister apologised and said he may have made "different decisions" with the benefit of hindsight, but defended his holiday because he had made a promise to his young daughters -- adding "it's time to be kind to each other".
He also distanced himself from comparisons to his prior criticism of former Victorian police chief Christine Nixon, saying "I am not the operational leader of an emergency service or police force."
Morrison had been criticised for taking a family holiday as blazes burned across multiple states, with some taking aim at the lack of information about his absence. There was no official notification that deputy PM, Michael McCormack, was acting as the Prime Minister in Morrison's absence until after he had left, while the PM's office wouldn't confirm where he actually was, telling journalists that claims he was in Hawaii were "wrong".
Morrison cut his trip short by a day, returning to Australia on Saturday night after two firefighters tragically died in an accident on Thursday.
On Sunday morning, he visited Rural Fire Service headquarters in Sydney for a briefing on the emergency situation in New South Wales, and in a later press conference, addressed media for the first time since his Hawaii controversy erupted.
"If we had your time over again and the benefit of hindsight, we would have made different decisions," Morrison said of his trip, which he acknowledged had caused "great anxiety in Australia".
The PM apologised several times to those upset by his absence, and excused his decision to take the trip by saying "when you make a promise to your children, you try and keep it".
"I get it that people would have been upset to know that I was holidaying with my family while their families were under great stress. They know that I will not stand there and hold a hose. I am not a trained firefighter nor am I an expert like those in the next room doing an amazing job," Morrison said.
"I think it is important when you confronted with these things you front up and are honest with people and that is what I am seeking to do now."
However, he added "the time for that discussion is over. We need to focus on what is going out there today."
Morrison added he believed "it is time to be kind to each other."
"This is not a time for division, it is not a time for argument, it is not a time for partisanship, not a time for pointscoring," he said.
"Australians, we need to rally together. The time for argument is not now. It is not to say there is no time to talk about climate change, of course there is and we are talking about it. But let's do it in a way that does not distract from the very immediate need of detecting people's lives, protecting their property, honouring those who are out there doing everything they can."
Morrison also batted away questions about the administrative arrangements and McCormack's temporary elevation to acting PM, saying the process was identical to previous holidays he had taken.
"There was no change. On my earlier leaves no statement was issued, I took private family leave and no objections were raised by the press on those occasions but it is something we will rectify," he said.
Prior convention was that Prime Ministers release an official statement announcing who is acting as PM in their absence.
In response to a question about why media enquiries to McCormack were referred to the PM's office, Morrison flatly responded "these are not the matters I am focused on now, I will leave those matters for others."
"I understand there is media interest in the engagement of briefings between my office and the gallery and those sorts of things, I get that," he said.
Footage of the PM criticising former Victorian police commissioner Nixon in 2009 was unearthed last week, where then-treasurer Morrison said it was "a bad judgement call" for her to go out for dinner during the Black Saturday fires.
Scott Morrison Once Scolded Ex-Police Chief For Going Out To Dinner During Bushfire Crisis
As thousands of Australians tweet at the prime minister to ask #WhereTheBloodyHellAreYou? footage of Scott Morrison scolding a former police commissioner for having dinner during a bushfire crisis has come back to haunt him.
On Sunday, Morrison said he had "held myself to that same standard."
"Equally I would note that I am not the operational leader of an emergency service or police force. I am the Prime Minister. And as Prime Minister I was kept regularly and sought to be kept regularly updated on the events," he said.
In response to calls from Labor leader Anthony Albanese that volunteer firefighters should be better compensated for their time and efforts, Morrison said it is not for the Commonwealth to step in and make decisions" on the state-run fire services, but "these are things that I think can be contemplated."
"I very much want to do that in consultation with state and territory governments," he said.