Asia

Aussie PM breaks silence on ‘troubling’ smoke crisis

SYDNEY: Facing angry street protests and mounting political pressure, Australia's prime minister on Thursday (Dec 12) broke a long silence to acknowledge "troubling" bushfire smoke that has engulfed his native Sydney for more than a month.

"I've lived all my life, pretty much, in Sydney and the haze that has come from those fires, I know has been deeply troubling to Sydneysiders," he said, ending weeks of studied silence.

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On Wednesday up to 20,000 people – many wearing face mask – marched in Sydney, demanding Prime Minister Scott Morrison address directly the crisis that has caused health problems to spike and forced residents indoors.

READ: Toxic bushfire haze blankets eastern Australia

The disapproval rating of Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison, pictured at a cricket training session in Brisbane on November, has risen since the bushfire crisis began in earnest. (Photo: AFP/Saeed Khan)

Hours later the conservative leader insisted he understood the concerns of greater Sydney's five million residents, who have been coughing and spluttering through thick smoke off-and-on since October.

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"I know how unusual it is to see that haze across my city. And I know how distressing that has been, particularly for young people, who wouldn't have seen that before," he said.

He also made a rare admission that climate change is one of the "factors" causing unprecedented bushfires that have destroyed millions of hectares of land, more than 700 homes and caused toxic smoke to bathe Australia's largest city.

"The dryness of the bush is the biggest factor," he said noting a long drought in some areas. "And we all know climate change, along with many other factors, contributes to what is occurring today."

READ: Sydney smoke crisis 'longest on record'

Up to 20,000 people – many wearing face masks – marched in Sydney, demanding Prime Minister Scott Morrison address directly the smoke crisis that has caused health problems to spike. (Photo: AFP/Saeed Khan)

Until now Morrison's public comments have focused almost exclusively on solidarity with sparsely populated rural communities hit by the fires directly.

A recent poll by Essential Research showed Morrison's disapproval rating had risen from 36 per cent in September – when the bushfire crisis began in earnest – to 43 per cent today.

Climate is a vexed political issue for Morrison's Liberal party.

While he once jokingly paraded on the floor of parRead More – Source