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Australian prime minister considers public inquiry into bushfires as death toll rises

At least 27 people have now been killed in the months-long crisis.

Scott Morrison would not commit to reducing Australia's coal exports
Scott Morrison would not commit to reducing Australia's coal exports
Image: AAP/PA Images

AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER Scott Morrison has said that his government will consider opening a commission of inquiry into ongoing bushfires in the country, amid sustained criticism of his handling of the crisis.

The announcement came as it emerged the months-long crisis has claimed another victim, a 60-year-old who died fighting a blaze in the south of the country.

The fires have flared up in the southeast of the country over the last number of months, killing nearly half a billion native animals in New South Wales alone, scientists estimate.

While bushfires are common in Australia’s arid summers, climate change has pushed up land and sea temperatures and led to more extremely hot days and severe fire seasons.

Australia experienced its driest and hottest year on record in 2019, with its highest average maximum temperature of 41.9 degrees Celsius recorded in mid-December.

Speaking today, Morrison suggested that a public inquiry could be held into the blazes.

“I think that is what would be necessary, and I will be taking a proposal through cabinet to that end,” he told public broadcaster ABC.

Morrison acknowledged anger about the climate-fuelled fires, which have burned an area the size of South Korea and shrouded Sydney in smoke again on Sunday.

The prime minister – a supporter of fossil fuel industries – said emissions targets would “evolve” but ruled out curbing Australia’s vast exports of coal.

“In the years ahead, we are going to continue to evolve our policy in this area to reduce emissions even further and we are going to do it without a carbon tax, without putting up electricity prices and without shutting down traditional industries,” he said.

Earlier, news emerged that the death from the bushfires had risen to at least 27, as firefighters attempted to take advantage of cooler conditions to conduct backburning and strengthen containment lines.

Chris Hardman, chief fire officer at Forest Fire Management Victoria, said a firefighter from Parks Victoria was “involved in an incident while working on a fire in the Omeo area resulting in a fatality”.

It is believed he was struck by a tree.

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Authorities have warned that although the blazes are set to ease this week, the crisis is far from over.

- © AFP 2020

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