However, the acting prime minister would not be drawn on specifics of how the government would respond. “We will have those discussions, of course,” he said.
“The important thing is that we put the fires out. The important thing is that we wrap our arms around people who’ve lost loved ones,” he said.
“The important thing is that we make sure that we’ve got the proper resourcing and that we fully address these fires as they’re occurring … it’s going to be a long, drawn out fire season.”
Mr McCormack criticised environmental activists who called for an end to coal mining, saying the sector “provides two thirds of our energy needs” and was a $62 billion export industry that provided jobs for tens of thousands of Australians.
“For all those people running around saying we should abandon coal right now, what are they going to do with our electricity needs this summer if we stop all our coal fired power stations?” Mr McCormack asked.
“Yes, the discussion can be had [but] there’s been a lot of hysteria around climate change. Climate change isn’t the only factor that has caused these fires.”
He named dry lightening strikes, arson and “self-combusting piles of manure” among the causes.
Asked why he was in his electorate and not at the RFS headquarters as acting prime minister, Mr McCormack said he had received a telephone briefing early on Saturday morning.
“You don’t want to get in the way of these professional people doing their job,” he said. “I’m doing what I can from where I am … I’ve already been there this week.”
Mr McCormack said Mr Morrison had expressed regret over the timing of his Hawaiian holiday and was “on his way back” and “will be back today”, which was “a good thing”.
“No one could have envisaged what has transpired this week … everyone is entitled to a holiday,” he said.
He said Mr Morrison had “been getting briefings every day whilst he’s been on leave.”
Mr McCormack said he contacted NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian on Saturday morning to discuss further federal assistance to the state’s fire fighting effort.
He extended his sympathies to the families of Geoffrey Keaton and Andrew O’Dwyer, the firefighters killed while battling a blaze south-west of Sydney on Thursday night.
“Our hearts go out to the Keaton and O’Dwyer families for the loss of Geoffrey and Andrew, two young men in the prime of their life – in their 30s, with young children – who have lost their lives volunteering so that others can save their properties and potentially save their lives.
“Geoffrey and Andrew were mates and their spirits will always be with us.”
Dana is health and industrial relations reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.