The incident occurred yesterday during Mr Morrison’s visit to fire-ravaged Cobargo, a tiny village in the NSW Bega Valley that was decimated by the deadly New Year’s Eve fires, which also killed local father and son Robert and Patrick Salway.
The Prime Minister visited the town yesterday and met with locals and fireys at Cobargo’s emergency centre.
During the meet and greet, he walked up to an unidentified fireman who was taking a break and attempted to shake his hand.
But the man, who is believed to have lost his own home in the blaze, refused, simply looking at Mr Morrison’s outstretched hand and shaking his head.
“I don’t really want to shake your hand,” he can be heard saying in a short clip of the embarrassing incident.
Mr Morrison then leans down and grabs hold of the man’s hand before the firefighter pulls it away and ignores the Prime Minister, who awkwardly starts to walk away and pat the man on the shoulder.
“Time for a cuppa?” he asks another man who is drinking tea, while the furious firefighter who refused to shake Mr Morrison’s hand gets up and walks away off camera.
Gosh this is so awkward. Australian PM Scott Morrison goes to try and shake the hand of a firefighter who does not appear keen. (The PM was abused earlier by angry locals) Filmed by @GregNelsonACS @abcnews #AustraliaBurning #NSWbushfires #SouthCoastFires pic.twitter.com/3zjeJp3jWe
— Sophie McNeill (@Sophiemcneill) January 2, 2020
Shortly afterwards, Mr Morrison spoke to another fire official and said: “Tell that fella I’m really sorry, I’m sure he’s just tired.”
The firefighter responds, explaining: “No, no, he’s lost a house.”
It was shared on Twitter by renowned ABC reporter Sophie McNeill, who described it as “so awkward”.
It has since gone viral, attracting thousands of likes, retweets and comments.
“Scomo just doesn’t get it does he?” one Twitter user asked, while another posted: “A repeat offender too. What sort of person forces another to unwillingly shake their hand?! This is just staggering.”
“This is really hard to watch …” another person wrote.
The uncomfortable exchange came shortly after Mr Morrison was abused by other devastated residents of Cobargo, which has been one of the hardest-hit communities.
Upon his arrival in town yesterday, he received a frosty welcome from locals who shouted he should be “ashamed of himself” and that he’s “left the country to burn”.
The Prime Minister was asked by one local why “we only had four trucks to defend our town?”
“What about the money for our forgotten corner of NSW Mr Prime Minister,” the woman said. “How come we only had four trucks to defend our town, ’cause our town doesn’t have a lot of money but we have hearts of gold Mr Prime Minister.”
Later, the same woman said: “What about the people who are dead now, Mr Prime Minister? What about the people who have nowhere to live?”
Another man said: “Nah, you’re an idiot mate. You really are.”
Another said: “What about people around here. Nobody. No Liberal votes. You’re out son. You are out. Goodnight Vienna. Bye. Go on p**s off.”
The Prime Minister is facing mounting criticism of his handling of the bushfire disaster, with many claiming a lack of action and leadership when it comes to helping affected areas.
He was also widely criticised for his decision to take a family holiday to Hawaii in December as the crisis raged on and for allegedly ignoring requests to meet with fire experts earlier last year.
The criticism is also starting to come from his own colleagues, with Bega state Liberal MP Andrew Constance telling Sunrise this morning “locals gave him the welcome he probably deserved”.
“The locals gave him the welcome he probably deserved”@AndrewConstance – local MP for Bega – responds after Prime Minister @ScottMorrisonMP copped a spray from angry #bushfire victims in his electorate. pic.twitter.com/tm6QCgroSF
— Sunrise (@sunriseon7) January 2, 2020
“I didn’t even know he was coming and I haven’t had a call from him, so to be honest with you, the locals gave him the welcome he probably deserved,” Mr Constance said.
“I’d say this to the Prime Minister today – the nation wants you to open up the cheque books, obviously help people rebuild their lives.
“I know this is tough and I know I’m on his side of politics, but, you know, (NSW Premier) Gladys (Berejiklian) and (RFS Commissioner) Shane Fitzsimmons came here two days ago and they obviously visited the fire-affected part of my electorate in the north … this is the feeling that people are going through and I really need everybody to rally together and support each other.
“Having lived through this myself, it’s tough … it’s cruel, it’s nasty. The Cobargo community lost people.”