Bridget McKenzie grilled on Today as anger grows at government flood crisis response

Bridget McKenzie grilled by Karl Stefanovic on the Nine Network’s Today

The Morrison government’s response to the flood crisis in Queensland and NSW has found few fans this week, with some of the strongest attacks coming from unlikely sources.

In a week in which Barnaby Joyce sparred with the Sunrise ‘family’ and Prime Minister Scott Morrison was accused of hiding from media in Lismore, Senator Bridget McKenzie was in the firing line while appearing on breakfast television Friday.

During his controversial visit to Lismore on Wednesday, Mr Morrison announced he would recommend a national emergency declaration be made for flood-hit communities in a bid to open up more funding.

The decision makes it easier for those affected by the floods to receive government support. But it took more than a week into the disaster to arrive – and left many asking why the delay was so long.

That was indeed the question posed repeatedly by Karl Stefanovic to Senator McKenzie – Minister for Emergency Management and National Recovery and Resilience – on Channel Nine’s Today show on Friday.

“Why did it take you so long to declare a natural disaster?” Stefanovic asked.

What followed was an explanation of the triggers for enacting emergency powers, before Senator McKenzie insisted the flood disasters were of a “compounding nature” rather than an emergency event.

“It started in Gympie and we’ve headed right down through Sydney, as the rains have rolled on over the course of a week,” Senator McKenzie said.

“It was the compounding nature of this natural disaster that allowed the threshold to be met for us to be able to call a national emergency.”

A bemused Stefanovic repeated the question, adding: “I just don’t know what that means.”

The question and apparent lack of answer continued in a heated back and forth until Senator McKenzie attempted to definitively explain why a state of emergency hadn’t been declared earlier.

“Advice from Emergency Management Australia, so they gave us advice that we have now reached the threshold for this to be termed a national disaster,” she said.

“The Prime Minister then has to consult with premiers, which he did, and both the Queensland and the NSW premiers have agreed that this does require this to be declared, and the Prime Minister is heading to the Governor-General today to do that.”

Stefanovic’s co-host Sarah Abo summed up the exchange for many viewers, ending the interview by simply saying: “Probably tells you all you need to know why it’s taken so long.”

The exchange was shared on Twitter by Qld Labor Senator Murray Watt, who added a second video that appeared to show then attorney-general Christian Porter contradicting Senator McKenzie’s explanation for the delay.

In explaining the legislation, Mr Porter said the Prime Minister had the power make a national disaster declaration without consulting state premiers.

Joyce on Sunrise

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce was accused of talking “BS” on Monday when he was involved in a heated clash over the flood crisis while appearing on the Seven Network’s Sunrise.

While discussing the anger toward the government response from communities in flood-affected areas, Sunrise host Natalie Barr asked Mr Joyce: “Has somebody screwed up here and, if so, who?”

Mr Joyce defended the federal government, describing last week’s flooding as an extraordinary event that could not have been predicted.

“This is a one-in-3500-year event,” he said.

Barr responded sceptically: “This whole one-in-100, one-in-1000, one-in-3000 sounds to most people to be BS, to be quite frank.”

In the testy exchange that followed, Barr and co-host David Koch debated with Mr Joyce over whether to trust the Bureau of Meteorology or politicians when it comes to predicting weather events.

The Sunrise hosts opted for the BoM.

PM’s ‘secret’ visits

Mr Morrison was accused of conducting a “secret” visit to flood-ravaged Lismore on Wednesday when media was banned from covering parts of the PM’s trip.

Journalists were only told of a visit to a farm and a State Emergency Services operations centre after it had concluded.

Mr Morrison’s official photographer, former News Corporation photojournalist Adam Taylor, was on hand.

“In disasters like this not everybody wants a camera shoved in their face,” Mr Morrison said.

It is not known with whom the Prime Minister met, or if they had been chosen or pre-screened by his office.

But in seeking to limit coverage of his meetings with locals, the Prime Minister’s handlers only served to revive memories of his deeply unusual hand-grabbing in Cobargo, including an episode caught on camera of a furious firefighter who refused to shake his hand.

Angry Lismore residents turned out to confront Mr Morrison, but they were denied a chance to vent their fury face to face.

Carrying signs and chanting “the water is rising, no more compromising” and “It’s raining. It’s pouring. The PM is snoring”, a crowd of at least 100 locals awaited Mr Morrison’s expected arrival at the town’s emergency operations centre early on Wednesday afternoon.

About 40 police were also on site at the Lismore City Council chambers in Goonellabah.

Mr Morrison did not attend either gathering.

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