After his state experienced a deadly day of ferocious bushfires that killed three people in 24 hours – including a volunteer firefighter – New South Wales Emergency Services Minister David Elliott is returning from his European holiday.
The widely criticised jaunt, which Mr Elliott left for amid the worsening crisis, will now be cut short in the wake of the ongoing devastation.
But critics say the decision is too little, too late and the man responsible for the state’s response to major crises shouldn’t have left in the first place.
Last night, Mr Elliott’s staff initially told The Sydney Morning Herald that he wouldn’t be coming home despite the loss of life, mass evacuations and enormous destruction of property.
But an hour later, Mr Elliott performed a U-turn on that decision, releasing a brief statement to confirm his urgent return to Sydney.
“In light of the escalating damage toll to the South Coast and the tragic loss of a further two civilians and one RFS volunteer, I have decided to return to Australia to stand with our selfless volunteer firefighters and bushfire affected communities as we get through this period of devastating loss,” he said in a statement.
Mr Elliott’s stunning decision, hot on the heels of Prime Minister Scott Morrison being attacked for travelling to Hawaii with his family during the bushfires, has been criticised by many.
Some 100 fires continue to burn across NSW, with half of them uncontained and out of control.
While Mr Elliott continued his holiday in London yesterday, thousands of firefighters – many of them fatigued after several weeks of work, and unpaid volunteers – worked at the frontline of fires across the state.
The NSW South Coast, one of the worst-hit on a hellish New Year’s Eve, has been given brief reprieve overnight thanks to lower temperatures.
Those milder conditions are expected to continue for next few days across NSW before a return of catastrophic heat and winds that’s forecast on Saturday.
Yesterday, the community of Cobargo was hit by tragedy with the death of Patrick Salway, 29, and his father Robert, 63, who perished while trying to defend the family farm from fire.
It came hours after the volunteer firey who died on the Victoria-NSW border late on Monday night was named as expectant father Sam McPaul, 28.
The 10-tonne fire truck Sam was travelling in was rolled over by intense winds, described as a ‘fire tornado’ by authorities, on a property at Jingellic, east of Albury.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian yesterday was questioned about the timing of Mr Elliott’s absence but resisted calls to order his return.
“At the end of the day, the buck stops with me,” Ms Berejiklian said.
But Mr Elliott will now be back at his post “in coming days”.