The Greens MP Adam Bandt has defended his party colleague labelling politicians from the major parties “arsonists” while bushfires swept through swathes of New South Wales and Queensland last week.
Bandt noted that the Greens senator Jordon Steele-John was among the generation of young people “terrified” about the impact of climate change, and said the point of the remarks was to highlight Australia’s inaction on reducing fossil fuel emissions.
“I think he’s the youngest member of parliament, he’s part of a generation that is terrified and aghast with what they’re seeing with the climate crisis,” Bandt, the party’s climate change spokesman, told ABC Insiders on Sunday.
“They are terrified and unless the government gets the climate crisis under control and reins in the use of coal, then this generation is going to rise up with a fury that is matched only by the intensity of the fires.
“So people may quibble about the words that are used, but I would urge people to have a listen to the point that Jordon was making.”
Bandt said he did not regret linking the government’s climate change policy to the bushfires.
“Scott Morrison has been put on notice, and his government has been put on notice for many years now, that if we keep digging up coal at the rate of knots that we’re doing at the moment, it is going to contribute to making global warming worse, and that is going to make bushfires like this more likely and more intense when they happen.”
Speaking in the Senate last week, Steele-John targeted both Labor and Coalition MPs for voting in support of the Coalition’s so-called big stick energy legislation, which gives the government the power to force energy companies to divest energy assets.
The Greens argue the legislation will have the effect of “propping up coal” by prolonging the life of coal-fired power stations and contributing to climate change.
“You are no better than a bunch of arsonists – borderline arsonists – and you should be ashamed,” Steele-John said.
“There will come a time when the Australian community shall look back on this moment and ask what we were doing to help as they were fighting fires on the front.”
The Queensland Labor senator Murray Watt objected to the remarks, accusing the party of political point-scoring.
“To refer to members of this chamber as arsonists on the very day that we are told by fire chiefs that we are seeing conditions that this country has never seen before is beyond offensive,” Watt said.
A political war of words erupted between the Greens and Coalition MPs over the link between climate change and bushfires last week, with the Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce saying some of the victims of the fire in NSW were probably Greens voters.
“I acknowledge that the two people who died were most likely people who voted for the Green party, so I am not going to start attacking them,” Joyce told Sky News on Tuesday.
“That’s the last thing I want to do. What I wanted to concentrate on is the policies that we can mitigate these tragedies happening again in the future.”
Joyce also dismissed the Greens suggestion that a government shift on coal-fired power could address the risk of bushfires.
“To make these spurious links – that a policy change would have stopped the fire – is so insulting and just completely beyond the pale,” he said.
Earlier in the week the Nationals leader, Michael McCormack, had said it was “raving inner-city lunatics” who were linking climate change to the fires.
The prime minister, Scott Morrison, labelled Joyce’s comments “unhelpful” and urged MPs on all sides to “take it down a few notches”.
“There have been a lot of provocative comments made over the last few days from all sides of the debate and I find it very unhelpful,” Morrison said.
“The last thing that people in an urgent crisis need at the moment is hearing politicians shout at each other.
“There is a time and a place to debate controversial issues and important issues. Right now it’s important to focus on the needs of Australians who need our help.”