Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has extended federal government assistance to flood-stricken communities north-west of Sydney, and said the latest inundation is proof of the need for action on climate change.
Residents in the Hawkesbury-Richmond area have been inundated for the fourth time in less than two years.
Touring the communities on Wednesday, Mr Albanese declared residents in 23 flood-affected areas would become eligible for $1000 disaster relief payments.
Mr Albanese said reducing Australia’s contribution to global climate change was a “long-term solution” the government was pursuing in response to increasingly frequent flooding.
“Australia has always been subject of floods, of bushfires, but we know that the science told us if we continued to not take action globally on climate change then these extreme weather events would be more often and more intense,” he said.
“What we’re seeing, unfortunately, is that play out.”
New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet joined Mr Albanese on a tour that included a stop to a charity providing supplies to affected residents.
At a later media conference the Prime Minister hit back at critics who said he had neglected the domestic emergency while overseas.
“There is a war going on, and apparently that should have been dismissed,” he said.
“When I returned from [Ukraine] … I immediately spoke to Premier Perrottet. I spoke to Minister [Murray] Watt. I spoke to the acting prime minister Richard Marles and made sure that every support was being offered.”
Mr Albanese said he found criticism of his trip to a NATO summit in Madrid, which ended with a tour of war-struck Ukraine, to be “beyond contempt”.
Coalition MPs including National Party leader David Littleproud had earlier sought to draw an analogy to criticism levelled at former prime minister Scott Morrison for being overseas during moments of natural disaster, most famously while on holiday to Hawaii during the Black Summer bushfires.
“They (Labor) were pretty quick to throw a few grenades at Scott Morrison,” Mr Littleproud said.
The Prime Minister was defended by Mr Perrottet on Wednesday.
“I know in some quarters the Prime Minister has been criticised for being away,” the Premier said. “But as soon as he could, he picked up the phone to call me.
“I’ll call it as I see it, and I think from where we sit today, the response between the Commonwealth government and the state government has been pleasing.”
Mr Albanese said the criticism of his trip flew in the face of a plan to conduct politics in a new and less partisan spirit.
“I was fulfilling a responsibility that I believe that I had, of travelling to Ukraine,” Mr Albanese said.
“To compare that with a holiday, I just find beyond contempt.
“New politics is about getting things done and achieving outcomes and working together in the interest of the Australian public.”
Late on Wednesday Emergency Management Minister Murray Watt confirmed the federal government will provide increased support from the Australian Defence Force to add to an existing contingent of 250 troops conducting search-and-rescue operations.
The Australian Bureau of Meteorology blamed unusually warm ocean waters for contributing to an unusual concentration of moisture and subsequent extremely heavy rainfall.