'Arson is not caused by climate change': Row breaks out over real cause of Australia's bushfires after it emerges more than 180 people have been arrested for starting them
A row has broken out over the cause of Australia's deadly bushfire crisis, with Liberal MP Craig Kelly claiming that 'arson is not caused by climate change'.
The MP, who is known for his climate change skepticism, put forward his opinion on why the country is gripped in a fire emergency during an appearance on ABC's RN Breakfast show.
'Unprecedented' numbers of people had been arrested and charged with arson offences, he claimed. 'The arson is not caused by climate change.'
The claims of arson have already become a political battleground, with some politicians and commentators seizing on them to argue that the impact of climate change has been overstated.
Backbencher Mr Kelly earlier sparked a row on UK television after claiming there was 'no link' between climate change and the fires in an interview on Good Morning Britain.
He told host Piers Morgan and Laura Tobin: 'What causes the main thing of the fires is the build up of the fuel on the ground and the drought.'
During the interview Mr Kelly also defended Prime Minister Scott Morrison's decision to holiday in Hawaii amid the crisis.
Miss Tobin hit back at Mr Kelly, branding him a 'climate denier'.
She told him: 'We want everyone in the world to lower the global temperature rise by 1.5C, you [Australia] can't even commit to 2C.
'You have the second highest carbon emission on earth and you are burying your head in the sand.
'You're not a climate sceptic - you're a climate denier.'
Following the interview, Mr Kelly caused outrage by calling meteorologist Laura Tobin an 'ignorant Pommy weather girl' on Twitter. He later told ABC News that Tobin 'had no idea what she was talking about.'
Miss Tobin hit back at the MP, pointing out her degree in Physics and Meteorology and telling him: 'I'm not a weather girl.'
Todd Starnes, a conservative talk show host in the US, also leaped on the arson arrests to make a similar argument.
'It turns out - climate change has nothing to do with the humanitarian crisis unfolding Down Under,' he said.
More than 180 people have been arrested accused of deliberately lighting bushfires since the start of the horror season which has left 25 dead and destroyed more than 2,000 homes.
On the New South Wales south coast, where at least nine people have died since the fire season picked up in October, 29 blazes have been deliberately lit.
So far 24 people across the state have been charged with starting blazes in the bush, while a further 159 have been charged or cautioned over less serious fire offences.
Scientists believe climate change is amplifying the conditions necessary for firestorms to form.
Physicist Scott Menor said that even if all the fires were started by arson, 'climate change made the difference between throwing a match in water to throwing it in gasoline'.
In addition, analysis by Dr Timothy Graham from the Queensland University of Technology suggests that there may be a deliberate misinformation campaign on Twitter to cast doubt on the effect of climate change.
Tweets with the hashtag #ArsonEmergency were more likely to come from suspect accounts than others such as #AustraliaFire, he found, according to ZDNet.
The fires have caught the attention of Hollywood, where numerous movie stars used Sunday night's Golden Globes to draw attention to the blazes - some of them saying that the situation was proof of the need to do more to fight climate change.
In Queensland, police have arrested 101 people accused of starting bushfires, 69 juveniles and 32 adults.
Five people were arrested for allegedly setting bushland alight in Tasmania - and a further 10 in South Australia.
Meanwhile in Victoria, where locals have experienced some of the most catastrophic conditions the nation has ever seen, 43 people were charged with firebug offences.
There have been 183 people arrested or charged with lighting bushfires nationally - and police fear that figure will climb.
Mitch Parish, a former arson squad detective, said the international frenzy surrounding the bushfire crisis would only increase a 'vanity arsonists' desire to light an inferno.
'It's got to the stage where they're seeing all the publicity on the fires … and they get bit of a buzz because of all the attention,' Mr Parish said.
NSW Rural Fire Service volunteer Blake Banner was charged with lighting seven fires in the south coast region.
The 19-year-old was allegedly spotted leaving a location as a fire spread rapidly and arrived at a fire ground to help put out a blaze before any of his fellow volunteers on another occasion, police say.
He was granted bail and intends to fight the accusations.
Banner was stood down from his duties with the force in the interim and Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said members will be devastated if the allegations are proven true.
'Our members will be rightly angry that the alleged actions of one individual can tarnish the reputation and hard work of so many,' he said.
A 79-year-old South Australian man was also charged with starting multiple grass and shrub fires as the nation welcomed in the new year.
Police will allege the man lit fires on December 30 and January 2, and then two on Saturday, all in the Kingston area, on the state's south-east coastline.
The devastating bushfires have cost 25 people their lives so far this season, destroyed more than 2,000 homes and thousands more outbuildings and dwellings.
The blazes, which have now been burning along much of the east coast of Australia for three months, have scorched more than six million hectares of land.