Prime Minister Scott Morrison is cutting his Hawaii holiday short and returning to Australia after the death of two volunteer firefighters overnight.
He will arrive back in the country tomorrow.
Hours before announcing his return, a photo of the prime minister enjoying himself in Hawaii with fellow Australians was widely criticised as massive bushfires continue to burn across the nation.
The outrage gained traction two days ago when Lara Worthington (nee Bingle), the bikini model who made the slogan famous in a tourism ad, demanded globetrotting PM tell Australia, "Where the bloody hell are you?" with the hashtag AustraliaBurns.
"Over the course of the past week I have been taking leave with my family. Our leave was brought forward due to the need to cancel our scheduled leave in January because of our official government visit to India and Japan," Morrison said in a statement this morning.
"I deeply regret any offence caused to any of the many Australians affected by the terrible bushfires by my taking leave with family at this time.
"I have been receiving regular updates on the bushfires disaster as well as the status of the search and treatment of the victims of the White Island tragedy. The Commonwealth's responsibilities have been well managed by the Acting Prime Minister, Minister Littleproud and Minister Payne.
"Given the most recent tragic events, I will be returning to Sydney as soon as can be arranged."
Morrison also expressed his "sincere condolences and sympathies" to the fallen firefighters' families.
"They were bravely defending their communities with an unmatched spirit and a dedication that will forever set them apart amongst our most courageous Australians," he said.
"Their sacrifice and their service saving lives and saving properties will be forever remembered. I wish those injured the best in their recovery.
"These fires and heat conditions are horrendous, and there are still difficult days ahead, with Saturday predicted to be the most severe day, with extreme temperatures and wind making conditions very difficult for fire crews. We wish all of those putting themselves in harm's way for all of us all the best. Stay safe, stay together."
The Prime Minister has been criticised for deciding to take leave while bushfires continued to burn across the country.
Morrison called in to 2GB radio after releasing those statements this morning.
He confirmed he was in Hawaii — something his office has demurred on all week — and said he would return as soon as possible.
"These events are just horrendous. If it was possible not to be where I was this week, well, maybe, but this has been arranged some time ago, and that's just how it was," Morrison said on radio.
"I'll be coming back as soon as I can. It's not easy to get back, but I will as soon as I can.
"I know Australians will understand this, and they'll be pleased I'm coming back, I'm sure.
"But they know that, you know, I don't hold a hose mate, and I don't sit in a control room. The brave people who do that are doing that job."
He said the trip was an attempt to surprise his daughters, given he has official trips scheduled in January and the family will not be able to take time off then.
"That (Hawaii) is sometimes where we go privately for our holidays. We spend a lot of time in Australia on our holidays as well," Morrison said.
"We had planned to spend it down the South Coast as we usually do, but we had to bring it forward because of those commitments we had in India and Japan. So we had to tell the girls we wouldn't be spending as much time down there, so in return I tried to give them a bit of a nice surprise and take them here.
"I think that's what dads try and do if they can, when they've been working hard all year. I know there are lots of dads and mums out there who've been working hard all year try to treat their kids at this time of year, and that's what I was trying to do. It's just unfortunate it's come at such an awful time, particularly for those living in and around Sydney and NSW.
"And it's just devastating to be here and seeing what's happening there, so I'm pleased to be returning."
Morrison was asked if he understood why people thought his leadership had been lacking this week.
"Well, we were keeping in contact very strongly with what was happening. With the events of last night, with those fatalities, I think it's appropriate that I return now," he said.
"I know that every support that's been required from the federal government has been provided.
"There has not been a breath of difference between what was needed in NSW and what the Commonwealth has been providing."
He was also asked whether his absence from the country should have been announced publicly.
"We don't normally. I took leave in June as well, and we did the same practice," the Prime Minister responded.
"I think on this occasion, because there's been such horrendous events, that has understandably caused a lot of anxiety. I deeply regret that, and so does Jenny. To those affected by the fires, we deeply regret it."
Labor leader Anthony Albanese was in Bilpin, NSW, this morning after helping feed volunteers who had worked the night shift. He held a press conference, and was asked about Morrison's decision to return.
"It's a matter for the Prime Minister. He's made the decision. And it's a matter for his judgment when he goes on holiday," Albanese said.
"I think one of the issues has been the lack of information and transparency around this.
"But I tell you what, I want to talk about the needs of firefighters, not about Scott Morrison's holiday."
The two NSW Rural Fire Service volunteers killed late on Thursday are believed to have been travelling in a truck near the town of Buxton when it hit a tree and rolled off the road.
The driver and front passenger died at the scene, police said, while three others were injured.
Speaking to reporters this morning, RFS deputy commissioner Rob Rogers said the two volunteers were from the Horsley Park brigade.
"They're a pretty tight-knit group so this will impact significantly on them," he said.
Rogers said the truck had crashed into a falling tree, causing it to roll off the road.
"Tree fall has been a problem across the fire grounds this whole season…we have lost a number of fire tankers and now unfortunately it has resulted in this fatality," he said.
"It just highlights the conditions people are operating and how dangerous it is. Trees get burnt and can come down at any time."
Rogers said despite the RFS now in mourning, the crews "unfortunately, still have a lot of fire to deal with".
"So we will turn our minds to that," he said.
"Obviously, the immediate people around that crew, we will make arrangements for them to be excused from the fire ground if that's what they wish but often firefighters like to just get back to doing what they do."