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Aussies Scolded for Gas Complaints

October 1, 1998

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) _ The leader of an Australian state where a refinery fire shut off gas supplies _ and hot water to millions _ has called his people sissies for complaining about the crisis.

``What are we coming to where the whole society, where our underbelly is so soft?″ Victoria state Premier Jeff Kennett scolded his people on a radio show Wednesday night.

A fire at Esso’s Longford gas refinery last Friday killed two men and injured eight.

The plant supplied more than 80 percent of the natural gas for Australia’s second-most populous state, and some 1.4 million households and 100,000 businesses may be without it for at least two weeks.

Hundreds of thousands of state residents are taking cold showers and looking for electric griddles and frying pans to cook their food. Many industries have had to suspend operations; funeral homes have turned to bottled gas in order to keep crematoriums operating.

The state has opened sports stadiums and other public facilities with electric hot water heaters so people can shower there.

But Kennett told his people to stop ``bitching and moaning.″

``I mean, our grandparents used to have to boil water for a bath every night,″ Kennett said.

With business losing millions of dollars and 100,000 workers laid off, callers to talk radio shows in Melbourne castigated Kennett for his criticism.

State ambulance service spokesman John Fasham said Thursday that some children have been scalded seriously when parents accidentally poured boiling water over them in the bath.

On Tuesday, a restaurant exploded as the manager was trying to convert it to bottled gas, injuring two people, one seriously.

Esso has so far been unable to determine the cause of the blaze and explosions, which took two days to extinguish.

At least 100,000 workers in Victoria have been laid off as the Ford and Toyota auto factories, glass and brick-making plants, bakeries, dairies and many other industries shut down.

Victoria state is south of New South Wales, and Melbourne is about 450 miles southwest of Sydney.

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