Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2007 Week 1 Hansard (28 February) . . Page.. 103..
MR STEFANIAK (continuing):
Just for a moment let us look at the evidence and comments of witnesses to the inquest. Michael Boyle said that "given warnings, we could have done a lot". Michael Connell said, "You just got the feeling there was no planning, no nothing, which is strange when you knew it had been going on for approximately two weeks and everybody was aware of that."Alan Evans said, "People are capable of acting in an orderly manner if they are given sufficient information and notice."Jill Hardy said, "I would have liked to know what was coming. I would like to have some tangible evidence on my personal history. I don't have that ... I wasn't given the choice."And Michael Lecocguen said, "I just want to know why we weren't forewarned and why we had no help."
People testified, too, that they heard from friends interstate in Sydney and Melbourne by telephone on 18 January that there was a threat to Canberra, but they did not know it themselves because no-one in authority had let them in on the secret. Even after the first warning on radio about 3.00 pm, a recorded warning gave misinformation telling people to stay with their homes and to fill the bath with water but without specifying for what purpose. And this was as burning embers were raining down on Duffy, shortly before the firestorm arrived.
Four people died and, while the coroner could not say for certain whether they would have lived if they had been warned, there are some facts that suggest that to be the case, for two women in particular, whom I have mentioned already. Dorothy McGrath, who lived at Stromlo forest, had actually packed her car. She had indicated that to a friend, who said, "You should leave."She took the car back in and her friend had indicated to her that she was waiting to be told what was about to happen, and that apparently never came. Alison Tener, a mother of three, aged 38, was alone at home in Duffy on the 18th. Her car was in the carport and the boot contained personal items, including photo albums. She was last seen by another neighbour closing windows and pulling down the blinds. She had been asked and offered lifts to get out of the area by people who were leaving. The coroner said:
On the evidence before me, I am satisfied on the balance of probabilities that the Canberra community was not adequately warned and was not warned in a timely manner of the danger of the approaching fires. I am also satisfied that the SEWS—
state of emergency warning signal—
messages were issued too late, and were inadequate, even misleading, in their content.
In relation to that lady's death, she was found in a bathtub filled with water and may well have misinterpreted what was actually being told there.
No-one received any warnings until it was too late, and then perhaps they were confused. Who would ignore the community value of sharing knowledge? Why is the Chief Minister so arrogant and so cynical as to say, "Blame me"and then duck and weave to avoid responsibility? It is the sort of Chief Minister who has tried to put this elephant back in the closet. It is the one who has convenient memory lapses. It is the