Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2007 Week 1 Hansard (28 February) . . Page.. 27..
MR STEFANIAK (continuing):
unnecessarily lasted four years, which had hearings that went for over 90 days and which has made these damning findings of fact in relation to the Chief Minister and his government and agencies.
Let me repeat what I said earlier, Mr Speaker, in the simplest terms: the Chief Minister, Jon Stanhope, was negligent in his duty. He took advice and he acquired knowledge that he should have passed on to the people of Canberra. He failed to do so. He therefore failed the people of Canberra. He was negligent in his duty. And he failed his own test of leadership. He invited us to blame him. It is an invitation that, sadly, for those who lost their lives, who were injured and who lost their possessions, we accept. The matter, colleagues, is in your hands. And there is only one proper course of action you can take.
MR STANHOPE (Ginninderra—Chief Minister, Treasurer, Minister for Business and Economic Development, Minister for Indigenous Affairs and Minister for the Arts) (11.09): Mr Speaker, on 18 January 2003 this city and this community underwent a trauma that left very few individuals untouched or unaffected. Some individuals and families were not just touched, but transformed. Four territorians lost their lives: Mrs Dorothy McGrath, Mrs Alison Tener, Mr Peter Brooke and Mr Douglas Fraser. Hundreds were injured as they battled to save property and animals. Four hundred and eighty-seven homes were destroyed and dozens more were damaged.
The fires transformed our landscape, too, permanently. Never again will we be a city fringed by pine plantations. And it challenged our sense of identity. Never again will we be able to ponder our identity as a bush capital without reflecting upon the capacity for ugliness that is inherent in the beauty that surrounds us. For some Canberrans a spectacular sunset is still enough to bring back memories and physical sensations of a day on which the very sky itself seemed to catch fire.
I was Chief Minister of the ACT on the day those fires brought their devastation. I have been Chief Minister during the four years of recovery and rehabilitation that have followed. I know that are some of my fellow Canberrans who will always need to blame an individual for what happened on 18 January 2003. I accept that, for some of my fellow Canberrans, I will be that figure of blame. I will carry the burden of their accusations with me for the rest of my life.
But just because I shoulder that burden, just because I invited that burden in the days after the fire, does not mean that I accept personal or professional responsibility for the disaster. I have no doubt that over the course of today's debate those on the other side of this chamber will refer frequently to my plea—and we have seen it already—on 20 January 2003 that the community blame me for the fires.
Let us right now put that plea in context. The context is that, in the days immediately following the fire, I was being personally cheered and applauded throughout Canberra, in shopping centres and on the streets while firefighters—those who put their lives on the line—were being unfairly admonished and attacked.
Let us look at what I actually said—at the entirety of what I said in context, not at the two words "blame me"taken out of context. The entirety of what I said, published by the Canberra Times, was this: